Recession Schmecession

Is It My Imagination, Or Are Restaurants Still Crowded?

Okay, this is weird

By Kathryn Robinson February 27, 2009

I’m reading the papers. I’m traumatized by my retirement fund statements. I’m panicked and so are you. So answer me this: Why are restaurants packed?

I’m not going to pretend I have a shred of hard evidence for this. Instead I have third-hand hearsay and anecdotal observation. I have the testimony of friends who tried in vain to get a table in a Bellevue Square restaurant a few weeks ago. (I know, I know…"Bellevue Square Restaurant"…words that have never before appeared together in a sentence. Until this Saturday, actually, when Blue C Sushi opens there.) Anyway, that particular night there wasn’t a single two-top to be had.

I have my own experience cruising Belltown and Ballard and peeking in windows (what restaurant critics do for thrills) and seeing tons of butts-in-seats, even lines. Sitting in the hottest new Pike/Pine eateries pressing flesh with every other foodie in town. Literally feeling up some poor woman—I didn’t mean to ma’am, honest—just sliding through the bodies to get to my table at the latest see-and-be-seen It restaurant, Barrio.

I ran into one of my favorite waiters, Sara from Kirkland’s Trellis, and she told me business is so solid—you know, like 75 walk-ins-a-night solid—they’re opening both sides of the outdoor patio this spring.

Part of this undoubtedly is that Trellis is a bona-fide terrific restaurant, fresh and elegant, plying its trade in a burg that offers little by way of competition.

But I can’t help suspecting that something else is afoot…something that’s actually inspiring. It’s restaurateurs stepping up to the, um, plate, to market their restaurants with resourcefulness and wit. It’s all-new Happy Hours, good ones, at restaurants from Barolo to Pomegranate Bistro, and everywhere in between. It’s smart pricing at those Happy Hours, like the 2-buck tacos at Barrio. It’s putting brunch in the Sunday morning lull that once saw chairs stacked on tables. It’s aiming away from precious dining and into comfort food, which appears to be what everyone wants to eat right now. It’s lowering prices, like the ever-savvy Ethan Stowell did proactively at Union.

It’s making do, creatively, to get through it—and diners are responding with their pocketbooks.

Because here’s the thing: nobody wants to stop going to restaurants. We just want restaurateurs to make it easier for us to do it.

And they are. And I love ’em for it.

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