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News and advice from our small-business Web siteCashing in on Soggy Fries

So maybe priceline.com didn't make it in the grocery business. Founder Jay Walker is hardly out of ideas. Now he's trying to supersize fast-food sales.

Walker's latest brainstorm is "Digital Deal," a point-of-sale system. It links cash registers with food inventory, so clerks can offer last-minute specials on perishables in lieu of change. Say an order totals $3.39, and the apple pies are near the end of their 15-minute shelf life. Digital Deal might prompt a clerk to offer the customer an apple pie--normally 89 cents--for 61 cents, bringing the total to $4. If the customer bites, the restaurant sells an extra pie and the clerk doesn't have to count out change. A manager at a Burger King in Stamford, Conn., says up to 40% of customers are taking the bait.More Rate Hikes Ahead?

Interest rates on small-business loans rose again, says the Federal Reserve's third-quarter report, and private surveys suggest rates haven't peaked yet. The Fed pegged the average rate on loans of less than $100,000 at 10.36%, up from 9.94% in the prior quarter and 9.04% a year ago. On loans up to $1 million, the average was 9.67%, up from 9.26% in the prior quarter and 8.22% a year ago.

And it's not over yet: 21% of members surveyed in September by The National Federation of Independent Business reported higher rates, and Phoenix Management Services Inc., a Chadds Ford (Pa.) turnaround specialist, found most of the 76 banks it surveyed expect rates to rise a quarter- to a half-point in the fourth quarter.Edited by Kimberly Weisul


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