Believe it or not, the familiar fear of mice extends beyond the rodent realm to the world of technology. The good news is that there is a way in the retail realm to avoid the computer mouse and also save time, money and improve efficiency. James Cagle, president of Greensboro-based Performance Oriented Solutions Inc. , says that using a touchscreen system instead of a mouse can eliminate 70 percent of training time.

That means that in 20 minutes, a restaurant staff can be trained to use his system. In October, Winston-Salem-based The Village Tavern will test a new handheld version of Cagle's touchscreen system, following up on its installation of the stationary terminals in the first of its seven restaurant in 1995. Jeff Olds, assistant controller for The Village Tavern, says the company spent about $60, 000 to equip each restaurant with the software and hardware for the stationary terminals. The cost of a handheld unit, which works with the existing system, is about a third of the cost of one of a terminal. The return on investment is in increased efficiency and thus increased profit, Olds says. "What we " re looking for is increased table turns by shortening the length of time between when (diners) sit down and leave," Olds says.

Touchscreens allow servers to enter orders and transmit them to the kitchen in a more expeditious manner, Olds says, resulting in about 80 more tables being served on an average day. Cost of the touchscreen system ranges from $795 to in excess of $200, 000, depending on the size of the operation and its needs, Cagle says. His clients, which run the gamut from restaurants to hair salons, choose between touchscreen monitors that connect to a separate computer and range from $750 to $1, 250 or single, integrated units that range from $2, 000 to $5, 000. A company that spends $20, 000 can expect to see a return on its investment in 11 months to 24 months, Cagle says..