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Communal Dining

In another thread, the idea of communal dining came up.

I can only think of two restaurants, both Basque, that I've experienced this (not including picnics and such). The first time it happened, I was stunned into a motionless panic attack. The hostess immediately guessed what had happened and was very patient in explaining her people's tradition. The next Basque experience was less daunting but still mildly uncomfortable. I will admit that both meals were STUNNING experiences both in qualities and quantities of the food and the gregarious company at "our" tables; we enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Aside from those two experiences, I can't think of another time I've been seated at a communal table. My wife is very much against it.

How do chowhounders feel about it?

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    1. re: dolores

      How come?

      For me, it's because I'm not used to it. It's just different enough as to make me uncomfortable. Of course, those two experiences proved me wrong but I still cringe when I see it.

    2. If you've done dim sum with less than 8-10 people, chances are you've been asked to share a table. Personally, I'd rather have my own table. But as I don't feel like waiting, I'm fine being seated with other people. Generally, in dim sum, it's perfectly acceptable that while you're sitting next to strangers, you don't have to make conversation with them.

      But I can see in other situations of communal dining where if you don't have conversations with the people around you, it's probably not the most appropriate thing to do. I'm not an anti-social person. But I guess my hesitation with communal dining comes from the experience where I've been seated next to (not with) some "interesting" people in the past -- know-it-alls, arrogant, pompous a**holes, etc. Recently, I remember sitting next to this couple where the guy just kept going on and on about how the CEO's an a**hole and how he could do a much better job and how nobody likes him (gee, I wonder why), etc. For half my meal, I had to listen to him just bitch and moan about everything. I wanted to strangle that guy, especially as I couldn't tune him out because he was yelling -- like he wanted everybody to hear his conversation. If I had to sit with him, I don't think I would have enjoyed my meal -- this goes back to the discussion of eating with people you like, which is on this board.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Miss Needle

        I guess that's the "advantage" of having more than the 2.4-kids average family. When we've dined at dim sum places, we are seated at the large circle buffets and no one is seated with us.

        1. re: The Ranger

          Wow. You must go when it's not super busy. I've shared tables (only being a party of 2) with as many as 7 people. Chalk it up to laziness about getting up early on a Sunday morning.

          1. re: Miss Needle

            Busy enough that turnover on the items is high enough that they're made fresh and served hot. :)

            There was a place in Cupertino that served a very decent dim sum (but I'm experiencing a Parentitis Flare-up so the name escapes me). I liked it a lot but all good things must come to an end (and it did); they were there one day, closed the next.

      2. I enjoy it with the right people in the right atmosphere. One thing I hate though is staying at a B&B where people are expected to have breakfast together.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Janet from Richmond

          Totally agree about the B&B breakfast situation. The last thing I want to do is make small talk with strangers especially before several cups of coffee. I hate communal dining in general because it has been my experience that it can either be very awkward or a lot of fun and there is no way to know in advance how it will turn out. I try to avoid these types of situations at all costs.

          1. re: Janet from Richmond

            Now, we have done many B&B's, and have actually welcomed the communal dining there. Guess that we have always had great, and very interesting people at our table?

            Hunt

            1. re: Bill Hunt

              as long as the communal dining group has some interesting, expressive, smart, articulate, people with some knowledge of what's going on in the world, i love being at a communal table.

              great way to learn, grow, and explore while having wonderful food.
              most of the time i find communal tables to include people who are in different lines of work than my own, and who come from different generations than my own. they have an entirely different knowlege base and i find that fascinating.

              1. re: westsidegal

                There is always a possibility that the other diners, in a communal seating, will be less than interesting.

                To date, I have not encountered them (that one chef was a major exception, but his agent was great), but am sure that they exist. I have just been very fortunate, and have had many wonderful communal meals. Will everyone have such? Probably not, as YMMV.

                Hunt

          2. talking to strangers is fine w/me, as is not talking to them. hell, people you don't agree with AND probably will never see again are potentially great fun ;)

            1. Prior to Chowpups, my wife and I used to stay at B&Bs across the world. It is very common in that situation to be seated with the other guests at a communal table. My wife, being a very social erson, wouldend up with local recommendations foreverything from dining to spas to local sights. She really enjoyed it.

