PALO ALTO — The waiters at the MacArthur Park Restaurant don't yell "hold the mayo"--a computer does.
Actually, the help would never be so crass as to yell in the swank restaurant housed in a building designed by famed architect Julia Morgan. But they are holding their tongues a lot lately while they try to learn to operate the hand-held computer terminal that's replaced the traditional pad and pencil.
The waiters and waitresses carry a small black plastic box that sends orders directly to the kitchen. Say goodby to the hand-scribbled note on the check. Look for a computer-printed bill.
MacArthur Park, which caters to upscale San Francisco Peninsula residents, recently became the test site for the computer system, the first product of Validec, a company in nearby San Carlos.
Validec won't say how much the system costs. It's been given free to MacArthur Park, owned by Saga Corp., which also has restaurants in San Francisco and Los Angeles, with the understanding that the firm might buy it for other restaurants.
Servers enter each item into the terminal. A radio signal is then relayed to a computer connected to printers. The order then prints out in several locations: the bar, broiler, deep fry area and pantry.
Servers can specify how well to cook a steak or to hold the tartar sauce. And they can pace a meal by requesting the courses at timed intervals. The order is picked up when a message is received saying it's ready.
"There is definitely a pay-back in terms of profit," said Caesar Villano, founder of Validec.
The system should make the job easier, giving more time to wait on more tables. The faster they're served, the more customers a restaurant can handle.
Restaurant manager Jim Kauffman is prepared for criticism that the system could take the human touch away.
"There's a sensitivity to something going high-tech," he said. "But if it means giving better service, that's the real benefit."
Bartender Steve Mitchell thinks there will be only one problem. The system will cut down on the banter between employees, he said.
"In the past, waitresses have come up to order," Mitchell said. "Now they don't have to say anything. I like that interaction. I like messing around with people."