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HEARD ON THE BEAT

Coming Soon: Machines to Man Fast-Food Phones

May 26, 1997|JOHN O'DELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Computers were supposed to usher in the era of the paperless office--although most people who use them find that they generate more paper than ever before.

Now comes the promise--or threat--of the employeeless fast-food restaurant.

Well, somebody still has to cook the stuff and deliver it. But Irvine-based Bristol Technology Systems Inc., a major marketer of custom point-of-sale systems for retailers, says it will soon offer a software-driven "virtual employee" system that answers the phone, lets callers know they've reached the right place and asks politely if they would care to order.

It is interactive--so if you say that you'd like three pizzas, it repeats the number and asks, one at a time, what you'd like on each one. If you change your mind, it understands and lets you cancel the mushrooms on pizza No. 2 and replace them with anchovies. And when you're all done, it repeats the order, tells you how much the bill comes to and thanks you for calling. It even lets you interrupt without blowing its top or messing up your order.

"It even recognizes and understands regional accents," said Bristol President Richard Walker, whose company is teaming with Florida-based software developer Registry Magic Inc. to offer the system. It was put through its paces earlier this month at the annual point-of-sale systems dealers confab in Chicago.

Walt Nawrocki, president of privately owned Registry Magic, says his company has signed a deal with Bristol that makes the Irvine firm the national distributor for the fast-food program. (Registry's chairman is a member of Bristol's board, which made doing the deal pretty easy, says Nawrocki.)

Walker says he expects that consumers will start interacting with "virtual employees" at their local fast-food restaurants by mid-summer.

John O'Dell covers major Orange County corporations and manufacturing for The Times. He can be reached at (714) 966-5831 and at john.odell@latimes.com

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