Tom Sietsema’s zero-star takedown may still be Founding Farmers’ most famous review, but the Washington Post critic isn’t the only one with something to say. The Foggy Bottom restaurant is Yelp’s most-reviewed dining establishment in Washington, and it recently hit a new milestone by exceeding 10,000 reviews.
Perhaps that’s less surprising when you consider that the 265-seat American restaurant gets an average of 9,000 diners per week. It’s the most-booked restaurant nationwide on OpenTable for five years running. And according to a ranking from Restaurant Business magazine, it’s the 37th highest-grossing independent restaurant in the country, bringing in more than $17 million in 2016.
Co-owner Dan Simons says the restaurant group doesn’t actively do anything to encourage Yelp reviews, but he and his team try to respond to every post either publicly or with a private message. They make a point of not typing differently than they talk. No copy and paste. No form letters. “No bullshit responses,” he says. “If something makes you go, ‘yikes,’ say ‘yikes.'”
“We built a reputation of engaging, and maybe when you show people that you care what they write, they tend to write more,” Simons says.
It’s no secret that many chefs and restaurateur loathe Yelp, where someone might give a one-star review because they couldn’t get a reservation or they can’t order something that’s not even on the menu. “There’s really no worse or lower human being than an Elite Yelper,” says famed chef Anthony Bourdain. “They are the very picture of entitled, negative energy.”
Simons has seen Bourdain’s rants, and he says he doesn’t get them. (Then again, why would he? Founding Farmers has a four-star average.)
“They’re guests. How can you hate them?,” he says. “For me, it does not compute.”