What is in this article?:
- CMO Perspectives: First Watchâs Chris Tomasso
- Looking to the future
This interview is part of CMO Perspectives, presented by NRN in partnership with the National Restaurant Association’s Marketing Executives Group. The monthly feature explores how leading executives are navigating the ever-changing restaurant marketing landscape.
Chris Tomasso, chief marketing officer, First Watch Restaurants
For First Watch Restaurants Inc. chief marketing officer Chris Tomasso, the breakfast-brunch-lunch concept’s greatest differentiator is its status as “The Daytime Café.” But that positioning occasionally complicates the job of the marketing department.
“We find that we need to educate the consumer about our brand and offering,” Tomasso said in an email conversation with Marketing Executives Group board member Clay Dover. “We oftentimes find that we have to change a behavior of eating breakfast at home, in the car or at the office and create an entirely new occasion, which eventually turns into habit. This is a little harder — especially when entering new markets without the benefit of high brand awareness.”
But the daytime-only restaurant’s positioning has been a successful recruiting tool for managers and operators who are more than eager to change their behavior and stay in the restaurant industry with greater work-life balance, he said.
“Our recruiting message is: ‘No night shifts. Ever.’ That is powerful,” he said. “Our employees can make a very good living and still be home with their families. That has value, especially to the seasoned veterans who have done the 2 a.m. close routine for a period of time and now want a better quality of life while still working in the industry they love.”
It is an industry Tomasso loves as well. He has been a marketing executive for restaurants for more than 20 years, including the past seven at First Watch following vice president roles at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and Hard Rock Café International. At the latter, Tomasso was vice president of worldwide marketing when the company began its growth strategy of rolling out hotels and casinos.
He discussed his role as a marketer for First Watch as the Bradenton, Fla.-based brand looks to begin growing aggressively beyond its base of 110 restaurants in 15 states.
How did First Watch decide to start accelerating growth now, after being around for about 30 years?
First Watch was not conceived in a boardroom with a master plan of having 1,000 restaurants over 10 years; it has grown organically. For the first 20 years, we opened an average of two units a year, and it wasn’t until the past 10 years that we really started to accelerate growth. We effectively managed our growth during the economic downturn and built a solid foundation of restaurants in very diverse markets that proved that our concept was portable and had broad appeal.
We have a very compelling business model that is well-positioned to benefit from the emergence of a few key trends: the growth of breakfast, an increasing focus on health and a heightened importance on value. About 90 of our 110 restaurants are company-owned, and we believe that speaks volumes to current and potential franchisees. Market conditions are favorable for us to continue on our aggressive growth plan that calls for a mix of company-owned and franchised restaurants.
Breakfast drove most of the industry’s growth the past few years. How did increased competition at breakfast from quick-service restaurants affect First Watch?
Everyone realized that Mom was right: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. While that has meant increased competition for that meal period, it has also raised consumers’ overall awareness, and we have benefitted from that. More than ever, however, our main competitor is the local,-driven restaurant that offers breakfast and lunch.
How will increased growth affect you and the marketing team?
Periods of rapid growth are the most critical because that is when it is easiest for the wheels to fall off. We are being very careful, thoughtful and methodical in our approach. We have also recently strengthened our leadership team with industry veterans in key roles in real estate and finance who bring experience and perspective that will allow us to make better decisions and avoid some pitfalls along the way.
First and foremost, we are an operations-driven company that has built a foundation focused on making sure every guest leaves happy. It is simple and hard all at the same time, but it definitely makes my job easier.