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RESTAURATEUR KEEPS IN TOUCH WITH TRENDS.

Byline: Sherri Buri McDonald The Register-Guard

The waiters at Eugene's new Dive Bar & Grill don't scrawl your order using something as antiquated as a pencil and pad.

Instead, they go from table to table toting electronic tablets the size of a slim hardback book, and take your order by pressing color touchscreen buttons:

Cheeseburger, tap.

Monterey Jack, tap.

Potato salad on the side, tap.

A Dr. Pepper, tap.

With a final brush of the fingertip, the order is sent via radio waves to the restaurant's main computer, and a ticket prints out in the kitchen, where a cook grabs it and gets to work.

The Dive Bar's recent opening downtown marked the debut of a wireless technology developed by ViewTouch Inc., a four-employee Eugene software firm.

The bar's owner, Mike West, spent about $15,000 on the new system. He said he's hoping it will pay for itself in reduced labor costs after about 13 weeks.

"This is the only way I see myself being able to stay in the business of full-service, sit-down restaurants," said West, who also operates Mona Lizza Ristorante & Bar, 3 Square and West Bros. River Ranch Steak House. If ViewTouch's system works well, West said, he'll introduce it at his other restaurants.

West admits that he doesn't relish using technology to cut jobs. "But in the same breath," he said, "I'll tell you that the only cost we can control is the cost of service labor, which is at an all-time high."

Oregon's minimum wage, at $7.05 an hour, is one of the nation's highest. And the state is among a handful with no law to let restaurant owners pay less than minimum wage to employees who also get tips.

Time will tell whether ViewTouch's order-takers become an industry standard or turn into an offbeat oddity, like the intercom systems used to order a root beer and Papa burger at an A&W Drive-in.

ViewTouch founder and owner Gene Mosher has spent much of the past 20 years working on electronic devices for restaurants, and he believes he can perfect and mass-market the order-taking gadgets.

In the 1970s and '80s, Mosher owned a chain of delis on the East Coast. In 1977, he said, he began writing software on an early Apple computer to analyze his store transactions. In the 1980s, he focused on touchscreen technology.

Touchscreen technology is now common at fixed-station terminals such as cash registers and order-taking machines at fast-food stores.

In 1984, Mosher moved to Eugene from Syracuse, N.Y., with the aim of developing restaurant software full time. He said he picked Eugene out of the blue, thinking he'd be more likely to find computer talent on the West Coast but wanting to avoid high-cost California.

Hitachi manufactured the tablets now in use at the Dive Bar, and ViewTouch wrote the software to run it.

The ViewTouch tablet should make workers more efficient, said Clyde Raven, ViewTouch marketing director.

The orders are accurate, he said. There's no need to decipher a server's handwriting, and the orders arrive instantly at the kitchen in a consistent, readable format, he said.

The ViewTouch device uses the open-source operating system Linux - essentially a no-cost computer language - which Mosher says makes it less expensive.

In the next few months the company will unveil self-serve kiosks using touchscreen technology at the food court in the student union at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis., Raven said.

ViewTouch has about 10 major customers in the restaurant/hospitality business, he said, and hopes to add a half-dozen more by year's end.

CAPTION(S):

Mike West hopes the touch-screen device will help him keep labor costs under control at his new Dive Bar & Grill in downtown Eugene. The tablets beam orders to a computer, which then prints a ticket in the kitchen. Chris Pietsch / The Register-Guard Mike West and this is light text and this is more light text
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Title Annotation:Business; Waiters at a Eugene grill will use wireless ViewTouch tablets to take your order
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 6, 2004
Words:650
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