Founding Farmers by Tom Bridge
The new restaurant on the first level of the IMF Building on Penn has an amazing space to fill. Two stories, floor to ceiling glass walls, incredible internal architecture. Founding Farmers is based on some pretty simple concepts: Farm to Table cuisine, seasonally prepared and scheduled, and green engineering that defines the dining room.
And, for all of that, Founding Farmers delivers nicely on the food side of things. Their menu covers a lot of ground, but stays mostly with things you might already recognize. Meatloaf. Pot Roast. American Classics. But, with the emphasis on local sourcing, the food takes on a whole new character. One of the things we fell in love with this summer was the concept of seasonality. Broccoli when it’s fresh out of the fields, strawberries for three weeks in June, potatoes fresh from the fields. Founding Farmers captures this pretty well.
When it finally got to us.
Our group was fairly large, at 12 people, but Founding Farmers will gladly book tables for 8, 10 or 12, or more still if you’re willing to rent out their event space. And these aren’t tables that are just put together and stacked into 8-tops, they’re built for groups from the bottom up. I was pleased to find our table waiting for us to arrive a little before 7pm, and that the hosts were so flexible with our trickling-in-from-work crowd, something they should be applauded for, it’s just a shame that the service doesn’t match.
The cocktails at Founding Farmers are delightful, they’re unique and fresh tastes, but the service took forever. It was annoying to see the bar not five feet from the table, but nothing coming from it. We waited, in some cases 20-30 minutes for refills. Water was plentiful, and we were grateful for it, but anything from the bar was a good long wait. Dinner was little better, in that regard.
Though we sat down a little before seven, it would be well after eight before our main courses arrived. The appetizers, including some tasty little cheeseburgers, bacon wrapped dates stuffed with bleu cheese, and house-made potato chips with delicious dips, were amazing across the board. Don’t forget the deviled eggs, they’re a house specialty. Just don’t plan on going anywhere in a hurry. We spent most of the evening waiting between events, our table covered in plates and miscellaneous utensils. No sign of the overaggressive server, or even the attentive server. One hint to management: when most of your staff’s comments to the table start with, “I’m sorry,” clearly something’s awry, and needs to be fixed.
So, I’ll cut Founding Farmers some slack, they’ve only been open six weeks, but in many ways it felt like opening night. Go for the food, take only a few friends (so you don’t get hit with the ludicrously high 20% service charge for parties over 8, something that galled all of us this evening) and plan on spending a good long time talking. I want to go back for brunch, but I think I’ll wait a few months for them to get their service working like a well-oiled machine. As it was, the food was delicious, but the service will keep me from going back right away.
1924 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20007
Postscript – I did submit feedback via their website last night before crashing, and this morning I had a note from their general manager, offering to refund our service charges, and offering a gift certificate for future dining. They’re pretty serious about good service it seems.
Cool. I wish other eateries in the area would pay attention. (Looks at Two Nineteen…)
oooh i’m looking forward to that place! i’m newly obsesssed with CSA’s and our farmer’s market, so this is right up my ally!
The food really is quite good. It’s just that they seem kind of overwhelmed by large parties, the bar is understaffed (I saw a guy in chef’s whites behind the bar plating deviled eggs, but couldn’t see anyone actually making our drinks), and everything was just a little chaotic. But I WOULD go back, with a smaller group, at a less busy time.
I’m going here for dinner tonight…glad to hear the food is good but now I’m really hoping that I have better luck with their service!
Wait, you’re angry at a 20% service charge or 20% gratuity on parties of 8 or more?
If the gratuity, I’d be shocked, as I expected more from you and 20% tips should be mandatory on groups of 6 or more. Its much more work to deal with a group than a small table.
If its a service charge in addition to a gratuity, then damn! That ain’t right.
I actually don’t mind addition of a service charge in principle, because I’ve got some friends who are lousy tippers and I hate either having to pick up their slack or be grouped in with their bad habit. But the general rule (according to waiterrant.net, no less), is 15% for average service, 10% for poor service, and 20% for *exceptional* service.
So not only is their self-calculated gratuity higher than the going rate for large groups (which is 18%), it assumes a quality of service that simply didn’t exist. There’s no excuse for charging for exceptional service and then failing to deliver it- that’s like charging me for an appetizer that never made it to my table. The majority of the “service” we received was a litany of apologies- first for the round of drinks that took 30 minutes to arrive, then for the fact that one person’s food arrived so far before everyone else’s that she was nearly finished with her meal before any of the other food arrived, then for ANOTHER round of drinks that took half an hour to arrive, then for the dinner plates that still covered our table as dessert arrived, not to mention that we consistently didn’t have enough flatware for everyone at the table.
Of course large groups are a lot of work, but if you’re going to argue that 20% should be “mandatory” because of how much work it is, that work should actually GET DONE. And a lot of it really wasn’t our server’s fault- the drinks took too long because they weren’t getting made at the bar, the food orders came out wrong because of a screwup in the kitchen and because management had failed to coordinate enough assistance for her in bringing the food to the table. But no matter whose fault it was, that’s not %20 gratuity service, especially since tips are pooled and split by front of the house staff at the end of the night.
I don’t object to tipping 20%. I do it frequently. What I object to is being told what to tip, by force, without recourse.
In my experience, if you bother to complain about the mandatory tip when it wasn’t deserved they’ll roll it back.
The mandate irks me too, but having now dealt with a variety of office cheapskates I’m more sympathetic to it. Not every group has someone like Tiff willing to get financially fucked by their behavior.
What really chaps my ass is when restaurants don’t assign a second server to parties of 8+. If you’re going to insure that they get at least 15% then there’s no excuse not to split the load. The big party is a guaranteed good tip, rather than a 4-top they might otherwise get.
As a sever for many years, I would much rather have 3 parties of 2 or 8 parties of 2 than one party of 6 or 12 or whatever. Why? Because you ALWAYS get short tipped in a big group. Folks under-estimate their share and the server gets the shortest end of the stick.
Think about it – when was the last time in a big group that you came up over budget? Doesn’t happen. Instead some schmuck is stuck making the bill, and then gives the server $20 or so.
Gee thanks for the $20, but the bill was $150. I’d rather have several tables that add up to $150, because at least then I’ll get 20% of $150 instead of just a $20.
So love ya, but I refused to work big groups in places that didn’t have a mandatory tip for them. Not worth my time or effort to get someone who thinks 18% (talk about niggling) is worth the mental mathematical capacity after a meal vs. tipping 20% and keeping it easy and happy.
Oh and yeah, Don is spot-on. That 20% means you get a dedicated server who isn’t working other tables. Which is the double reason why its not worth it as a server to deal with big parties w/o a set rate.
If I have regulars who give 20% for my good service and more if I help them out, they’re worth more to me than an one-off group.
I have no problem whatsoever with tipping 20% when it’s warranted. Like, in the case that we have a dedicated server, on a $500 tab, you’re going to get the full $100 from our table. But that’s not what we had at all, Wayan. We had one server who was running between us and several other 2 and 4 tops, who wasn’t getting help from the kitchen or from the bar in terms of quick service. It was frustrating.
I never said that the 20% buys you dedicated service and I don’t believe it’s usually true. And I don’t think it’s necessary OR preferable. Your service suffers when your server is given two tables seated at the same time, and having only one person help 8+ people is effectively the same thing.
Large parties should be assigned multiple servers.
IF it was a dedicated server not working other tables, I’d expect a bit more of getting stuff done. And 30 minutes for a Jack and Coke (twice) was a bit much. It’s not as if the recipe is difficult. It’s in the name.