The following is a guest post by Caitlin Stritmatter, director of financial planning and analysis at Primanti Bros.
Primanti Bros. restaurants has been bringing sandwiches to hungry eaters for 90 years. But while our company’s heart is in the past, its eyes are on the future.
Like a lot of businesses, we were hit hard by the shutdowns of COVID-19. During those dark days, our highest priority was simply staying in business. Cost management was key, and artificial intelligence helped us do that.
In recent years, AI-driven robotic process automation (RPA) bots have become an important part of our business, where they are used to simplify and speed the manual work of repetitive office processes. RPA bots save money and time. Their greatest impact has been felt by eight regional managers who pull daily sales and labor reports for five locations each. That process took at least 45 minutes per person to generate those 40 reports by 10 a.m. each day, including weekends and holidays. Managers need that information to understand what happened yesterday in order to plan for tomorrow.
Now, IBM’s RPA bot works across multiple platforms and systems to collect scattered information using AI, turning daily sales and labor reporting into a hands-free task with less room for error. With access to real-time numbers and data, the management team can quickly compare trends and begin planning for the day. This bot alone saves Primanti Bros more than 2,000 work hours annually, a savings of more than $80,000 per business year. That’s important in an industry where profit margins are already as thin as a paper plate.
Our embrace of AI is part of a larger business trend. The use of AI in business apps has soared from 5% in 2018 to 52% in 2022, according to McKinsey. The most popular use for AI is service operations optimization. A Forrester survey reported that 69% of companies said they reduced operating costs with chatbots and automation using AI.
The big impact of small advantages
In the foodservice business, the small advantages delivered by AI-driven apps can turn into big gains in efficiency. AI-enabled technologies range from automated reservation systems to burger-flipping robots and delivery drones. But such glitzy applications weren’t going to fly at Primanti Bros, where tradition matters to its generations of customers. We needed back-office process simplification, and that’s what the RPA bot delivered.
While the main job of everyone at Primanti Bros is to get great food into hungry mouths, a lot of back-end processes must happen seamlessly before those sandwiches reach the table. That’s where we needed AI. RPA bots are very good at doing the small and sometimes menial tasks that can take up an enormous amount of time, notes our partner Jimmy Hewitt, senior automation advisor for Salient Process, which oversaw the installation for us. These bots automate routine and repetitive tasks like sales and labor reporting, transaction reporting and inventory management. Busy managers can get so bogged down in the process of copying, pasting and filling out and double-checking spreadsheets that errors are inadvertently introduced. Now, with the bot-supplied data providing access to real-time numbers, the management team can quickly compare trends and plan for the day.
In a larger sense, RPA bots can help perform trend analysis, providing valuable insights into operations and processes that lead to better scheduling, ordering and inventory management. AI algorithms can analyze data on customer behavior, weather patterns, and other factors to predict demand for certain menu items. Whether sales are steady or booming, RPA bots can easily scale up or down depending on the needs of the business, making it easier to handle fluctuations in workload.
The entire Primanti Bros team is already expanding on the success of the sales and labor reporting bot. We have a half-dozen financial planning and analysis bots in the works, in areas ranging from accounting and finance to construction. And I’m sure many more will come after those. When it comes to AI-enabled bots, they’re going to be a key ingredient in Primanti Bros’ recipe for success for many years to come.