It was love at first bite. Probably 10 years ago I walked through the doors of a First Watch restaurant for the first time. I recall being hungover and hungrier than the average bear. As we entered the building I caught a wiff of breakfast. There’s nothing like the aroma of fresh coffee brewing, sizzling bacon and cinnamon rolls warming in the oven. My mouth was watering…
All I can tell you about my first First Watch experience is this. The menu was different. The coffee was hot, my eggs were cooked perfectly and the service was impeccable. It was a significantly better experience than I was used to. I left with a desire to return and I bragged about First Watch to my friends.
Fast forward to last Sunday, Father’s Day! The decision was made to go to First Watch to kick off the celebratory day with 3 fathers – my 93-year-old father-in-law, my brother-in-law and yours truly. We were accompanied by our lovely spouses. I hadn’t been to a First Watch in a while but I was feeling confident it was an excellent choice.
We arrived at 7:45am to beat the rush and we were seated, in a booth, immediately. Of course, I can’t help myself. It’s in my nature to begin the evaluation process right away. The first thing to catch my eye is a huge chalkboard highlighting their specials. It features stuff you wouldn’t expect at your typical breakfast restaurant (like Heirloom Tomato & Burrata Toast, Millionaire’s Bacon and a Crab and Asparagus Omelet).
This sent me a message that their menu had evolved. When I opened the menu, I saw more of the same – differentiated items you can’t get elsewhere (plus the expected fare including omelets, pancakes, waffles, etc.)
Shortly after we were seated a manager stopped by our table with a packaged sample of their special blend First Watch Coffee – A nice gesture but also a missed opportunity. He could’ve engaged our group by saying something like:
“Thank you for choosing us on Father’s Day. It’s a privilege to serve you on this special day”.
He treated it like a task. The free coffee caught our attention. He had a captive audience but he failed to take advantage of it.
Our server was pretty much the same. Average, efficient but not very cordial. Now I’m not suggesting everyone wants a chatty server. You would think, however, Father’s Day should be a little different. People are out celebrating and honoring their Dads. What a perfect time to make someone feel special. None of that occurred during this hour plus visit to First Watch.
The meals were delivered in a timely manner and our server took care of our basic needs. The food was delish hot, fresh, prepared the way we ordered it.
As we got up from the table, I couldn’t help but be bothered by a couple of things that probably only bother a person who has spent a lot of time in the business.
The restaurant had starting to fill up. Appropriately, they had extra employees scheduled in to handle the Fathers’ Day rush. As far as I could tell there was only one manager on, so they missed another opportunity to say good bye and thank the early customers on their way out.
More importantly, I noticed the dreaded “hostess gaggle”. There were 4 hostesses standing around in anticipation of the early first wave of church goers. They were in a circle, conversing with one another with their backs to the customer. Who knows what they were discussing however, I would guess it had nothing to do with how they are going to shower their customers with service!
I don’t blame the employees in this situation. I find that the hostess position gets the least amount of attention in most restaurants. They are usually your least experienced employees who are rarely taught how to exceed customer expectations. 4 hostesses + 0 interaction with the customer = a hostess gaggle. Bad look. Another missed opportunity.
None of what I’ve described will prevent me from going back. First Watch is still one of my favorite restaurant brands. The point is I won’t be in a big hurry to visit again and I’m not telling any of my friends about the wonderful overall experience. In today’s wildly competitive dining out market, good food only keeps you in the game. To separate your brand from the pack, it must be coupled with outstanding service!