              If you go into it with a positive attitude, it usually works out well. Similarly, if you start with a negative attitue, you can diminish your own dining experience as well as those around you. There was a previous thread about how the people you are with affect the enjoyment of the meal. We've found that most people who go to these type of things go with the attitue that they are going to have fun, so they do. We haven't run accross as many negatives as Miss Needle has. Just lucky I guess.

              2 Replies
              1. re: lgphil

                Just wanted to note that when I was talking about the duds I was sitting next to, this wasn't in communal dining situations. So you may have a point about the people who eat in those communal situations are probably not the downers that I've been seated with.

                1. re: lgphil

                  I have found it to be true also. People who are not comfortable about communal dining tend to not go to B&B's.

                  Depending on the type trip, I enjoy them. Like your wife, I've gained tips regarding the area which made my visit much better than it would have been. Most of the people are interesting, well traveled and lovely company. When they aren't, well, it is always good to learn ways to deflect bores.

                  I met a couple who became good friends 25 years ago when they invited me & my ex to share their table at a very crowded lobster pier in Maine!

                2. Recently, in a noodle place in DC's Chinatown, my wife, my son, and I were seated at a table with a couple who live and work in DC.

                  It was a very nice experience. They were nice folks, interesting to talk to, and we had a great time. It was fun to be in a "foreign city" and learn about it from the point of view of folks who lived there.

                  1. When my first husband and I lived in Las Vegas ('60s), communal dining was the rule for dinner shows in many of the show rooms. We went to a dinner show at the Sahara to see Buddy Hacket and Sergio Franchi (an opera singer, for those too young to know), and Franchi was on first. Even though I can't be called an "opera buff," my mother was an opera singer, and I do enjoy a great voice. BUT....!

                    A couple across the table from us didn't like opera. OR Sergio Franchi. So they talked loudly, made fun of opera, even heckled! All the rest of us scowling at them made no difference. They even called out, "We're here to see Hacket. Get off the stage!"

                    When Buddy Hacket came on, I intentionally talked to my husband, though not loud enough for Buddy Hacket to hear me! But the guy across the table scowled at me and told me to shut up. I just scowled back and asked why I should, because I had come to see Sergio Franchi! He kind of simmered down sheepishly, but I've never accepted communal seating since. Except at family picnics. '-)

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Caroline1

                      I like communal dining. Some restaurants with winemaker dinners allow you to sit at your own table or with a group; we always go for the group. We discuss the wine and food. Some people turn out to be pills but it's always interesting.

                      I did have a weird experience at a communal table in Italy. I was with my father and the couple nearest us had decided I was his girlfriend and were kind of winking and stuff. I finally set them straight and they laughed and laughed.

                      1. re: bibi rose

                        Italy is a bit pervy, I'd say, this happened to me with my dad at a hotel when I was 16 (and looked about 13) and the maitre d' kept winking at him. Eww.

                    2. I don't like it for two reasons: (1) often I am not in the mood to be social with strangers or just have nothing in common with the strangers I am seated next to, and (2) if diners are seated at different times each party is at a different stage of the meal, which can be uncomfortable.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: akq

                        That's a very good point you make about being seated at different times of the meal. I can definitely see it being a bit awkward if you're eating and the person next to you has not received his food yet.

                        1. re: akq

                          >>I don't like it for two reasons: (1) often I am not in the mood to be social with strangers or just have nothing in common with the strangers I am seated next to

                          Exactly, akg.

                        2. It's one of those things that I never look forward to, since I'm sort of shy, but that I almost always end up enjoying in a slightly reluctant, yikes-I'm-having-fun-at-a-work-function type of way. I don't go out of my way, but I have to admit that sometimes it is enjoyable, esp. if you're dining alone.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: cimui

                            That's exactly how SWMBO feels (except she's not shy)! :)

                          2. I don't like.

                            If I wanted to dine with strangers I'd sit and eat at the bar.

                            1 Reply
                            1. I've eaten at several communal tables in Boston and NYC as well as at B&Bs in Vermont. As Miss Needle said, dim sum restaurants often have large tables only - so if you're a party of two, as I was in NYC's Chinatown, you eat with upwards of 8-10 others at your table. No biggie. You're all treated as separate guests by the dim sum slip near you.

                              The other place I've eaten at a communal table was at Magnolia's Southern Cuisine in Cambridge, MA. They had smaller individual tables, and one large table in the middle that seated upwards of 10-12. There was a long wait for a table for 4, so we took 4 seats offered at the communal table. As there were 3 other groups of 2, I got the chance to ask them what was good on the menu (having never been there) and used their suggestions to have a wonderful meal.

