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Communal tables at restaurants - your opinion please?

I know restaurateurs read these posts and I just wanna say...

I hate communal tables. Is the idea to have a dinner party with strangers? Hook ups?

I really hate them when I have to sit on a bench. Hard to get into, hard to get out of when someone is next to you. And impossible to have a private conversation. Especially if the joint has nasty acoustics.

I don't mind a "lively" room, I don't mind raising my voice a bit, but some of these places are like eating during a prison riot. Maybe works for the right group ("rowdy movie sets", etc)...?

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  1. if you include food bars and counters as communal tables, i disagree with you.
    i love the chef's bar at lukshon that overlooks the kitchen.
    also love the bar at settebello MDR that gives you a view of their pizza oven.
    also, have no problem whatsoever with the communal tables at gjelina.

    agree about the benches though. what could they be thinking putting benches at a communal table?
    i eschew all benches.

    1. Don't like sharing a table and would generally avoid such places. There is, however, a very small mini-chain which I like which has them. But they're never that busy that sharing is a regular occurance. But they commit the second cardinal sin of having bench seating - this may be OK for young folk, but for old farts with arthritic backs it's not good.

      1. I agree, I won't go back to a restaurant with communal tables. If I want group dining, I'll invite my own friends.

        I usually dine out with my SO and want to enjoy a private conversation. I really don't want to listen to others private conversations and there is no way to avoid it. Yuk.

        1. Often I don't want to share a table, but there are some types of restaurants where is it part of the atmosphere. It is fine, and part of the experience, in certain restaurants, like a place in a small town where they do country cooking and serve it home-style, (think Lancaster County, PA,) a really good bbq place in the South, a "crab shack" at the beach or a lively German Bauhaus in the Mid-west.

          Benches definitely kill my back, but are OK if the rest of the experience is worth the discomfort.

          1. Communal seating is a great option to have. Just had a fantastic dinner this week with a previously complete stranger. We ordered together, shared everyhting, and it was a wonderful experience.

            1. Communal tables are not a deal-breaker for me, if the business ALSO provides the option of small private tables. Best if the big table has regular chairs, rather than benches.
              Chinese restaurants seem to be able to execute the concept: large round table, 10 chairs. Solo diners at lunch are shown to a shared table. No big deal, really.

              1. Oh, and when I don't feel like sharing a table, I choose another restaurant. Or, state my preference for my own table.

                1. As the owner of the pre-k explained to my mother about my expulsion; "jr doesn't play well with others"......

                  1. Someone else has mentioned the intentional "home style" or "family style" seating arrangements that draw tourists to a few restaurant in Pennsylvania Dutch country in PA, or The Smith House in Dahlonega, GA, or Mrs. Wilkes' Boarding House (have they re-opened since her death several yrs ago?) in Savannah, GA. We have loved all of them. I don't think this is what the OP is talking about, but it really fits as the topic is discussed.
                    There is a small hole-in-the-wall pub in our area that sometimes has a line of folks waiting for tables. Known for pretty good food. Management will ask 2 people dining at a table for 4 if others can join, and invariably, the answer is yes, because those diners also waited earlier in the evening or on another evening. And so 2 people sit down with 2 strangers, make some small talk and keep it friendly, but not too invasive. Its usually a friendly pub around the room, anyway, so it seems to work out for that place.

                    1. I like them.

                      It's nice to have the option of a communal table, esp. if dining solo.

                      If you don't like them, then don't sit there as I assume the restaurants you speak of are not "communal table only".

                      As long as communal dining is *an* option and not mandatory, then I'm totally good with it

                      1. There are probably a lot of motivations. To be different. To provide a faux-homey atmosphere. To pack more diners into a given space. To make clean-up easier. To cater to diners who may not love your favorite restaurants.

                        1. What about Biergartens? Aren't those tables communal?

                          1 Reply
                          1. I don't mind if it is a long narrow table and I have an even number of guests in my party 2 or 4. It is not my ideal choice though.

                            1. At a BBQ or BierFest..yes. I expect this. $50 a plate restaurant.... NO!!! At the bar because it is a spontaneous decision to eat there, I get what I can get.

