I was recently out for dinner, enjoying a glass of wine at one of the city's many new rooms featuring communal tables—long tables that offer seating to parties of eight or more.
On this particularly busy evening, my reservation for two landed us right in the middle of a communal table, sandwiched between two other parties. Together, there were nine of us seated side-by-side, strangers with little in common except for the menus in front of us.
For my date and I, this was no problem. I love the concept of communal tables—the energy, the rubbing of elbows with fellow foodies, the spontaneous conversation that often surprises me. What you sacrifice in privacy is usually compensated for in colourful ways you might not expect.
The couple to my left, however, couldn't have been more distressed. As our conversations started to overlap, I caught them rolling their eyes, bothered by our invasion of their privacy. The concept of the communal table might have ruined their evening and, perhaps worse, their impression of the magnificent restaurant in question.
For anyone who's been to Europe's busy cities, communal tables are common whether you're in the cafe or a cafeteria. It's generally understood that if there are seats available, someone will use them, even if it means strangers sitting together at the same table. And while I'd like to see this attitude embraced in our city's burgeoning food scene, I thought it would be worth mentioning some communal table etiquette and expectations.
When making reservations—which are recommended if available—know what kind of evening you have in mind. If you're envisioning intimate conversation for two, try to reserve a quiet table in the corner. Feel free to inquire if the restaurant has a communal table and say that you prefer privacy. If you don't mind the idea of being a part of a spontaneous group, all the better. For the truly adventurous, you might even want to ask for seating here. You never know who your company will be.
Likewise, if you do end up at the long table with other groups, it never hurts to consider that others joining you may not be thrilled to be in that position, and on busy evenings it can be hard for the restaurant to re-accommodate them to a different table. While no one's asking you to completely curb your behaviour, it certainly goes a long way toward ensuring everyone at the table can enjoy the atmosphere and present company. V