                              I've had the chance to talk with some interesting people at B&Bs during breakfast, and just had another thought - while I've not taken one, what about cruise ships? Those are usually communal seating arrangements for dinner, so what would people do in that case? You potentially get to meet people from around the world, and should you not get along for whatever reason, you can always try and change your seating time with the dining captain.

                              So ultimately while it's not something I seek out, if it happens, I usually enjoy it based on the people at the table with me. I'm a relatively social person and able to make conversation. If I discover someone doesn't want to talk, so be it - there's usually someone else to talk with.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: LindaWhit

                                From what I have heard from the "cruisers" I know, most of the ships have more casual dining these days. While you might still share a table, it is generally a smaller table and with different people each time. IIRC, some ships you can make a reservation for the size table (some 2-tops too).

                                1. re: meatn3

                                  Ahhh - my best friend took a 2 week cruise around Australia/New Zealand back in March, and she said they had set seating - which she really liked, as she liked almost all of her tablemates (combination of singles and couples, various ages).

                                2. re: LindaWhit

                                  Cruises are much more flexible these days than they used to be. There are many more tables of two and four than there were 20 years ago, and if you don't like the main dining room you can always go to one of the alternative restaurants or the casual dining buffets. Back in the old days, the dining rooms were strict about arriving on time. If you didn't show up within 10 minutes of the bell, you were locked out. These days, they let people in 30-45 minutes into the meal and everyone at the table has to wait until all members arrive before they can order. I was even on a cruise where the server had to bring out each course in his section at one time. We had the perpetual latecomer who showed up 40 minutes late every night and they pretty much had to rush us out of there to get us finished up before the next seating came in. It was a disaster. In a more popular cruising date, there may not be any empty seats available.

                                  I think this is why the more flexible cruises have become more popular. Yes, there may be communal seating, but it's just a one-time thing instead of being stuck with the same potential duds for several days or weeks.

                                3. I'm surprised by the preponderance of negatives. My experiences with communal dining generally have been a chance to meet well traveled folks with interesting tales to share, and many times I glean a tip for a local must -see or do (or don't do) I otherwise would not have heard about.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Veggo

                                    I am also surprised. One of my most fun meals ever (with terrific food) was at a communal table at Campanile maybe 8 or 9 years ago. Since I travel alone for business, it's a nice opportunity to share a meal and the company of others after a long day. I've since eaten at many communal tables, and can't think of a single experience that wasn't enjoyable. But then again, I generally like people.

                                    1. re: jeanmarieok

                                      We can only cite one experience, that was not all that good. It was at a culinary event, with several "guest chefs," during the week. On the last night, we were seated with one of those chefs, and his wife/agent. She was delightful, and insightful, but he did not speak one word, after the introductions. Probably just horribly shy, or maybe anti-social?

                                      That was the one exception for us, but maybe we've just been lucky.

                                      At a similar event, maybe a year later, we were seated with two couples, and both turned out to be healthcare administrators, like my wife. The only downside was that there WAS a tad too much "business" being talked about. I got to charm the wives, so all was OK.

                                      Hunt

                                  2. I frankly don't see any significant difference between sitting at a communal table and being seated next to a table of strangers that's separated from my own by a few inches. Either way, you can strike up a conversation if you want, or you can keep to yourself. And being seated next to a loudmothed jerk has the potential to ruin your meal regardless of whether there's a continuous surface between your place settings.

                                    8 Replies
                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                      The Left Bank (a local franchise) places tables so close you need to be greased with Vaseline to get in and a shoe horn to get out. This chain specializes in loud-mouthed jerks (often emboldened with alcohol) being seated next to quieter customers.

                                      1. re: The Ranger

                                        So how close is TOO close? Is there a distance between separate tables at which you become noticeably uncomfortable? (In the interest of full disclosure, I am an academic who studies this very thing...) Does it matter whether you are seated at a communal table with a couple of feet between you and the diner next to you, or at a separate table that is just as close?

                                        1. re: ftophi

                                          I'm not a big fan of the communal table concept and there are places I've not gone to (Asia de Cuba) for that reason, and at Bar Boulud asked to be seated at the end of the bar, rather than at the communal table.

