Opinion

Can We All Just Acknowledge Communal Tables Are Terrible?

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Downton

According to the Atlantic, communal tables at restaurants are on the rise. They are so trendy, in fact, that one Chicago-based design firm told the magazine that a full 85 percent of clients are now requesting community seating arrangements. In part, this is about money — space is at a premium, and running a restaurant is expensive. But also, the design firm says, this is because people secretly love community seating arrangements. To which I say, no. No, we do not. As a person, I can claim with 100 percent certainty that at least one of us does not love community seating arrangements. Community seating arrangements are terrible.

Look, I want to like communal tables. I like community. Theoretically, at least, I definitely believe that the world is a better place when you talk to the people in it. But this isn’t fucking couchsurfing.org. This is my dinner, and I want to eat it with the person or people I came with. Don’t community-shame me. I know I should want to watch a bunch of randos gnaw on their $15 kale salads — am I a liberal or not? — but I don’t. I don’t want to watch a bunch of randos gnaw on anything. Or drink water, even. I want to eat my dinner at my table with the people I came with, like an American.

For one thing, eating is intimate and also disgusting. Do you know how disgusting me eating a salad is?  It is real gross. It is a privilege I like to reserve for those I love most. When I drop forkfuls of baby greens in my lap like I am a cow, I would like that to be a semi-private moment. And because I am nice and kind and empathetic, I would like to extend that courtesy to others: we should all be allowed to be as bovine as we want at the semi-privacy of our own individual tables. That is what individual tables are for.

Or rather, that is one of the things individual tables are for. Another thing that individual tables are for is ensuring that my almost-definitely-embarrassing conversations will remain private. My dining companions, I like to believe, find my insights into the personal lives of our mutual acquaintances deeply amusing. However, I am somewhat concerned that my personal brand of wit and wisdom may not be suitably appreciated by mass audiences, who may find my insights “shallow,” “annoying,” or “patently incorrect.” Certainly, I find other people’s insights shallow, annoying, and patently incorrect, and humbly, can only assume that the experience of listening to me talk is somewhat similar. Also, I have heard myself on tape. (It is similar.)

If communal tables actually facilitated any community, that would be different. The price of admission — other people’s elbows in my pasta, perpetual embarrassment, the deep unpleasantness of forced social interaction — would be worth it. I like a community. You know what is not a community, though? The twelve people forced to sit around this rustic-chic butcher block busily ignoring each other. That is miserable. That is miserable if you are with companions. That is miserable if you are dining alone.  There is no place in the world lonelier than sitting unhappily at the community table. At the community table, you are literally surrounded by people who could be talking to you, but are not talking to you. It is lonely, in the way that New York City is lonely — you were fine alone, happy, even, and now, in a crowd, there is pressure. Shouldn’t you be social? Why aren’t you more social? What is wrong with you?

There are, of course, a handful of exceptions. Coffee shops filled with people working on laptops, for example — that is prime community table time. Also, bars. Also, BBQ joints where the communal picnic tables are part of the theme. If you are trying to create an authentic camp experience, I understand. Do I want an authentic camp experience? I don’t know. Probably not, but I get it.

For restaurants that are not coffee shops, bars, and/or country BBQ places, though, please stop. Or at least, please stop pretending this is a fun trend. A fun trend is something like cronuts, or ikat prints, or, I don’t know, sitting alone at a private table eating my farm-fresh curry lentil burger alone like a civilized person.