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Aug 7, 2008 09:41 AM

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?


            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.


          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!