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Should Single Diners Be Forced to Share a Table?

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A few years ago I experienced this for the 1st time in NYC. I went to my favorite South Indian buffet (Chennai Garden) which granted is literally a hole in the wall. Also, due to the cheap prices and lunch rush it was very crowded. I was by myself. I have no problem waiting for a table. I was given a seat and began to dig in when 10 minutes later another single diner was plopped down at my table (I was not asked). I didn't want to be rude to this diner because he was already laden down with food and there quite frankly was nowhere else for him to go. However I was extremely perturbed and felt that my delicious lunch was ruined.

I realize that this is mainly a personal/cultural issue. Some people have no problem with a lack of personal space. I also know that many cultures (especially in Asia) are okay with it; sometimes even prefer it. However, this restaurant was in NYC where our culture generally feels the opposite (for better or for worse). If it's a restaurant's policy I wish they would let you know upfront or at least ask you. For ex, this weekend I was at a vietnamese place in Chinatown. It was very busy. I was asked several times if I wanted to share; each time I said politely "no thank you. I do not mind waiting". While they were nice about it I was still a bit paranoid and made sure to put my coat on the other seat!

How do you feel about being forced (or even asked) to share a table?

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  1. You might meet someone nice!!!

    1 Reply
    1. re: duck833

      Or a serial killer,

      I once was forced to share a table, and went along with it begrudgingly because it was a small mom and pop Korean place with 8 tables and it was packed. The guy who they sat down on my table (without asking me) started giving me weird pervert guy looks.. I was so freaked out.I scarfed down my meal in less than 5 minutes, He also made weird noises (like grunting snorts)

      I realize many people do not mind eating with strangers, but I do. (unless I invite them)

    2. During March Madness at a busy bar and grill a two-top very generously shared their large table with out party of four. It was a lovely gesture, and was greatly appreciated. In the appropriate context, I think it can be a good thing. The key in my experience though was that the couple offered. They were not forced. At the very least, the host/hostess/server should check with the diner. Because you were asked numerous times, I wonder if there was a miscommunication...Hopefully the food was good.

      1. I'm extremely shy, so i don't think i would be too comfortable with this.

        1. I think it partly has to do with the type of restaurant. Like you said, you were in a hole in the wall in an asian culture restaurant. I would definitely expect them to offer the other chair to someone, and knowing the tight budget they probably operate on, I would not be offended. If I were at an american restaurant, any level above hole in the wall, I would be surprised if they even asked me to share. If it was an american hole in the wall, i would still expect to be asked unless it was obvious that sharing was the norm (ie: one or two long tables, or a sign.)

          1. Cultural issues were definitely at play here. At any American or European restaurant in the US, it would be highly unacceptable to simply place another person at a currently occupied table. Hell, it would even be unacceptable to even ask the occupant of the table if they would like to share. Having said that, a few years ago, I was on a solo trip across the US and stopped in at a well regarded restaurant in Savannah for lunch. I put my name on the huge waiting list and a bit later the host approached me asking if I would mind sharing my table with a couple of other ladies. Apparently, threes and fours could get seated much quicker than twos and ones. We all readily agreed and had a delightful lunch with interesting conversation.

            2 Replies
            1. re: hilltowner

              I had a similar experience in New Orleans pre-Katrina. We were at a hole-in-the-wall seafood place (that is sadly no longer there), needed a table for 2. The restaurant was strictly first-come, first-served in terms of tables. The line was out the door and around the block, when it was out turn to order at the counter we invited the guy behind us in line to join the table rather than make him wait 10-15 minutes for the next table to open up.

              On a somewhat related note, my parents met when my mom was looking for a table for lunch at a diner near their college campus. There weren't any free tables, but she saw a cute boy sitting at a booth alone and asked if she could sit with him. 6 months later they were married, and 11 years after that they had me!

              Edit: after a quick googling I realize the restaurant I thought was closed is still open. Yay! One more thing I have to look forward to when I'm done there in August.

              Edit to my edit: Google lied. The restaurant is closed. Sigh.

              1. re: mpjmph

                New Orleans story: very nice!

                Mom and Dad story: really sweet,

                The restaurant being closed: bummer.

            2. Unless somebody's holding a gun to your head, you aren't being "forced" to share a table.
              If you don't like the way you're being treated, leave. That'll show 'em!

              1. I would not accept sharing a table. I would immediately and clearly state my objection and if my objection was ignored, I would walk out with out paying.

