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Around the world, a new trend has been growing in popularity over recent years—that of the communal dining experience.

Imagine walking into a local farm-to-table restaurant after having made a reservation, and being led to a sprawling, oversized wooden picnic table whose majority is already claimed by dozens of laughing and good-natured strangers. The host gestures to the last seats on either side of the table and warmly tells you to enjoy your meal.

What emotion does this imagined experience elicit?

Happy anticipation at sharing a meal alongside this friendly bunch who may soon become your new best friends?

Anxiety at the idea of trying to enjoy a meal as you struggle to get a word in edgewise while seated next to the boisterous bunch?

Such is the divide occurring in establishments who have embraced communal dining tables—it seems their patrons either love or loathe the experience.

Today we’ll look at both the pros and cons of communal tables in restaurants and bars.

The Pros

For establishment owners, the biggest benefit of using communal restaurant tables is an increased seating capacity for their space. With long dining tables, restaurants make full use of space that was once reserved so staff could navigate between tables. Staff members usually appreciate the fact that they no longer must waste time and energy pulling smaller tables together in order to accommodate large parties. The tables are the same size and can accommodate the largest…or smallest…of parties.

But it’s not just restaurant owners and employees who appreciate communal dining. Certain segments of the population really enjoy the experience. Millennials, for example, are often drawn to communal dining as it obliges their desire to socialise while lingering over a long meal. Grazing casually, diners often enjoy meeting others at their table, appreciating the social experience as much as the food. Communal tables give restaurant goers more options for how they enjoy the restaurant experience—interact with others, choose to stick with your own group, or work solo on your laptop while enjoying a social atmosphere. Speaking of single parties, they tend to appreciate communal dining the most as they are not singled out as lone diners and can interact with other solo parties or groups around them. It also doesn’t hurt that wait times tend to be significantly shorter at restaurants with communal seating.

The Cons

For patrons who oppose sitting at a table with strangers, the dislike is almost visceral in nature. Late-night host Seth Meyers famously said of communal dining “Eating at a communal table is like the Last Supper, except you only wish you died at the end.”

It can be uncomfortable to be in close proximity with people you don’t know, particularly if you’re hoping to have an intimate conversation and discuss private details. Celebrating closing on your new house with your partner could be difficult at a communal table. Who wants to discuss mortgage payments with strangers sitting right next to you?

The food served can also make communal eating uncomfortable. Making eye contact with strangers as you get your wrist deep in a plate of chicken wings or barbecue ribs and have sauce smeared across your face can be awkward.

And let’s not forget about sensory overload. Regarding the lack of privacy at communal tables, Meyers quipped, “It’s like listening to four podcasts at once”. Of all the complaints about communal dining, this is probably the most common—we’ve all had the experience of sitting in an airport next to an unaware loudmouth who carries on a phone conversation as if he’s shouting into a megaphone, right? The same people often turn up at communal dining tables, speaking and laughing at the top of their lungs with no regard for the group sitting next them. On the flip side, guests have also equated communal dining to the act of eating in a library—when all parties feel compelled to be quiet so as not to bother the people next to them.

The Bottom Line

Whether communal tables are right for your restaurant will depend largely on the type and atmosphere of your establishment. Fine dining restaurants often have a harder time supporting the communal concept as patrons are sitting for longer periods of time and often grow tired of being near neighbors they don’t know. More casual restaurants and outdoor dining areas tend to work better for communal dining.

Customer demographics also make a difference—younger guests tend to be more accepting of the communal dining experience.

At the end of the day, the quality of service and food is what is going to determine if patrons stick around…regardless of where they’re seated.

Thanks for reading,
Have a Seat
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