Communal tables: Does anyone actually like them?

Categories: Review Preview

Populist32-thumb-565x427.jpg
Lori Midson
Communal tables at The Populist.
Communal tables like the ones at The Populist, which I review this week, are "in," and from a restaurant's perspective it's not hard to see why. A long table accommodates more people than a string of two-tops, and open space between tables doesn't generate much rent, either. What's harder to understand is whether customers like or simply tolerate the trend.

See also:
- Review: This restaurant may be named for the common man, but it's uncommonly good
- Deconstructed duck cubano: Have it your way at The Populist

- Photos: Behind the scenes at The Populist

The idea is that by sitting next to strangers, you're part of a larger community -- which is one of the reasons you went out rather than making dinner at home. But since when did strangers become friends? Don't we go out of our way on airplanes to avoid talking to those same folks? Let's be honest: At least once in our lives, haven't we all feigned interest in the location of emergency exits so we didn't have to make small talk with the person in 8E?

Communal seating isn't so cool in other locations, either. In school cafeterias, for example, kids would "rather die," as they put it, than be forced to sit with the wrong clique. Without a buffer between parties, the simple logistics of eating can be harder, too, with elbow room at a premium and not enough space for your salad plate when the main course arrives.

Admittedly, bars have communal seating, and they're cool. But you're either at the bar for a pit stop until your table is ready, or you're hoping that cute stranger will become more than a friend, so you don't mind brushing elbows. Chef's counters are also communal, but the focus is on what's in front of you, not who's next to you, so they can't be exhibit A for either side.

While this is far from a scientific survey, I've heard more people decline than request seats at communal tables, especially if more private and/or spacious seating is available.

When I go out to dinner with people, I want to talk to them, and anything that gets in the way -- be it a smartphone or the chatty ladies next to me -- does just that: gets in the way. And don't get me started on conversations I wish I hadn't overheard, tales of marriages dissolving or, as restaurant consultant John Imbergamo recalls from tight seating at a now-defunct restaurant, intricate details of someone's colonoscopy. Just what I want with my boudin blanc.



Location Info

The Populist

3163 Larimer St., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant


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15 comments
ebethcheese
ebethcheese

Love community tables, second only to sitting at the bar.  Whether alone or with friends, it's a great social experience.


Kevin
Kevin

I can't stand the community table trend, it's the main reason I no longer frequent Pinche Tacos on Colfax, I dread being forced to sit there.

discogirl
discogirl

This location was never the Lift.  That bar was on east Virginia in Glendale.

Terri Clauss
Terri Clauss

Yes, love them! Most people naturally know how much to engage the people at the table and allow you participate or not as you wish. It's nice to have the option.

babadhalgarag
babadhalgarag

They're fine for a small village in central Ireland. Less so for a large American city.

chuckroast
chuckroast

If I want a communal table, I'll sit at the bar, which I often do, but othewise I avoid them.

Andrew Newman
Andrew Newman

Love them when I'm traveling alone- you can learn great tidbits about other things to do in the town you're visiting.

spmarx
spmarx

It's a great seating option, as long it's it's truly that, an option.  It's just about mood and company.  Most seem to just be an extension of the bar anyway.  

I go to a coffee shop with a lonely deuce by the mixing station and the trash can in the back corner and I think "Who would sit there?" and every week, there are two or three guys who will ONLY sit there.  To each their own.  Now - 'Same Side Sitters' - men and women who dine together on the same side of a booth or table?  THAT I will NEVER understand.

Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

I guess it depends on the type of restaurant - someplace casual that doesn't take reservations an offer by the host to sit at a communal table to shorten my wait could be OK but most often I would decline and wait for a table of our own.  I have been offered seats at a communal table at some higher end restaurants at which I had reservations and I find that totally unacceptable.

tropicalchrome1
tropicalchrome1

It depends why I'm eating at a restaurant. If it's really to savor the food and enjoy talking with my dining companions, then no, no communal tables....and no places where the tables are so close together that they might as well be touching either.

If communal tables are the only option, then I'll only eat there when I'm grabbing a quick meal or am feeling rather social. This is rare because I'm a classic introvert, and forced social situations make me very uncomfortable - a sensation I then start associating with the food, which then increases my likelihood of eating somewhere else.


Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

I'm fine with communal tables at ski lodges and beer halls (like  Prost Brewing). Otherwise, I don't need the person next to me looking at my food and commenting. I love the food and atmosphere at Delicatus, but the communal table sucks.

ScubaSteve
ScubaSteve topcommenter

The only time I've had to sit at a communal table was in the 1960s and 1970s at the Shakey's Pizza Parlors and once at a pub in the Barossa Valley in Australia.  I didn't like it and I won't go a place where communal tables are the only option.

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

@chuckroast Right! I enjoy sitting at the bar, even in nicer restaurants. The biggest difference is that you don't have a stranger sitting right across from you as well as right next to you.

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

@spmarx "men and women who dine together on the same side of a booth or table?  THAT I will NEVER understand." Apparently you always keep your hands above the table.

spmarx
spmarx

@Mantonat @spmarx Indeed.  Though to paint with a broad brush, the type of couple I see do that, I would not normally associate with shenanigans.  Still water runs deep I guess. :)

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