                1. I don't think it should be "forced" on someone. I wouldn't be opposed if someone asked. I have often shared tables at food courts. Chances are if the restaurant was so chaotic that it required sharing tables, I wouldn't be staying that long anyhow.

                  1. Oh I think that you should sit with strangers. They are nearly always entertaining. Even the dullest and most sullen will usually find a way to amuse you even if it just by bristling at relentless attempts to get them to disclose deep personal secrets!

                    Restaurants, particularly small ethnic ones, need to earn a living and they can't do that if you insist on taking up a table for two or more and paying for only one person. Were you at an upscale restaurant that would be different, but you were not.

                    A stranger can't ruin you meal. Well maybe if they call you names and insult your mother but that is just not likely to happen - and if it does you'll have a story to dine out on for years!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Kater

                      Agree 100%

                    2. Hmmm. I have experienced this at Chinese and Thai restaurants with large communal tables, being with 1 or 2 other people and asked to share with others. This did not bother me, but I can see if I were alone and asked to share a two-top - it would be a little more awkward to sit across from a single stranger. I usually have a book or newspaper but it might even feel rude to read it in that situation.
                      When I ate out alone a lot, sometines I just craved a certain cuisine, but other times I enjoyed the whole experience (my book, and taking my time over my meal). But I chose places that were not crowded, and where I knew I would be comfortable. Sometimes it even came down to the server and how they reacted to me taking up a two-top (or maybe they were just uncomfortable with a woman dining alone), so in certain restaurants I had my favourite server/section and they knew me. At one place where I was a semi-regular, I even had a server I did NOT like go over and whisper to her lovely gracious colleague - she obviously asked her to serve me instead, so it worked out for everyone.
                      My long-winded point is that it sounds like you eat out alone often, I respect that, but you'll probably figure out the best places to do that, or learn to deal with sharing when you really want a certain cuisine at a certain restaurant.

                      1. I would be okay with sharing a communal table as long as I knew ahead of time that the restaurant seats solo diners at a communal table. Some restaurants in Chinatown in NYC seat customers this way.

                        1. I don't mind it as long as they're willing to pretend like I'm not there, just like I'm trying to pretend that they're not there. I have no desire to strike up a conversation with them and really would get peeved if they tried to do so with me.

                          It does seem to be a cultural thing though, I see it a lot in chinatown during crowded times (boston chinatown)

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: jgg13

                            "I don't mind it as long as they're willing to pretend like I'm not there, just like I'm trying to pretend that they're not there"
                            Nice, I like that. I'm the kind of guy who can sit next to a stranger on a non stop flight from L.A. to London and say absolutely nothing to the person sitting next to me and I wish others were the same.

                            1. re: rednyellow

                              I'm with you. Hopefully you will be sitting next to me on my next flight! I would avoid any restaurant where I thought I would be seated at a communal table or be asked to share. If I loved the food from said restaurant, I would take it to go. I hate small talk and I would feel forced to make some. Plus, I like to read when dining alone and that seems rude when there are others at the table.

                              1. re: rednyellow

                                I guess for me a lot of it has to do with those times when I'm mentally prepared to be aloen (dining by myself, you gave hte example of a flight, etc), I usually have stuff to do, stuff on my mind, etc. IOW I've already designated it as "me time", so people chatting me up are taking that away.

                            2. I don't mind if I am alone as long as I'm not expected to make small talk whilst I'm tucking in! I have met some interesting people this way and some rather 'amusingly challenging' ones too which doesn't bother me. It's a great way of meeting new people and getting good recommendations when travelling.

                              However, in the US and the UK we are not used to this automatic assumption that lone diners should share a table. I am afraid that they probably don't ask because they know most people would say 'no' and they would lose custom. In a 'hole in the wall type' place, you cn't really expect such protocol.

                              1. Not forced, but I would TOTALLY do it. I am not a bit shy, though so I could see where someone who is might freak out or get totally turned off on their meal...

                                When I was in HS I went on a class trip overseas and volunteered to ditch my bff's on the overnight train ride for a couple of women from London because they were shiny, new and exciting. I remember my Mom was SO PROUD when I told her.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Boccone Dolce

                                  I agree with some of you that sharing a table can be an excellent way to meet people...but that is if you are in the mood to do so. I am overall an extremely friendly and outgoing person but I relish time to myself because it seems to be so rare. And I always feel pressure to speak or at least aknowledge someone else's presence- especially if they are so close to me at a 2-top...which when I'm in the mood for it may be fine but not when I'm wanting time to myself and to enjoy my meal. I suppose it's a whole other issue about the cultural differences between Americans/Brits and Asians when it comes to dining and being social or doing it in solitude....who is right? Obviously there is probably no right answer though I do wish in some ways we (Americans) were more social and friendly to strangers. But I'm not going to change the way I grew up so I suppose the solution is to frequent places that are not too crowded and stick to my guns if the situation arises again.