                                          However, recently went to a place in Manhattan (Socarrat) that only offers that option - we were seated at the end of the table, and there happened to be an empty seat between me and the next person on that side (we were a group of three). It was actually kind of fun to see what they were getting, etc., and there was some minimum chit chat. I agree that sometimes tables can be so close to one another than in fact one might be almost closer than at a communal table. I'm not a fan of that either (in part, ahem, because it seems to be more and more difficult for me to squeeze by and sit down). A couple of feet between me and the next diner is more than enough. A foot is enough. A couple inches - less comfortable.

                                          1. re: ftophi

                                            When I was complaining about the guy in my post above, the tables were very close together -- about one foot separated us (for those of you in NYC, it was on the 1st floor at Zarela). That's not a lot of space. But as we were still seated at separate tables, I didn't feel any obligation to make chit-chat. If the same amount of distance was between us at a communal table, I would feel like I should say something. While it may virtually be the same amount of distance, borders say something to me in terms of what is socially appropriate.

                                            1. re: ftophi

                                              When we dined at the Left Bank, the tables were within 1-foot of each other, close enough that when I stood up, my thighs (less than a foot in diameter) moved our table and the couple's next to us as I attempted to seat myself. This was repeated throughout the evening at every table in the restaurant.

                                              I have a personal space of only a few inches (unusual for most Americans) without the need for tactile reinforcement whereas my wife's personal space is much larger (almost 4X) for strangers.

                                              As far as your question, "Does it matter whether you are seated at a communal table or the diner next to you?" Hmmm. I'm very social and gregarious so the two times I've been seated at a communal table, I overcame my bias immediately. I've been "trained" to enjoy dining out at my own table so it's what I'm most comfortable with. When we were seated at the Basque communal tables, our fellow diners were rubbing elbows with us. That was very off-putting to my wife and eldest daughter (funnily enough a very tactile girl). Spawn and Beta and I adjusted and had fun despite the crowding.

                                              Again, using the Left Bank, I found the tables totally crowded and extremely unenjoyable. I refused to ever step foot in another LB after that meal because the loutish couple on one side was so soused that they were both slurring their words (loudly) and abrasively attacking the server and manager while the couple on our other side was tonsil-mining each other, also well-into their drinks. A little space (privacy) would have been nice.

                                              1. re: The Ranger

                                                No doubt there are magnified risk-reward coefficients in the communal dining format, and one is somewhat casting his fate to the wind for an hour or so. But a success rate of 97% in this day and age is pretty good. Only 3 times in my 55 years have I had to put a good, old-fashioned ass-whippin' on a garish, obnoxious patron who really needed to go home after the emergency room and retool his social skills..

                                              2. re: ftophi

                                                Too close is when you can't get out of your seat because to do so requires your booty hanging over your neighboring table while you shimmy by. In SF we don't run into that as often as NY...but given the choice, I would rather have the table to one side a mere inch away and have plenty of room on the other side to get out, than have equal space on either side of me. I tend to enjoy communal tables, though, even if I don't seek them out, so maybe that's why the table to one side could be so close.

                                                Onto the communal table convo - my favorite, and sometimes weekly communal table experience is at my local sushi boat restaurant (amazingly, it's some of the freshest fish I've found in the city, probably due to the quick turnover). Sometimes I choose not to talk to those next to me at the bar and sometimes there are full blown conversations and sushi recommendations.

                                                1. re: ftophi

                                                  Now, communal dining is one thing, but table spacing can be a totally different set of circumstances.

                                                  We have dined at two, very often cited Las Vegas restaurants (touted for the celebrity chefs, and the wine programs), where the tables are so close, that when a server delivers something to one, their posteriors sweep across the near-by one. THAT is just too close. At one, with a highly vaunted wine program, our wine glasses were spilled, everytime either of the near-by tables were served, and we were asked if we'd mind letting the servers have our wine glasses, to be returned, when we needed them! Tables too close!

                                                  Hunt

                                            2. I have dined at many places where they seat multiple parties at the same large table, but they are seated separately, order separately, and talking to others at the table is purely optional. It is just like having another table very close by. I recently experienced much more "communal" dining at a local restaurant (The Corson Building in Seattle). All the parties show up at the same time, are seated together at large tables, and then all the food is served family style to the whole table. I am more of an introvert (and don't like B&Bs for that reason) but this was a very fun enjoyable meal. it helped immensely that the people there wanted to be there and loved food. If we had an obnoxious table mate, it would be bad, though.

