Simple, Fast Food…that Can Improve Your Health? That’s Clover

Clover Logo

Clover’s philosophy states that “We try to keep everything very simple, but very careful…This is Fast Food. We’re obsessed with speed and constantly time ourselves. Our average serve times are around 3.5 minutes, which makes us a little slower than McDonald’s.” At the same time, Clover is focused on providing a healthier food alternative, with a locally-sourced, organic, and preservative-free focus. Did I mention that Clover is vegetarian (but you will never hear the Company market itself that way).

At 2 years of existence, it is still an early-stage start-up. However, Clover is already differentiating itself with an effective operating model.


1. Product:

1.1 Specialization in Small Number of Offerings:

  • Clover offers a total of 5 of meal options as of December 2015; these exist in two forms, sandwiches or platter, with the only difference being bread
  • Sides are individual portions of items included in platters, hence no additional ingredients are needed to create these
  • Clover has recently expanded its beverage menu, but has focused on coffees and teas

1.2 Inform consumer that menu may change during the day, or overnight

  • Allows Clover to be flexible when certain ingredients are low or no longer in season. With a focus on using fresh ingredients, Clover avoids using frozen food
  • Customers find this idea exciting since product / taste quality is high

Clover Menu 2


2. Customer & Information Flow:

2.1 During peak lunch hours, throughput time from arrival to food-pick is 3.5 mins on average, with a cycle time of approximately 10 seconds.

  • Clover does this by optimizing customer, information, as well as food preparation flow

2.2 Information flow: As customers walk in, they see large screens displaying menu items, but more importantly, an expected “wait time” per item.

  • By providing such information, customers in a rush can choose an item that may not be an optimal food or beverage choice, but meets their time constraints
  • A beta version of online menus by location are currently being tested; these would allow customers to see what, if any, items are out of stock during a given time of day

2.3 Customer flow: To place an order, customers do not approach a cashier. Instead one to two people (depending on the influx of customers) take orders with their phones.

  • Allows a traditional “cashier” to take on the role of “greeter”, thereby creating a friendlier, more interactive environment for customers.
  • Greeters are also trained to follow a standard question approach that allows them to obtain information about the customer. For example, the first question a greeter asks is ““Have you eaten here before?”. If the answer is “no”, the greeter provides recommendations. If the answer is “yes”, the greeter offers a sample of a beverage before taking the order.

Clover Server 2


3. Food Preparation:

3.1 Clover staffs 3 – 4 people on food and 1 – 2 on beverages during busy hours.

  • This can be reduced to 2 – 3 people on food, and 1 person on beverages during slower periods.

3.2 A few factors help to ensure efficiency in the food preparation process:

  • Food is cut as close as possible to when it is ordered.
  • Only natural (no preservatives, artificial flavors, nor flavor enhancers) are used. As a result, the process of putting together an order is a matter of mixing a few chopped ingredients together.
  • Sandwiches or platters are wrapped in paper or served in a compostable container, hence reducing waste.


4. Customer FeedbacK:

4.1 Clover’s first restaurant stated on its wall “This is a prototype,” in bold letters. “We will screw something up. We’ll screw many things up. Tell us when that happens.” The Company has continued to utilize this approach as it grows, paying much attention to users.

  • Didn’t put enough salt on tables à if enough complaints received, knew recipes had to be tweaked
  • Founder read reviews on Yelp, Facebook and other social media and made suggested improvements

4.2 Clover knows that it needs its customers to be extremely satisfied

  • Marketing is purely word of mouth (in person and via social media)
  • No advertising budget


5. Product innovation:

5.1 Through Clover is a vegetarian and mostly organic / locally sourced food restaurant, it avoids offering typical vegetarian dishes such as eggplant parmigiana or a Portobello sandwich.

5.2 The Company’s greatest innovations have come from listening to employees and inspiration from other restaurant concepts:

  • New recipe for eggs in breakfast sandwich came from a manager-in-training.
  • Revisited hummus recipe (originally only a sauce used in sandwiches) after visiting an NYC hummus bar; made it a standalone side dish.
  • New Black Bean sandwich was created out of brainstorming for what to do with excess black beans last fall. Inspired by Venezuelan arepa sandwich.



  2. “The Making of a McTopia”, Boston Magazine
  3. Visits to Harvard Square and Central Square locations


Category Offense at Nike


State Bank of Chile (Banco Estado): Guaranteeing access to banking services at a minimal cost

Student comments on Simple, Fast Food…that Can Improve Your Health? That’s Clover

  1. Such an interesting concept and I love the creativity! However, once the chain grows and customers demand more variety in the menu options, how would that change their operating model and their speed? I wonder if offering all vegetarian and few options might limit their potential customer base, and therefore make this a niche concept rather than a scalable one.

  2. I love this company’s operation model. The small menu reminds me of our first case with the hibachi grill, and their change up of customer flow reminds me of some of the improvements IDEO made with the movie theater. I’m curious as to how they are priced compared to a regular fast food restaurant? And I’m wondering if they plan on becoming a chain, how they can manage their brand quality with so many factors that seem to be very location dependent, including menu items.

  3. Rosalino this is such a cool concept! It looks like Clover has really nailed the alignment between their operating model and business model. I was particularly impressed by how they have minimized bottlenecks by simply being transparent with wait times per SKU & by effectively incorporating the information flow into their workflow process via mobile ordering. One issue that concerned me was the daily variability with the menu. I’d suspect this would lead to an inconsistent customer experience as diners typically like to order the same item each time they frequent a fast food restaurant. Is Clover taking any measures to more effectively predict consumer demand and avoid stock outs?

Leave a comment