                                2. When my now wife of 20 years and I went on our first date, we went to a busy bar/rest and took the last 4 top. We were asked a few minutes later if we would mind sharing our table, it turned out to be my wife's parents! I was in medical school at the time and was on a tight budget. They ended up picking up the tab!

                                  1. I loooove eating alone. However, I also love eating. And there have been times when I've only been able to eat at a certain restaurant because someone took pity on me and let me join their table. Thanks, friendly people! When I used to have a non-teaching job (and thus time to go out for lunch) I would often end up at family-owned places that mainly catered to office workers, where sharing tables was considered the norm and it would be very rude not to immediately offer a seat at your table to someone waiting to sit down. This certainly isn't the norm for most restaurants, but in my hometown there is definitely a lunch culture of sharing a table so that more people can eat. It's pretty obvious when you eat at a place like this, and if you're not feeling social that day you can just get take-out.

                                    8 Replies
                                    1. re: Jetgirly

                                      I like your home town. I'm always surprised in the US because people have to ignore each other on the sidewalk or in elevators. Here in Latin America, eye contact and "Hola, como estas?" is the norm. it is sooo weird to me that Americans have to act like they don't see each other on elevators.

                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                        I am sorry you had that experience in US elevators. When I enter, I am usually met with eye contact and a smile!...that's how I like to enter. Meanwhile, I prefer not to share a table unless I am expecting it. (Does that make sense?)

                                        1. re: pesto

                                          I'm up and down the elevator quite a bit in our office in DC and it is a continuous irritation. On the other hand, people from all over the world work in the World Bank. I think that an informal rule in the WB cafeteria is that most people from most countries easily share tables at the peak of the lunch rush. People spot the Americans and leave them alone, however.

                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                            Sam, as an Architect one of the things we learn about is personal space. Americans have a much larger personal space requirement than almost any other culture on earth. We need larger work spaces, larger cars, and more space around us when we eat (the chow tie-in) than anybody else, and of course we hate being crowded in elevators, subways, etc. When we can't get the personal space we have been culturally adapted to we 'create' it by ignoring the infringements. American restaurants seat fewer people in the same area not only because the chairs have to be further apart, but because we don't share "two-tops" or sit willingly at common tables. Even at a bar we try to keep an empty seat on one side or the other if at all possible, often preferring to stand than sit with a stranger on each side.

                                          2. re: pesto

                                            In that case I think you are looking for eye contact as you walk into the elevator. Most Americans do not look at the faces of other people as they enter the elevator, in the same way that they avoid eye contact in the street. If the others smile it is probably a reflection of your smile or attitude.

                                            There's a thesis somewhere in this.

                                          3. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                            Sam, having been a single young female in Latin America, I learned fast not to make eye contact with anyone on the street, elevator, etc. It was an open invitation to harass the gringa - at least in Coastal Ecuador.
                                            It was something I had to un-learn when I returned, and I still (20 years later) find it refreshing to be able to smile and greet anyone I pass on the sidewalk while walking around my home town.

                                            Disclaimer: That was 20 years ago, and my experience was limited to Ecuador. It may be different now and elsewhere.

                                            1. re: tracylee

                                              I've found the black coastal populations in Ecuador and Brasil to be nothing but polite to everyone. Middle class girls and women in Colombia - who are very attractive and largely "gringa" in looks - manage to make eye contact and greet people. I think it is a matter of culture and style.

                                            2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                              Sam, just as whether one's asked to share a table depends on the town and, sometimes, the ethnicity of the restaurant, in my experience whether people smile and greet each other on the street in the US very much depends on where in the country they are. In NYC, no way; in CA, yes way. And so on. (And I've shared restaurant tables with strangers, with or without conversation, in both places.)

                                          4. If it's Le Bernardin, I think I'd be put off, unless they're sitting Tyra Banks with me. If it's a pho place, I'd shrug my shoulders.

                                            1. When I am on the road, I prefer to eat at the bar, the btenders take good care of you.

                                              1. I actually think sharing a meal with someone is a personal thing, and not something I want to do with anyone and everyone. In your situation, I might have been more comfortable if I'd been with a companion and the new guy made 3, but on my own, no way. It would be one thing if the place advertised communal seating, but I wouldn't want the establishment to just assume it's OK.