I think we can all agree that going out for coffee or food is already a treat, especially in these times of ever-increasing inflation. But sometimes, we need a little something extra—whether that’s a small freebie, a creative presentation, or even just a kind word. That’s why we’ve polled everyone we know to get the inside scoop on the places that go beyond “service with a smile” to really make their customers’ days.

Special Occasion

When you’re celebrating someone or marking an occasion, you don’t have to go to an expensive dinner to make it special—you just have to go to the right kind of restaurant.

Why not try something different from the usual and hit up a Korean barbecue? The interactive element of cooking your food on the tabletop adds a little flame of excitement to the meal, and the complimentary banchan (small side dishes like kimchi, spicy cucumbers, or stir-fried spinach) make it feel like a feast. If you’re in Mount Vernon, Pyung Chang Korean BBQ is delicious, and the service is always friendly and helpful.

Photograph by Anne Godenham

For something a bit more posh, you can’t go wrong with high tea. The tiny sandwiches alone will make you feel like royalty (or a powerful giant, if that’s more your style). White Branches, in Mount Vernon, takes the experience a step further by offering an immersive fantasy tea room experience. You’ll feel completely whisked away by the whimsical decor and traditional tiered service, or if you want to go all the way through the looking glass, you can reserve their secret Wonderland room with a special menu and performances.

Dietary Concerns

While a bit of flair is always fun, for many people just feeling safe dining out is a rare treat. Dietary restrictions and allergies can make eating at a restaurant scary, or even dangerous, which is why we wanted to find out which restaurants go the extra mile when it comes to ingredients.

For diners with celiac disease or a serious gluten intolerance, avoiding gluten means much more than just cutting out carbs—gluten is in all sorts of sauces and other ingredients. So it matters when a restaurant takes that seriously, like Fiamma Burger, in Bellingham, which dedicates a section of their kitchen to gluten-free prep and cooking to avoid cross-contamination. In Mount Vernon, Shambala Bakery is actually 100% gluten free, so people with celiac can feel safe eating anything on the menu.

Photograph by Anne Godenham

When I asked people in the community for their recommendations on this point, two other restaurants came up as safe spaces for families with severe food allergies: Thai House in Mount Vernon and Mestizo Mexican Family Restaurant in Sedro-Woolley. Both of these restaurants were commended for having delicious food and staff who genuinely care about the safety of their customers, which is especially important to parents of allergic kids. As one mom put it: “when staff, for example, go get their senior staff member and that person converses with the chef/cooks, and then they write the allergy on the to-go box, I feel safe enough to allow my child to eat— which means a LOT.”

Thoughtful Touches

A little bit of recognition goes a long way when you’re a regular patron of a particular business—just being recognized and greeted warmly can mean so much. But at Billy’s Cafe in Burlington, the owners occasionally go so far as to order personalized mugs for their regulars to drink coffee from on repeat visits! They even save the mugs of regulars and staff who’ve passed on, giving them pride of place on the top shelf of the display.

Photograph by Anne Godenham

As a mom myself, I know how easy it is to bundle your toddler and yourself out of the house and find out halfway to your destination that you’ve forgotten the diaper bag (and we all know that’s when your kid’s body decides that now is the time for a real doozy). That’s why I was so touched to find not only a sturdy, safe changing table but a selection of complimentary diapers in Maple.Bar’s all-gender bathroom. You can bet the Cordata spot is my new favorite, even when I’m kid-free.

While the kids themselves may not care about diapers, they’ll almost certainly be thrilled by the complimentary donut holes served at the beginning of brunch at B-Town Kitchen & Raw Bar, in Bellingham. While they chow down, you can actually look at the menu in peace for a moment! Indulge Bakery in Mount Vernon also caters to their littlest customers, offering free hot cocoa for kids.

And for those of you with fur babies, Starbucks isn’t the only place where your pup can get a snack when you grab a coffee. Whidbey Island Bagel Factory, in Mount Vernon, often has a container of dog treats tucked away (and plenty of pats at the ready) for their furry visitors.