Breakfast, SRQ

From my Yelp! pages, March of 2013.

I first came upon First Watch in Lakewood Ranch, when I was living out there. It was then a locally owned – Tampa Bay-ish – bunch of breakfast/lunch places. A small chain. Remember, this was in 2006, when the world was more outwardly wealthy. It was a buzzing place. First Watch, too. (!)

The First Watch is now a corporate chain, a fact which pretty much completes the circle of standardized menus, standardized service and standardized character.

None of which is meant as specific criticism. As long as the standards are high and maintained, there’s a place for knowing precisely what your dining experience will be before you walk in the door. And we’re a nation of people who (mostly) are in love with such an ideal.

On a Monday morning, this downtown Sarasota outpost of the FW empire lived up to expectation. Previous Yelp!ers tell of variable food quality and quantity, but I imagine much of that inconsistency is gone. At least it should be, with the current ownership. Our food was of a quality commensurate with the price and the service was acceptable. It’s breakfast: for thirteen dollars, decide for yourself.

More interesting is the consideration of specific aspects of the experience. Firstly, everything in FOH looked spotless. Presumably, the kitchen is likewise. Good.

Secondly, the wait staff, while mostly young, were immaculately groomed. Good again, although the act of grooming also apparently removed any essence of character. Think friendly but detached. Not so good.

Thirdly, there’s a certain soullessness that inhabits this place. This, of course, is the downside of distant owners and service manuals as mentors. What we know as ‘ownership’ of customers’ experience (and food prep too) is removed from individuals, replaced with binders of rules and clearly defined behavior. Note: I don’t know any of this as a fact – but it sure looks and feels like it.

Fourthly, the individual tables at the front of the dining room are very well spaced. If you have a business breakfast or lunch meeting, this would be an excellent choice. Avoid the booths at the rear: they’re somewhat cheaply built and too neighborly for me.

Fifthly, we cannot escape a breakfast review without discussing coffee. Here, one receives a carafe of coffee. That’s good because it means you pour at your own speed, and reduces “top-up” time for wait staff. But the coffee is insufficiently strong, for me. That’s not a criticism, merely an acknowledgment that not all tastes will be served.

Predictability is the name of the game here. I’d award three point five stars if able, but figure three won’t stop anyone going.