                              Even McDonald's doesn't force you to share a table. At least in my town.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                First and last time eating at a communal table with benches.
                                My wife seated across from me. Two couples come in and sit to my right. Instantly they begin in intense debate between themselves about why their 'open relationship' isn't working.
                                At one point one of the men is crying. Two bottles of wine later they are 'all better' and squeezing hands and making plans to meet at couple 'x's' pad the next night.
                                One of the group stunk of 'Brute' cologne so strongly I had a headache all the next day.
                                I could have witnessed this staring Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts from the comfort of my living room recliner sans the stink in the air.

                                1. re: Puffin3

                                  The strong cologne is what makes me not a fan. Because of health issues, I can't actually sit next to people wearing a lot of scent, or people who have been smoking - the meal will end abruptly and spectacularly. My husband and I usually try to dine at less busy times to help with this.

                                  And honestly, when the husband and I actually can find the time to go out alone, we don't necessarily want to meet new people and talk to them. We want to enjoy our time out together. I'm sure the other people at the restaurant are nice and fun, but we want to spend time together.

                              2. At a random BBQ place or crab shack that just has picnic tables, fine. At an actual restaurant? Nope. If that's all they had, I wouldn't go back. I like eating alone and dislike making polite conversations with people I'm trapped in a spot with. Or strangers in general. I talk to enough people at work. Don't need it on my days off.

                                1. I like them. Of course there are times when I would avoid them - business lunches, date night, dinner with my accountant, etc. For a regular, casual meal, sure, I think it is fun and interesting.

                                  But then I enjoy talking to strangers. And, according to the NYT, it is good for me:


                                  1. Generally I'm not a huge fan of them. The only exceptions I can think of are dim sum parlors (where you're expected not to make conversation) or in instances where the restaurant has a set menu with 1 or 2 set seatings a night. I find it much easier to converse with others when everybody is on the same page in terms of food. It's kind of awkward to talk when one party has food the and others don't -- well, at least for me -- as conversation kind of slows down when people are in the process of eating and disrupts the rhythm.

                                    1. Not unless you're a politician

                                      1. I'm not a fan at all of communal tables. I won't go to a restaurant where I'm not given a choice of traditional seating. Maybe it's my "reserved" New England upbringing, but I'm not interested in meeting strangers that way, sorry.

                                        1. Sitting in chairs around a round table is fine....the type with 14 or so chairs, and a lazy Susan in the middle. Can be fun to meet people. Once met the Captain, Cruise Director, Bar tender, vocalist, etc of The Delta Queen at one such establishment. My friend and I were invited on board that night for drinks and live music, etc as guest of the Captain.

                                          The long table with benches is another matter. One place, I love their food...but always get it to go. Cannot stand the seating arrangement.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Uncle Bob

                                            This brings up a memory for me. I was traveling alone, and arrived at a somewhat early hour at a convenient restaurant. They said they could offer me a communal table, and sweetened the deal with a free glass of wine. Much out of character, I agreed (must have been the free wine). I get seated at a round table for 10 or so, the first person. And the only person for my entire meal. Way to feel RIDICULOUS.

                                          2. depends on my mood. one of our local Italian places has a communal table near the bar. We sat there once, it was a 45 minute wait for an individual table and we were hungry. DH didn't like it, but I didn't mind.

                                            1. I occasionally don't mind or even like it in some very casual situations or for certain types of gatherings like wine dinners, underground dinners etc. We have had some great experiences and met some great people. No benches though.

                                              Most of the time I want the option of a private table.

                                              1. Do not like. I have been to places where I can more easily hear the random person next to me, than my SO across from me, and it really ruins the experience. I also do not like being boxed in between people, especially if I have to go to the bathroom.

                                                It doesn't help that I'm fairly anti-social and not likely to make new friends while I eat ;)

                                                1. I kinda like communal tables at some places.

                                                  Benches? NO!

