Sharing has become impossibly embedded in restaurant dining rooms, particularly with the proliferation of so-called “share plates.” But what about the ultimate attempt at forced sharing—the communal table? These conversation-forcing pieces of furniture were everywhere a few years ago, but is the design trend sticking around?
“People have let go of that romantic notion that was pitched [sort] of like, ‘Oh yeah, sit at the communal table and make best friends,'” says Brian Miller, whose design firm Edit Lab at Streetsense is responsible for the looks of restaurants including The Red Hen and Daikaya. “I don’t think people really approach it that way anymore. I don’t think that ever worked, because it’s an awkward experience.”
That said, Miller finds communal tables still work in certain restaurants, particularly fast-casual ones where people won’t be lingering for long. He points to Little Sesame, the new hummus shop below DGS Delicatessen, which has two large eight-person tables. “The faster your meal is, the less awkward a communal table is,” he says.
Miller adds that Haikan—a new ramen shop coming to Shaw from the owners of Daikaya—will have a very long table outside. The advantage is that it gives the staff flexibility to seat different sized groups.
Maggie O’Neill, whose company Swatchroom has designed the likes of Hank’s Pasta Bar and Teddy & The Bully Bar, thinks communal tables are on their way out. “You get just such a strong reaction to them now,” she says. Plus, it can be a big commitment: Unless it’s a heavy duty farmhouse dining table, it likely has to be bolted to the ground. “If you have a small footprint, you’ve basically determined the flow. You can’t have one big open room,” she says.
O’Neill adds that communal tables work better for younger crowds and in bar areas, where they act more as glorified drink ledges.
After all, diners are much more likely to interact with strangers and hypothetically make friends at the bar, not a communal table.
Then again, “if you think about it,” Miller says, “a bar is just a great one-sided communal table.”
Photo from Penn Commons by Jessica Sidman