Shoulder to Shoulder with Strangers: Dining at the communal table.

  image via The Publican


We tend to like our public dining experiences to be private.

The communal tables of school cafeterias and summer camps are in the past. As adults, we envelop the experience in an aura of privacy, seated with just our private party, at our own table, booth, or banquette. We seldom pay to eat a meal at a table alongside strangers.
Personally, I even enjoy a table for one; just me and my meal—no extraneous conversation, no one asking me to switch to the tuna because they’re already ordering the lamb, no presumptive fork sticking into my dessert.

Unlike us, Europeans have long-standing traditions of communal dining. In 18th century France, a court decree banned caterers from bringing meals to the nobility in their palaces, in favor of the socially equalizing store-front dining. Shared tables are still a key element of bistros, beer halls, tavernas, and tapas bars.

Recently, communal tables have been cropping up all over this country. Experts speak of the trend and point to a hunger for personal connectedness. Isolated by technology and separated by distance from families, we yearn for social engagement and a sense of community. Restaurants are all too happy to meet that need. For them, communal tables are an efficient use of space that can accommodate any size party and don’t require reservations.

Sitting with strangers isn’t always a success, but that’s OK. It’s not a dinner party—you order what you want, eat at your own pace, walk out when you’re ready, and in between you’re under no obligation to make conversation. But more often it works. You get to eavesdrop on conversations, scope out other dishes, and share in celebrations. And the bonding over food is unbeatable—sort of like a live version of Yelp.



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3 Responses to Shoulder to Shoulder with Strangers: Dining at the communal table.

  1. Pingback: social pairing

  2. Did it surprise you that anyone felt strongly enough about communal tables in restaurants to include it in a top 10 of worst dining trends? It did me.The only communal tables I can think of around here off the top of my head are at the Lebanese Taverna in Harbor East Tabrizis in Harborview and the Iron Bridge Wine Company in Columbia. Or to pick up cute guys or gals?The reasonthey areso awful is this Said Michael Schwartz the chef owner of Michaels Genuine Food Drink in Miami the communal table assumes people who dont know each other want to sit together.Well duh. Tribune photo by Antonio Perez .

  3. Monet says:

    We ate at a communal table the other night…but we must have looked or smelled scary (no one sat near us!) I think it is an interesting concept, and I enjoyed the atmosphere of the restaurant we visited. I guess I’ll be able to say more once I’ve actually sat next to a stranger. Thanks for sharing!

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Is it appropriate conversation for the dinner table? Then it should be fine.

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