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: laliz

                                                    Yeah...it's not like you're FORCED to talk to the other people, and I've certainly been to enough places that squeeze all of their tables so close together they might as well sit us communally. But I have, in some places, enjoyed a little light banter with the people seated next to me, and have never felt pressed to do so. I do think that, when you're a party of more than 2, communal seating is kind of silly. And benches are absolutely awful, as climbing into them is awkward even when you're doing it next to someone you know well, let alone a complete stranger.

                                                  2. Another "No" vote on the benches. Terrible idea for the very young, the very old, the mobility impaired, and women in skirts.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: pedalfaster

                                                      So, good idea for people who don't want to be around some of those people?

                                                      1. re: pedalfaster

                                                        I wear skirts most of the time and find benches easier to sit at than sliding into a booth where my skirt invariably ends up twisting and pulling.

                                                      2. Benches have their pros and cons. A very fancy Japanese place I frequent started out with really fancy bar stools in line with the high-end Japanese aesthetics of the place. The problem was they broke. When enough of them had broken, tho owner gave up and replaced them with benches that were sturdy enough to survive a nuclear war and had the added benefit of packing in more people. The same place started out with really fancy and expensive Japanese chopsticks, also in line with the kind of high-end image the restaurant tried to project. They got stolen by the dozen every night. The restaurant switched to the kind of cheap chopsticks that you will find in any hole-in-the-wall place.

                                                        1. There are more and more restaurants here in nyc with communal tables- to me it has less to do with atmosphere and encouraging conversation than seating more people in a smaller space.
                                                          I'm not a fan and would rather be at a table. Its not a dealbreaker if that's the only option but given a choice i'll prefer a table with more than three inches of personal space.

                                                          1. I'm fairly noncommittal about communal tables. Sometimes they're fine by me, and when they're not, I'll avoid places that have them.

                                                            But I intensely dislike benches and high stools for dining. I want a back on my chair! I've never found bench sitting comfortable, including football bleachers.

                                                            1. I don't like people, so no. Jk.....kinda. I'm actually a very social person with a lot of friends, but there are just certain situations where strangers have the very likely possibility of being annoying, and dining at a communal table would be one of them. Another one would be in a buffet line. Not that I frequents buffet restaurants, but think a wedding or something. Too many possibilities in these situations to annoy the shit out of me.

                                                              1. It depends on the occasion. They can be fun. I ate at many of them when in Germany.

                                                                1. The original restaurant at the Canterbury NH Shaker Village had only communal tables with wonderful chairs that looked like uncomfortable stools but were actually great. This is the way the Shakers dined. At the restaurant, some items were family style and others were ordered separately. Once I went to a Thanksgiving dinner there, with 2 friends, and it was one of the loveliest meals I have ever had. The only light was candles, the food was great, and the strangers were fascinating. The stools have very short backs that in fact give enough lower back support to be comfy. The reason for the design is that they can be pushed entirely beneath the tables, to aid in sweeping and mopping the floor.

                                                                  Other times, I ate lunch there alone, and had nice chats with my "neighbors" over the communal pitcher of spiced grape drink. We even exchanged tastes of our different meal choices!

                                                                  1. I've enjoyed communal dining over the years and there's an especially memorable restaurant that has, long ago, closed doors. It was known for its communal dining and the food that came through that kitchen was iconic.
                                                                    Having said that, if I want to sit in silence and not visit with my 'neighbor', reading the newspaper or contemplating the day ahead, PLEASE use that intuition that was given to we humans and leave me alone.

                                                                    1. Ordinarily no but, when on a cruise, there's really no choice.

                                                                      1. Bench seating is a deal breaker for me. Inadequate room to get into/out of a seat (ie too crowded) is a deal breaker for me. I have horrid joints that don't cooperate and that sort of thing just makes my life far too difficult. Uncomfortable seats, ie not padded, will mean I might go to a restaurant once, but not more than that - it only results in far too much pain and just isn't worth it. Seating only on the floor is another deal breaker for me.

                                                                        1. If DH and I are going to spend hard earned money dining out, I don't want to sit with strangers. So absolutely NO. And I won't sit on a bench. My bony behind would kill me.