Seattle Restaurant Week begins April 1 and runs through April 30, but the month-long promotion isn’t the same as years past. Though SRW usually charges fees to restaurants, participation is free now. Three-course prix fixe meals are still prominent (and have been a big part of the appeal to diners), but restaurants have more flexibility to decide what to offer in the SRW menus, while food trucks and pop-ups can join the fray as well. Takeout and delivery options are encouraged, and the majority of participants offer such services.
In addition, SRW’s website highlights BIPOC- and women-owned businesses in a searchable map and database, and restaurants can opt in at any point during April, as opposed to a more rigid sign-up process previously. These changes follow the same adjustments made during the fall that have been extended into 2021. Among some of the restaurants participating in April’s version of SRW are chef Edouardo Jordan’s acclaimed Ravenna restaurant Salare, Fremont soba destination Kamonegi, and Pioneer Square’s popular Indian restaurant Nirmal’s.
There’s also a charity component to SRW. Each meal includes a “Buy One, Give One” option to donate $10 in support of Good Food Kitchens, a King County-based food assistance and economic development program. The nonprofit helps fund restaurants and other operations running community kitchens, such as That Brown Girl Cooks, Project Feast, Musang, and Feed the People, serving those in need.
Many of these SRW changes should be welcome to a local dining scene still facing enormous challenges, particularly since the promotion often received mixed reviews from local chefs and restaurateurs in the past. Miki Sodos, co-owner of Cafe Pettirosso, Bang Bang Cafe, and Bang Bang Kitchen, told Eater Seattle last year that SRW fees had been prohibitive, but there was pressure to sign up because “if you don’t participate, sales go down dramatically.” Spice Waala’s Uttam Mukherjee says, “We are ‘participating’ in SRW in terms that we have out our restaurants on the website. However, we aren’t doing a special menu and still don’t understand how this is going to work for us given we aren’t doing any dine-in at this time (and till all our employees are fully vaccinated).”
Erin Adams, the executive director of the Seattle Good Business Network, which runs SRW, says the organization absorbed feedback. In terms of COVID protocols, SRW tried to make some improvements for the spring, sending a fully detailed safety page to all participating restaurants and making it clear that they reserve the right to revoke participation from businesses that violate protocols. With COVID cases on the rise in King County, such measures will bear close watching.
Current adjustments could be more permanent fixtures of SRW, although making participation completely free longterm may be a challenge. In the absence of fees, SRW relies on sponsorships, which hasn’t been quite enough to fully cover the costs so far. Still, the Seattle Good Business Network is looking at how it can continue to reduce barriers for restaurants, food trucks, and smaller operations to participate. Says Adams, “We want to center restaurants and do [SRW] the way they want.”