One of the most noticeable restaurant trends in recent years has been the increasing use of large, communal tables. More and more frequently the experience of dining out involves rubbing elbows – literally – with fellow diners. Although communal tables certainly aren’t for everyone, their increasing popularity means that enough people are on board with the trend.
Although the trend is new to us, the history of dining at communal tables goes way back. As early as biblical times, inns where travelers rested fed their guests at large communal tables. Only the simplest meals were served, and diners did not have any menu options to choose from. This trend lasted in inns and taverns across Europe until the French Revolution, after which the first iterations of the modern restaurant began to appear.
So why the return to the old? On the one hand, it’s good for business. The more covers a restaurant can seat at once, the more money they make. On the other hand, in a world when everyone is always looking at a phone, some restaurants are trying to lightly force human connection. Jay Miranda, of Chipman Design Architecture, says that “People clamor for more interaction in their daily lives. The restaurant industry responded by experimenting with putting strangers together.”
Bon Appétit magazine recommends abiding by the “Airplane Rule”. Acknowledge your neighbors with a friendly smile and a nod, but don’t assume they want to talk to you. People go out to dinner with a certain party for a reason.
They can be uncomfortable at first, but maybe communal tables are just what we need to get our faces out of our screens and into the world around us.
You can see BA’s other suggestions for communal table dining here: http://www.bonappetit.com/entertaining-style/article/the-communal-table