                                              1. One of the few places where I've seen communal dining (besides sharing a table at dim sum, or a few mom-and-pop chinese places) was at a spa in Arizona. It was called the 'Captain's Table' and allowed single people or groups of two to sit at a big table together. It offered singles a way to not have to eat alone, which was a nice option. I ate there a few times, and thoroughly enjoyed visiting with other holidayers from around the world.

                                                I don't think I would enjoy it as much if I was going out with friends - the purpose of the evening would be to spend time with them, not with strangers seated at the same table.

                                                1. I don't understand why one would have a panic attack when asked to share a table with someone you don't know.

                                                  I'd rather sit by myself, or with people I know, of course, but please. Isn't this overreacting a bit?

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Halie

                                                    Sometimes the unexpected is easily overcome; sometimes not. It was not something I'd ever experienced without some sort of prior experience (picnic gatherings, extended family gatherings, weddings) where I knew going in that I would be talking to someone I'd not met prior. A restaurant was just not a place I'd ever experienced a communal table so stopping and wondering if I was getting more than I'd be comfortable with was what stopped me. I also know my wife does not like being seated with people she doesn't know (usually). If I was left to my own devices, then I'd've simply adjusted and that'd been it. That wasn't the case, though. So, no, it was not overreacting. :)

                                                  2. Personally, I adore communal tables (you don't need to talk to people around you it's just a more laid back vibe while you're eating (without sacrificing elegance and decor, usually, b/c they tend to be very well designed) ). Avec restaurant in Chicago is possibly the best of the best in this regard. It's a beautiful, tiny room and honestly there was no other way to make it work.

                                                    But I'm curious, what is about communal dining that it seems that most here do not like?

                                                    1. We ate at Basque restaurants when I was growing up. Always good in all aspects.

                                                      1. Having grown up with it in Chinese restos in Hong Kong, I personally have no problems with it. You can ignore the people if you like (90% of the time) and but you get the benefit of seeing what others are eating to determine if it looks good!
                                                        IMO, having loud obnoxious people seated at the next table is no different than having them seated next to you at the communal table. Either way, you're going to be disturbed during your meal. Make the best of it and then move on.

                                                        9 Replies
                                                        1. re: bdachow

                                                          A lot of Asians don't talk much during meals anyway, so ignoring other diners is not as rude as it might seem elsewhere. Confucius said something about no talking at dinner way back when...

                                                          1. re: mogo

                                                            In my experience there is always lots and lots of talking among the Chinese during meals. Especially during dim sum.

                                                            1. re: KTinNYC

                                                              There's talking before, and there's talking after, but I find that once the food's arrived, everyone more or less concentrates on eating. You might have snippets of conversation (like "pass the rice" or "wow, this is good"), but it's definitely far less talking than is expected when you have a meal with Western people. I don't feel obliged to make conversation.

                                                              Dim sum is kind of different. That seems more a snacky, lingering and chatting over tea kind of event. I don't know, to me it doesn't have the same connotations as regular meals.

                                                              1. re: mogo

                                                                I tend to disagree that Asians don't talk that much during meals. Some of my fondest memories as a kid are eating out at Chinese restaurants and watching all my aunts and uncles get into debates about every topic under the sun. Was endlessly amusing!
                                                                And I must say that Chinese restaurants in general, seem to me to be always way noisier than Western restaurants.

                                                                1. re: bdachow

                                                                  In my experience, I find that Asians don't talk as much while they're eating compared to Westerners. But I've noticed in Chinese restaurants, a lot of Chinese talk at really loud volumes -- much louder than what I'm used to. So it may sound like they're talking quite a bit. DH's family (Chinese) are quite the opposite as they are all soft-spoken. So it can be a strain to hear them when we go out to eat at a Chinese restaurant. But I have noticed that Chinese do talk quite a bit when there's no food in front of them.

                                                                  Even though I like to converse while I'm eating, there's something to be said about eating in silence. It leads to more mindful eating and more appreciation of the food that is set in front of you. How many of you guys didn't realize that you finished a whole bag of potato chips all by yourself because you were distracted by talking or watching television?

                                                                  1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                    Hang on, y'all. Table noise differs greatly by which Asian group and sub-group we're talking about. Males vs females; lower vs middle vs upper classes; young vs old; familes vs singles. Noise levels and types of noise vary from Pakistan to East Timor and all points between--each Asian group has a distinct level and quality from murmers and whispers to slurpers to teeth sucking to conversations that sound like chicken coops to loud talkers to low talkers to everyone at once to one at a time to sullen eaters to yellers to singers to explosive grunters to burpers, farters, groaners, smackers, and on and on....

