by Ben Adlin
Need an excuse to splurge on something delicious? A reimagined version of Seattle Restaurant Week opens this weekend and offers more options than ever, including an assortment of independent eateries in the South End.
The twice-annual festival kicked off Sunday and — contrary what its name might suggest — spans almost an entire month. Between now and Nov. 21, participating restaurants will offer special meals at two different price points: $20 for lunch or $35 for dinner.
Hungry already? Go check out the menus.
Like most things in 2020, this year’s Seattle Restaurant Week has been retrofitted for the pandemic. But far from making matters worse, organizers said, the changes have refreshed the event, making it more convenient, inclusive, and community-oriented than ever — for both diners and restaurants alike.
“The idea with this time around was to try to figure out how to appeal to everybody,” said Erin Adams, executive director of the Seattle Good Business Network, which runs the event.
For customers, that means not only socially distanced indoor-dining options, but also — for the first time ever — specific outdoor seating, as well as takeout or delivery. Another new option allows sorting restaurants by ownership, allowing customers to direct their dollars to businesses run by women, People of Color, or LGBTQ people.
The selection of restaurants will also be wider than in years past, further extending the smorgasboard. Seattle Restaurant Week is teaming up for the first time with food festival Plate of Nations, which features global cuisine from some of South Seattle’s favorites, including Bananas Grill, Bang Bang Kitchen, Cafe Red, Buddha Bruddah, and more.
It’s a partnership that both groups said they’ve long been interested in exploring, but it took the pandemic to make it happen. And for the city’s struggling restaurant industry, it couldn’t come at a better time.
Historically, Seattle Restaurant Week has been an opportunity for diners to sample some of the city’s swankiest restaurants at more affordable prices. Restaurants put together fixed, three-course menus for dine-in service, and customers booked tables around town.
For the restaurants, it was a way to bring in customers during months when dining rooms were traditionally slow. “Restaurants always needed some help in what they call the ‘shoulder seasons,’” Adams explained, “which is why it was in April and October.”
Plate of Nations, meanwhile, is typically held in the spring and centers less on fine dining and more on family-style meals. The event is organized by the MLK Business Association, and in years past it’s boosted business to some local restaurants by upwards of 30%.
“The whole idea and concept around Plate of Nations is we’ve created shared meals,” said Sarah Valenta, community and business development manager at the nonprofit Homesight, which puts on the event. “Each of the meals that come from the restaurants are meant to bring people together to share the plate. So it’s community building as well as supporting the restaurant.”
To accommodate both approaches, this year’s reinvented Restaurant Week won’t restrict restaurants to the traditional three-course meals. “They opened it up to be any style of food choice that the restaurant wanted to do,” Valenta said, “as long as there is a lunch plate for $20 and a dinner for $35.” Restaurants can also choose to offer an all-day option at either price point.
Participation is also free to restaurants this year, allowing restaurants to get in on the action regardless of their ability to pay. Fees usually costs hundreds of dollars, Valenta said, which family-owned businesses often can’t afford. Organizers say they’re not sure whether that arrangement will extend into next season, however, noting the event’s logistical and promotional costs.
Another new component to Seattle Restaurant Week this year allows diners to donate meals to neighbors in need by giving to local community kitchens. Contributions to the event’s Give a Meal program go directly to local restaurants that produce and distribute free community meals, including Musang, Project Feast and That Brown Girl Cooks Community Kitchen.
One other change to this year’s Seattle Restaurant Week is largely symbolic: For the first time, its website — srweek.org — is a dot-org address, rather than a dot-com. Organizers said it’s a nod to the event’s focus on community support.
“In the past it kinda felt like you’re splurging for yourself,” Adams said of past Seattle Restaurant Week events. “Now it feels like, yeah, you’re doing that, but you’re also doing the community good in a much deeper way.”
Valenta, at Plate of Nations, said she’s proud of how local restaurants have weathered the pandemic so far. This spring’s Plate of Nations event was canceled amid the governor’s shutdown order in March, but nearly all its participating restaurants have since reopened in one form or another.
“I’m just so grateful that everybody is back,” she told the Emerald. “Please, let’s keep them going, because they are the fabric of our community. They represent our ethnicity, our love of food, our culture, our identity.”
Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer.
Featured image courtesy of Seattle Restaurant Week