Thursday, June 19, 2008


Part 1

As we count down our first month open, we at Claire's want to share with our friends, supporters, and community our appreciation for your raves, your constructive critiques, and your understanding. It has been quite an amazing few weeks for all of us, and we have much to thank you for and much to share with you about the challenges of opening and our plans ahead. That said, in all our planning we never anticipated the success we've had so far!

Measuring What Works

One of our favorite investments is our point of sale system (POS) which makes it much easier to balance the books at the end of the day, manage inventory, and make sure we are on budget. But the POS does one more thing: it helps us respond to our community by giving us a complete profile of what guests order and what dishes are the most popular. At the end of every night, we see how many people we served and verify reality against our projections as well as our menu.

At this point, two things stand out. First, we are consistently seating more than 80 people – as many as 110 on weekends, and rarely fewer than 60 – in a restaurant with 52 seats at table and 15 at the bar. In business terms, it means that almost every night we "turn" at least half the tables. That is not double our projections. It is QUADRUPLE our projections! Even as we looked out over the first four years, we never promised our investors and supporters more than a handful of nights when we would actually turn tables.

Second, we are almost exactly on target in terms of our price point. In developing our business model 18 months ago, we anticipated an average check price of approximately $20 per person, and every night's POS "reality check" gives us a per person average that is consistently between $20 and $23. The difference between projections and reality can in part result from price increases for food generally over the past year, and the challenge of opening so early in the growing season. With a range of possibilities at different prices on the menu, as well as an affordable wine and beer list, you have the choice of what you enjoy. Small plates or starters are selling at an amazing rate – some people make a meal of them, some just stop by for a snack, a beer or glass of wine. Of the entrees, our wonderful steaks from up the road at Snug Valley are a best selling item almost every night, as is Steven's astounding halibut caught in sustainable fisheries. And some folks come in just for the spectacular desserts.

And the menu will be developing even more. As soon as the best local frying potatoes become available, we'll "roll out" Claire's burger and fries. Our plan is to continue to expand the menu, offering more options at a range of prices for vegetarians and omnivores, taking advantage of the growing season and preserving some items for the winter ahead. In July, we plan to offer a full bar and to open during the day for lunch.

We are excited to see so many of our neighbors from Hardwick and all the towns around coming to eat at Claire's, saving some money on gas and still enjoying a wonderful evening out, while helping to support the farms in our area and the people who staff our restaurant. We've also welcomed guests from around Vermont who are excited by the food we serve, our business model, and all of the related initiatives underway in Hardwick. With all the bad news about our economy, a global food and energy crisis and a national recession, it helps all of us to stay closer to home and keep our dollars in our community.

Watch this space tomorrow for more stories about our "twists and turns" and what you'll see and hear at Claire's over the days and weeks ahead.

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