                                                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                      Of course, you're definitely correct that there are variations of noise in groups and diners. And when I was talking about Asians I was referring to Chinese. My bad -- I should have been more specific. I've eaten in Chinatown restaurants in NYC, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Gabriel Valley, Vancouver and Toronto. I have not eaten in Shanghai, Beijing -- well, the list can go on and on. I've eaten in higher end restaurants as well as "joints." And in my experience, I've got to say that the overall noise level in these restaurants have generally been higher than other restaurants I've been to. The least noisy experience I've had was at the Four Seasons in Hong Kong -- but the diners there were mostly tourists.

                                                                      1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                        hmmmm... I've always assumed the difference in noise levels between Asian and non-Asian restaurants is due to the accoustics. Asian restaurants tend to have more hard surfaces to bounce sound around. Even when you get to very high end Asian restaurants, the art work and decor in general tends to be hard finishes such as lacquer, stone, hard woods and such, whereas high end non-Asian restaurants tend toward flocked wallpaper, heavy draperies, and paintings or reproductions on canvas. But I suspect you'll find the accoustics in a '50s style retro diner with lots of formica, stainless steel, and high gloss walls to be very close to Asian restaurants, if not more "bounce to the ounce" where sound is concerned.

                                                                        Just a guess...

                                                            2. re: mogo

                                                              Now, going back a bit, my tennis doubles partner was Chinese, and his entire family owned a bunch of restaurants. We often dined with his extended family, and there was always conversation around the table, though some was beyond my understanding. When that happened, a family member always translated for me, and we conversed pretty well, though I obviously had a language barrier. Somehow, my wife, who speaks zero Chinese, always seemed to be way ahead of me, and seldom needed that translation.

                                                              Maybe different families?

                                                              Hunt

                                                          2. I've generally enjoyed communal dining experiences that I've had -- though to some extent, I have to be in the mood for it, so I'm not likely to seek out a communal dining situation if I'm crabby or tired.

                                                            When I cruise with my parents, my mother and I specifically seek out the open seating lunches where you get seated with other people, because we enjoy meeting other guests on the ship, and find that's the best way. The formal dinner seatings have never quite worked out for us -- in our first cruise, we had a table for five for our group alone, in our second cruise, it was our group of six plus one other couple who refused to speak to us the first night and then got their own table for the rest of the nights, and in our most recent cruise it was 'freestyle' so there wasn't the communal dinner tables -- but my mother always tries to make that happen.

                                                            One of my favorite aspects of my visit to Nashville was the communal dining table at Monell's -- it was just so homey to sit there and chat with people while eating. Though the fact that our table was half seated and started before the other half got there did make the family style service a little awkward.

                                                            Other than the totally grumpy people on our second cruise, though, I don't think I've ever had a bad communal dining experience socially speaking. That may be because people who aren't into the vibe (and you have to really be willing to go with it) are self-selecting out of the experience.

                                                            1. A couple of days ago I was watching a cable channel that offered a guided tour of a new very high end NYC restaurant about to hold its grand opening. Really good design (not surprising at that investment level) that was a well balanced mixture of mid-twentieth century modern, a touch of Mondrian, and the 1960s House Beautiful version of "shibui" (which is different from Anthony Bourdain's version). The kind of place where a painting on a wall would shatter the artistic balance of the whole. And I'm thinking to myself, "Oh oh. A simple dinner here has to start at about $300.00 per and quickly work up from there! And you just know the veggie side will be one fresh garden pea in its own shell with a single crystal clear 'dew drop' of perfectly placed kirschwasser." In other words, a Big Mac for dessert on your way home if you don't want to listen to your stomach growl all night long. After all of the seductive "eye porn," their very last couple of shots were looking down on two very loooooooong banquettes along facing walls with dozens of impecably aligned two-tops with a chair at each, and MAYBE one foot betrween tables. And underscore that "MAYBE." Heavily.

                                                              I thought to myself, "Are they stark raving mad?" But when I thuoght about it, it became clear. It's a method of brigning communal dining to the elite as a method of cost control. Unfortunately, it seems like one of those horrendous things in life that can't help but catch on.

