A handful of diners, like Ali Brast, don't miss a single night of Inlander Restaurant Week, strategically planning and budgeting to truly make the most of the 10-day culinary showcase offering three-course, fixed-price menus for $21 or $31 per person at more than 100 restaurants.
While many of us can't budget the funds or time to be that committed, super-diners like Brast are a testament to the economic boost a region-wide event like Restaurant Week can provide to the local hospitality industry.
When we spoke to Brast Monday morning, five days into the 10-day event, the Spokane foodie had already been to Downriver Grill and the Wandering Table in Spokane, and the Cedars Floating Restaurant and Midtown Bluebird in Coeur d'Alene.
"It's kind of like my Olympics," Brast says, laughing. "I plan for it and save up for it and use it as a chance to go out with friends and my husband. My friends kind of make fun of me, but also come to me with suggestions, so it's my job to pore over the menus to give good recommendations."
So far, Brast gives her highest praise to Midtown Bluebird in Coeur d'Alene — "a great menu, and I loved the vibe and creativity," she notes — and is excited to return to Central Food in Kendall Yards later this week because it's been some time since she last visited.
Queena Hale, who frequently reviews restaurants as one of the Spokane Culinary Arts Guild's resident tastemakers, has also been quite busy during the first few days of Restaurant Week. Hale and dining guests so far have enjoyed their restaurant choices, with a trip to the Lantern Tap House in South Perry standing out.
"At Lantern, we had really good service. We went on a Friday night and had no reservations," she says. "They were busy, but took care of us and our food came out on time or even a little sooner than that."
Hale noticed the creativity on the Lantern's menu, like its first course option of a hot reuben cheese dip, served with marble rye crostini toast. She also plans to return to reorder its featured entree and menu mainstay of "famous" fish and chips.
Hale was also impressed with the attention to detail at Iron Goat Brewing, which she notes was extremely busy, yet efficient, when her group of eight came in last weekend for Restaurant Week. Next up on her list is Wiley's Downtown Bistro and the Cedars in Coeur d'Alene.
On the other side of every three-course menu during Restaurant Week are the owners, chefs and staff at each restaurant. The few we spoke with Monday between the lunch and dinner rush expressed gratefulness to customers who've been by for Restaurant Week. Restaurant management also acknowledged that the 10-day event carries an urgency to deliver a positive experience to all diners.
"We got absolutely hammered on Friday and Saturday night," says Austin Stolp, executive chef and general manager at the Ref sports bar in Spokane Valley, a first-time Restaurant Week venue this year.
He's not complaining, though. Stolp says despite the unusual influx of customers, the restaurant received several online reviews praising its food and service.
Across town at Cascadia Public House in North Spokane's Five Mile Neighborhood, a major boost in traffic is a shared experience.
"It's been really good business-wise," notes Cascadia co-owner Jordan Smith. "We had some stuff from last year we tweaked, and faced some new challenges, but we're getting it all dialed in. People are really liking the food and the atmosphere."
The biggest challenge, he says, has been a lack of tables to meet customer demand each night. The fairly small restaurant has seen its waitlist up to 40 names long, and only takes a limited amount of reservations as to accommodate these walk-in customers.
Cascadia's Restaurant Week menu is sort of a greatest hits sampler of its most popular regular menu items, Smith says, so that new customers are inspired to return after Restaurant Week has ended.
"We've been having a lot of people here for the first time and that has been great," he says. "We really try to make a huge point to staff that we need to win these people over and they want to come back here." ♦
Inlander Restaurant Week continues through Saturday, March 2. Find three-course menus for all 107 participating restaurants at inlanderrestaurantweek.com.