Jill Gallagher couldn’t remember who, exactly, had recommended she check out the brunch menu at Dreamland. “But whoever it is,” she posted on Facebook, “I’m not happy with you.” Let’s be clear, Gallagher is a fan of this new bar in Fremont. “Why did you not tell me to go sooner?” she continues. “Why did you not drag me out of bed and deposit me in one of their booths?”
Her joyful snark permeates Seattle Restaurant Support, the Facebook group Gallagher started in the decidedly less joyful early weeks of March, when fears of the encroaching coronavirus (not even an official pandemic yet) canceled droves of restaurant reservations across the city, and would-be diners wanted to help. The group’s mission has evolved with each new stage of bar and restaurant restrictions, but along the way, Seattle Restaurant Support became an indispensable grassroots resource, even on an internet crowded with pre-existing sources of information.
In those early days, membership “went from zero to several thousand very quickly,” says Gallagher. Now it hovers around 8,600; the page hosts multiple robust discussions each day, from an unsolicited shout-out to great gluten-free muffins (Frog Legs Cooking School in University Village) to a restaurateur seeking a template for the Covid symptom form diners completed at check-in, before this week's shutdown. Oh, and lots of requests for recommendations.
Of all the Facebook groups in the world, Gallagher has no idea why hers gained traction. It could be how little information existed in those uncertain early days. It might also be the unusual level of osmosis between restaurant fans and restaurant professionals. Seattle Restaurant Support evolved into an equal resource for diners looking for covered, heated patios and a chef querying how other restaurants will approach holiday menus. It’s a rare forum where these two groups can engage with each other, in a moment when we’re all groping for the right thing to do. The topical grab bag is also refreshingly democratic; unlike food media (yep, taking a hard look in the mirror over here), conversations often center on longstanding, under-buzzed neighborhood favorites.
Gallagher has no professional connection to restaurants—“I don’t fangirl over sports stars or musicians,” she says. “I fangirl hard over chefs.” Before Covid, she’d become immersed in Facebook auctions from her Queen Anne home, to support victims of the Australia bushfires and had raised more than $50,000. “This is a way for me to jump back in there and feel useful again.”
She spends several hours a day moderating, with input from a six-person sounding board with varying perspectives, dubbed the Intrepid Masticators. Gallagher’s professional background in staffing and behavioral interviewing proves handy to foster conversation. If someone raves about a restaurant without disclosing they’re an owner, she politely requests transparency; when a chef mentions a new special or popup, she’ll hop in the comments to press for more details. An unshy native New Yorker, she drops the “delete post” hammer unflinchingly on topics that stray outside the group’s mission: Support restaurants (no other types of businesses) in Seattle (the city proper).
Mostly, snark aside, she keeps the group truly supportive. “This is not a place for somebody to say, ‘Well, I had bad service there once.” In other words, it’s not Yelp. That particular platform provokes strong feelings among restaurant owners in the group. “It’s like Voldemort,” says Gallagher. “People don’t love it.”