                                                              So... The thing I hate about such seating is the same thing I hate about movie theaters. I'm ALWAYS seated next to the guy who hogs the armrest all to himself. I just know if I go to one of those restaurants they're going to seat me with a left handed person sitting on my right! <sigh> I really like that 1930s novelty where every table had a telephone and you could "call in" your communal dining.

                                                              4 Replies
                                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                                NYC's rents can be very high that they definitely need to keep the costs in mind. And some spaces are so tiny that they only way to make use of the space is to have a communal table. Socarrat that MMRuth mentioned above is so narrow that that is the only way to do it.

                                                                Here's a pic of Auerole, Charlie Palmer's fine dining restaurant in NYC. Notice how tight the space is between tables.

                                                                http://images.google.com/imgres?imgur...

                                                                1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                  My communal dining experiences have not been cramped. The closest quarters has been Momofuku Ssam. My only problem there is that the stools are bulky and difficult to move, especially if you are short.

                                                                  Communal I enjoy on occasion, cramped - not so much! I like to be able to reach my seat with out subjecting those already dining to such an intimate, riveting view of my backside.

                                                                  1. re: meatn3

                                                                    You make a good distinction - communal vs cramped.

                                                                    I agree 100%. One is good, where the other is not.

                                                                    Hunt

                                                                  2. re: Miss Needle

                                                                    Those are banquet sized tables compared to the ones I saw. And banquette seating isn't that new. Tables with contilever devices under them so the captain can slide the whole table out to allow access to the banquette have been common for... well... my guess would be at least a century..

                                                                    As a writer with a fertile imagination, I just find it fun to think of a couple of spies getting restuarants mixed up and ending up someplace where the next table can hear what they're thinking! No passed secrets there. Or a couple having dinner, and the wife says, "Oh, come on, Frank. Friend or no friend, you KNOW Jeffrey Schmidt is an a--hole!" And the stranger at her elbow exclaims, "He's my brother in law!" Is such dining going to promote phone texting between dinner partners? Stay tuned! '-)

                                                                2. Imagine, if you will, a small energetic woman in her 70's who can talk for three minutes without taking a single breath. She can talk for days, weeks, months and she can talk about anything, is very kind, but sadly usually ends up talking about her father's uncle's half-brother's in-law's best friend who was farming two counties over from where she was raised in 1942. You will leave the table exhausted although you never were able to get a word in edge-wise.
                                                                  She exists, she's my MIL, and she loves bed & breakfasts and communal tables. I love her but you should be afraid. Be very afraid.

                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                  1. re: sebetti

                                                                    What a poignant, funny, somewhat sad, and touching vignette!

                                                                        1. re: Gio

                                                                          W/ no mayo, on day-old bread.

                                                                      1. re: sebetti

                                                                        There was a virus going around when we were kids. She probably caught it too... '-)

                                                                      2. Communal dining is a good option, as long as it is an option. Sometimes instead of waiting for a table you can sit at the communal table. If you are traveling alone and want to chat. I was in Santa Fe and we ate at Pasqual's, it was a busy lunch so we sat at the table, good conversation, two guys from Boeing and a foreign couple. It was nice to see everyone's food and talk a little. I guess you have to be in the right frame of mind, maybe smile, you can tell if people want to chat or not.

                                                                         
                                                                         
                                                                         
                                                                        1. communal dining is totally fine in a pho house or any place that is really busy or cafeteria-style, i roll with it if the food is good, and there is always a chance you'll talk to someone really interesting or catch sight of a new-to-you dish to try out next time. if i want the illusion of privacy it's a couple of bucks more per plate, hmmm? it's a tradeoff. sometimes dh & i only talk about business so it's crushingly boring for other people, sometimes we're exhausted and don't talk at all, we're comfortable with our silence but others might think we're strange-- all good reasons to get our own isolated table. . . i do think communal dining is great fun when travelling, you always get the local flavor, local color, local tips and learn a lot. my favorite in most locales is the big communal table called "the bar."

                                                                          1. I've only experienced it so far at Chinese restaurants when they are full and those eight person round tables beckon. I don't mind it, and I've never been bothered by anyone or talked to anyone. It's a bit different for North American tastes, I agree, but not an awful experience.

                                                                            1. I've had some great experiences with communal dining (dim sum; Basque, B&B to name a few) but the key IMO is to go in with minimal expectations. Sometimes you get seated with an awful group of people, and on your way out the door you think to yourself, "I'm glad that's over" but more often than not, you'll find at least one or two really interesting people.

