communal dining

You enter the restaurant, ready for a mind-blowing dinner experience at the hottest new place in town, only to see a lack of two-tops for private dining; instead, long wooden tables span wall to wall, and they’re filled with strangers eating elbow to elbow, all dining together on the same plane of supper consciousness. You’ve just entered: the communal dining zone.

If you’re the type of restaurant diner that enjoys a quiet, private meal with a date or small group, you may not be keen on the communal dining trend. Popping up around cities everywhere, the experience gives diners a chance to make new friends while embarking on a journey through “collectivism culture.” After all, a family that dines together stays together.

It’s no Benihana—circles of strangers dining side-by-side while the chef prepares circus-worthy feats of culinary strength with an oversized Japanese knife—but it’s pretty close. Communal tables bring strangers together over a meal (hopefully) well-spent getting to know each other, letting the boundaries of privacy down, and falling into a community space previously untapped. It’s like primitive dining around a warming fire, but at $30 a plate and crafted by A-list chef personalities at high-end restaurants.

The pros? Communal dining gets you out of your head for a change. Whether you’re flying solo and want to meet new folks or you’re on a first date and could use some solid distraction, the setting allows for unexpected conversations and complete randomness. It’s all very Zen.

LA Times critic S. Irene gave one such review of the communal tables at Canelé in Atwater Village:

Because the communal table sitters tend to be self-selected group, people are often more sociable and they linger. Over wine. Over coffee. Over the beguiling buena chica cheesecake.

But it isn’t all “Kumbaya” over a table of food. The communal table setting really eliminates any prospect of privacy you had your hopes set on. And if you are unfortunate enough to be sat next to loud or obnoxious neighbors, that’s your bad luck. Forget about popping the question or spilling any deep dark secrets at these restaurants.

One reader told Inside Scoop SF:

I’m so over “communal” dining. It’s bad enough at the low-end places like diners where you just drop in for breakfast or lunch, but at high-end places like Camino, it’s really lame. Why bother dropping that kind of dough if you have to sit with people you don’t give a rat’s a-s-s about?

What do you think? Yay or Nay for the communal table trend? Share your experiences.

Image: theqspeaks