SAN JOSE, CALIF. -- We have seen the future and it craves a Beef 'N Cheddar Deluxe and a Ramblin' Root Beer in a big, electronic hurry.

Four San Francisco Bay Area Arby's restaurants have installed a computerized ordering system operated by customers.

Cash registers have been replaced by full color video display monitors that allow chow hounds to reach out and touch all the Curly Fries they want.

"We've lost a couple of customers who just don't like computers," said Henry L. Jones, manager of an Arby's in San Jose. "But mostly people figure it out the first time and then it's a piece of cake."

J.B. McGuire, president of Altamira Corp. that owns the four Arby's restaurants, first saw the system at a convention in 1988.

"We've moved into the 21st century," said McGuire of the technology that makes ordering fun. Still, he said "if anyone prefers not to use it we welcome them to give their order to a cashier."

The Touch 2000, self-order entry system -- an IBM PS-2, Model 30-286 -- was developed and manufactured by Management Information Support Inc. of Lakewood, Colo. Recently, they were installed at the San Jose Arby's, another in Sunnyvale and two locations in Menlo Park and South San Francisco.

The $40,000 system, which MIS has installed since January in about 30 restaurants across the country, is considered fast food's approaching future. Its manufacturer sees it as a labor-saving device that reduces crowding, does accounting, curbs employee theft and even increases the typical Arby's meal tab -- $4 -- by about 3 percent.

"The system will round out the order and suggestively sell something," said Irene Gottlieb-Duvall of MIS. "If you order a sandwich and fries, it will ask, 'How about a drink? Or 'Would you like a dessert item?' "

At the San Jose store, six monitors are built into the counter. Customers order from different categories by touching the screen.

Matching monitors behind the counter allow cashiers to see what customers order. A third monitor, in the rear, tips off the all-important sandwich maker.

The system is able to translate typical customer hesitation into an asset. As each item is chosen, the cashier retrieves it immediately. When the customer is finally finished, the price, plus tax, is displayed -- and the food order is already assembled.

McGuire says he enjoys the customers' reaction to the whole process. "Their attention is riveted on the screen and then they look up and the order is sitting there like magic and their eyes pop out as if to say, 'How did you do that?'"