The spring 2020 edition of Seattle Restaurant Week was set to start on March 29 — so, well, that didn’t happen. Now, somewhat suddenly and surprisingly, the discount-priced prix fixe dining event is back for its fall incarnation. (The Seattle Times is a sponsor.) COVID-19 be damned — dining-out bargains must be had!?
At a time when restaurants need every penny of income they can get — with even places such as James Beard Award-winning Tilth closing forever under pandemic duress — pitching them at discount prices seems odd, and promoting some for that reason over others, likewise. The good news for the chefs and restaurateurs is that unlike in seasons past, there’s no fee to participate — you just have to create your special menu and sign up, with registration running until SRW’s end.
And since restaurateurs are time-strapped and freaked out enough these days, the event has also added leeway to stray from the old three-course model into “literally anything you’re doing in the kitchen — from a cocktails-and-tacos package, make-at-home pizza kit,” etc. It’s flexibility that sounds only appropriate for the restaurants, especially the mom-and-pop operators, and also more fun for patrons.
So if Seattle Restaurant Week gets posteriors in seats, that’s good … right? The weather’s about to get a lot less permitting for outdoor tables that are safer during the pandemic. (And bear in mind that if you’re dining cozily in an enclosed tent-room, King County’s “guidance for food-service businesses calls for tent-type outdoor dining structures to be open on at least two sides.”)
And as a “fall surge” of the coronavirus appears to be hitting here and across the country, health authorities warn that increased indoor activity is part of a recipe potentially leading to more cases and more deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still categorizes dining-in as “even more risk” in terms of contracting COVID-19. Restaurant workers serving indoors still get even more of that risk than whatever might be considered a fair share in this fresh hell in which we’re living. And restaurant owners are still expected to become amateur epidemiologists and HVAC experts, sifting through conflicting safety guidelines. And then also expected to self-report to the authorities if staffers get the virus, which doesn’t always happen. And then decide themselves whether and how long to shut the restaurant down.
The safest solution is simple: Get takeout. You’re showing support, and by not showing up in person, you’re reducing the cost of your meal to the establishment, so, even more support. Throw in a bottle of wine or some cocktails and tip big, and you’re really doing it right. Oh, also: Be nice. Nicer. Extra-nice! Planning for staffing is harder now than ever, and SRW creates a logjam of business — it’s stressful and mistakes get made. Be understanding. Tell them how glad you are that they’re still here.
At a time when a week feels like it can last forever, it makes perverse pandemic-sense that Seattle Restaurant Week runs a full month now, from Oct. 25 through Nov. 21. As of this writing, more than 165 restaurants are participating, and the specials are no longer limited to certain days — they’re available every day a given place is open. Check out all the Seattle Restaurant Week options here, sortable for takeout options by neighborhood, and also now by factors like Black-owned, “Eat Local First,” vegan and more. The site also features a “Give a Meal” option, with donations going to That Brown Girl Cooks! Community Kitchen, Musang Community Kitchen, Project Feast and more. Do that, too, if you’re able.
The Seattle Times food staff usually comes up with lists of SRW recommendations — best places for ambiance, best overall values, that kind of thing. At a time like this, that doesn’t feel right. Look for some favorites; try some places you’ve been meaning to get to.
“EAT OUT. TAKE OUT. HELP OUT” is the event’s new tag line, and that should be applied to the restaurants that aren’t doing SRW too. They all need all the help they can get — and eating and drinking, as much as we can within our means, is happily the right thing to do.