`Double Cheese, Large Soda... Will That Be Cash Or Check?'

If you're hungry for a burger and fries, but short on cash, don't worry. Your local fast-food outlets may soon accept a personal check. MerchanTec International says its system has made authorizing checks fast enough for the fast-food business--a zippy 3 seconds instead of the normal 28 to 45 seconds.

The small Atlanta-based company leases or sells customers the necessary terminals, satellite dishes, and scanners. Each night, a list of suspect checking accounts--including those that have a history of bounced checks--is relayed via satellite to each store's terminal. Clerks use the scanner to read the check's account number, and a computer compares it to the day's list. MerchanTec says using expensive satellite time during off-peak hours is less costly than constantly tying up phone lines to reach an on-line check data base. The company hopes to sell the system to chains such as Arby's and Hardee's, which already use a similar system for credit-card verification at some of their franchises.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.