                                                                              1. I'm all for Communal Dining and Drinking...

                                                                                http://www.oktoberfest.de/en/

                                                                                 
                                                                                1. No. Never. Two reasons: I love to dine alone with a good book. I consider this time soothing and meditative, whether I am dining in a small corner shop or a high-end room. Second, my job demands heavy interaction with dozens of people all day, everyday. During my off hours I do not want to talk to strangers, especially during a "re-charge" time.

                                                                                  1. What a coinkydink! The first communal dining restaurant I ever experienced was Basque also. In Nevada. Can't remember if it was in Reno or Lost Wages.

                                                                                    I don't mind them. In fact, when I was at a dim sum restaurant, I had ordered a side order of Chinese broccoli but it was a big plate and I couldn't finish them. I offered them to the people next to us. Who gladly accepted. See?

                                                                                    1. I've eaten at communal tables in the US, at B&B's, BBQ joints, German places and concept restaurants that thought it would be cool to have a communal table. I've eaten at communal tables throughout Europe.

                                                                                      I don't like it.

                                                                                      The problem is all my own, I think: I just don't like people. I don't want to associate with them or get to know them if I don't have some prior connection. I have enough problems of my own; I don't need to hear other people's issues.

                                                                                      A private table in the walk-in freezer would usually be preferable to the communal table as far as I'm concerned.

                                                                                      1. I don't seek it out in the US, but I've traveled to countries where it's much more common (most recently: Vietnam). Doesn't bother me.

                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                        1. re: LeoLioness

                                                                                          These are exactly my thoughts - I've encountered it in a number of situations and it's fine. But I don't seek it out.

                                                                                          That being said, if I was dining alone I would probably find that the most uncomfortable. When I'm eating out alone, I usually have something to read - and that would make me feel really awkward in a communal dining setting.

                                                                                        2. I have a local casual East Asian place that has communal seating. Doesnt overly bother me if I'm there having lunch on my own but it's not something I'd be keen on if there were two of us.

                                                                                          1. Growing up,I experienced communal tables in Europe and in general, when I am placed at one now, I am fine with it because I have no problem setting boundaries.

                                                                                            We rarely encounter them in our regional area. The exception is a very popular restaurant in our town with wacky table set ups. There, it is not out of the ordinary for us to be at long table of 8 (we being a party of 3) and inviting strangers to take the other end of the table, it's is the culture of the place and all but one time, the table mates behaved well.

                                                                                            1. We have done it often.

                                                                                              Most often in B&B's, where it is very commonplace, but also at several restaurants. We have never had one issue.

                                                                                              In a few, where we had been given a larger table (common practice in some favorite restaurants, that know we will have lots of wine glasses), we have informed a host/hostess that we would not mind a waiting couple being seated with us, unless we were way into a meal.

                                                                                              To date, that has always yielded interesting conversation.

                                                                                              Also, we do a lot of culinary/wine events at a resort, like Blackberry Farm, and are seated with others. Again, always a great experience.

                                                                                              Hunt

                                                                                              1. I don't have any problem with communal dining. Every single Hibachi restaurant is communal dining.

                                                                                                For many years every cruise shit had communal dining. (Now many cruises offer less structured dining options).

                                                                                                Jon Bon Jovi opened a restaurant locally to myself which is to benefit those in need and the seating is communal. (Soul Kitchen, Red Bank, NJ).

                                                                                                Bobby Flay's Bobby Burger Haven's are all to my knowledge communal seating. It's becoming a bit more of a popular concept and I for one have no problem with it.

                                                                                                Not for fine dining though........I reserve that for private dining.

                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                1. re: jrvedivici

                                                                                                  <<It's becoming a bit more of a popular concept>>

                                                                                                  I have been seeing communal seating much more often, in Phoenix, San Francisco and Dallas.

                                                                                                  Some restaurants in New Orleans have offered it for a very long time.

                                                                                                  I have not seen it so much in Europe/UK, but that might depend on the exact restaurants.

                                                                                                  Now, Joël Robuchon has had similar, with his counters in his L'Atelier restaurants in Europe/UK and in the US. While not exactly the same as a large table, for many diners, it has similarities.

                                                                                                  Like you, I also prefer more intimate dining on many occasions, and would not want to be seated at a communal table for those.

                                                                                                  Hunt