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First-Watch-first-quarter-2024.jpg First Watch
First Watch found restaurant traffic remained "choppy" in the first quarter ended March 31.

Despite ‘choppy’ Q1 traffic, First Watch speeds service times with tech

The Florida-based daytime breakfast restaurant brand has added pay-at-the-table technology and new kitchen display systems

First Watch Restaurant Group Inc., the owner of the daytime breakfast brand, continues to find customer traffic “choppy,” but it has recently debuted technology such as pay-at-the-table to speed service times, executives said Tuesday.

The Bradenton, Fla.-based company, which released earnings Tuesday for the first quarter ended March 31, debuted in mid-March pay-at-the-table technology in a partnership with Up ‘n go at more than 420 company-owned restaurants.

Chris Tomasso, First Watch CEO and president, said the pay-at-the-table introduction and a kitchen display system that yields a 10% to 20% improvement in ticket times have smoothed peak-traffic hours. During a recent week, more than 125,000 customers used the pay-at-the-table option, saving both guest and worker time, the company said.

The pay-at-the-table option is integrated with First Watch’s NCR Aloha point of sale system, executives said. Customers can scan a quick-response, or QR, code on their check to pay with Apple Pay, Google Pay or credit card. The check can be paid in full or split.

Tomasso said the pay-at-the-table technology also increases the amount of available customer data, which the company plans to use in target marketing.

“We've been really pleased,” he said. “So it's really just starting to dig in and leverage all that data.”

Subsequent to the end of the quarter, First Watch on April 15 acquired 21 units and development rights in the Raleigh, N.C., area, Tomasso said.

Florida, which First Watch is based and has about 30% of its restaurants, continues to face a “challenging consumer environment,” Tomasso said.

“We believe that the traffic benefit the state enjoyed in the several years following the initial outbreak of COVID is now normalizing,” he said. The COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020.

“Our bullish outlook hasn't changed,” Tomasso added. “Our development in Florida has seen us grow to 123 restaurants in the state, a 48% increase over the past five years.”

The brand will not turn to discounting to bolster traffic, he added, but it does look at mix. For example, it recently brought back the popular, high-margin shrimp and grits as a menu item, Tomasso said.

For the first quarter ended March 31, First Watch’s net income was $7.2 million, or 12 cents a share, compared to $9.4 million, or 15 cents a share, in the prior-year period. Revenues increased 14.7%, to $242.4 million, from $211.4 million in the same quarter last year.

Same-restaurant sales grew of 0.5% and same-restaurant traffic declined 4.5% in the quarter.

As of March 31, First Watch had 531 restaurants in 29 states, of which 432 were company-owned. The brand opened nine restaurants in eight states during the first quarter.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on X/Twitter: @RonRuggless

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