Salty's on Alki pivots in the pandemic to redefine winter dining
Operating a restaurant during a pandemic is no picnic.
Thus far more than 100,000 bars and restaurants have closed as those remaining have tried to sustain themselves on take-out, and with reduced capacity and hours.
But for Salty's on Alki the challenge has been unique. Arguably one of the best known, and among the largest restaurants in Seattle, Salty's delayed reopening for some time to take a good long look at operations, their training, and even the way the building worked. The pandemic meant a shutdown for everyone at first. But then the West Seattle Bridge failed. That meant the cruise passenger and hotel business they had was not coming back anytime soon even if the pandemic were to end. Finally in July they reopened but more changes lay ahead.
Warm weather and a little help from the Clty of Seattle permitting sidewalk seating made it possible for many restaurants to increase their seating space. Even though theoretically Salty's has enough room to serve 425 people at a time, with tables all socially distanced, it's a question of scale.
General Manager Chris Darst said, "We've brought back 40% of our staff so far," noting that without their famous brunches on the weekend, banquets and catering it means right now, they must operate with fewer people. As a side note, they hope to see the brunch return sooner than later, but that depends on restaurant rules yet to be issued.
So they hit on a solution and in the process made it unique, and even an extension of what made Salty's so well known. They commissioned the creation of heavy duty, yet elegant black trimmed clear vinyl tents that cover their patio areas but still manage to preserve the view.
The three tented areas can seat between 100 to 125 guests.
Inside the tents, which are positively ventilated (meaning the air blows out) and heated with ground level, quiet heaters are lights, and natural and seasonal decorations. The tables are generously socially distanced. The tents are considered true outdoor dining since two sides remain open.
Salty's staff has made it their mission to "redefine winter dining."
They've gone well beyond a redefinition. Darst explained that the first and most important consideration was safety. That led to the creation of a 60 page "book" of safety procedures which include keeping kitchen staff six feet apart, staff wearing masks at all times, the use of gloves for all serving, team serving to limit contact and time with guests, and even a kind of choreography in which guests follow set paths into and out of the restaurant, gently guided by staff. They've upgraded the building's HVAC system with MERV 13 filters and UVC lights to literally prevent any kind of bug or virus from circulating. Signs remind guests to wear masks when not seated and dining and to maintain distance.
The goal was to make any inconvenience matter less and the positive parts of the experience matter more. "Whatever makes you comfortable, that's what we want," said Kathryn Kingen. To that end they even offer single use blankets in the event a breeze gets too cold. Darst said,"When you are here we want you to forget your troubles, and just enjoy yourself. Have some great food, a glass of wine or a drink and relax."
While Happy Hour itself won't be back for some time, "It's what restaurants like us had to build back into our menus," said Darst,"there's value in my menu." That means special offer meals like an amazing combination of two pounds of Shrimp Scampi, Mashed Potatoes, and Green Beans for $35 served family style. Of course they retained the CoCo Prawns with Pineapple chutney and Thai Chili Sauce $11, Salty's Caesar Salad $10, and their memorable White Chocolate Mousse Cake.
Salty's also pivoted on their to-go offerings with Grilled Steak Skewers with tiger sauce, charred fennel, orange and watercress at $20, Dungeness Crab by the pound for $30, the "Prez"idential Salad which is blackened Salmon over Caesar for $26. These are not sent out in a plain paper bag. They get special Salty's packaging too.
Salty's on Alki is open Mon-Tues - 4-9 PM. Wed - Fri - 2-9 PM and yes serving breakfast on Sat/Sun - 10 AM - 9 PM (Morning fresh menu - 10AM - 1:30 PM). Reservations are suggested by calling 206-937-1600. They are located at 1936 Harbor Ave SW in Seattle.
so when you have 4 walls, a roof and a door, are you really outside?
yes, since the ventilation is handled in a way that permits a constant flow of fresh air.