Picture two dining scenes.
The first, strangers sit shoulder to shoulder at long, benched tables. The only way to distinguish who is dining together is which pan their hand lifts a gleaming slice of pizza from. Floating around the exterior of the dining room are lingering patrons, waiting to snag a seat like a hawk who has spotted its prey.
The other is an atmosphere buzzing during happy hour. Diners are seated at six-top tables here and they cluster together. A couple seated side by side is leaning close to one another. Beside them four girls sit across from each other and sip cocktails, their backs forming a box around their group.
Both restaurants are putting communal tables to use here in Atlanta. For a largely crowded city like New York, this concept has taken off and is seen in restaurants beyond the casual pizza parlor. Eating next to strangers is as common as riding the subway. It’s a chance for the solo diner to take a seat away from the bar and engage in a shared sense of community eating.
Here in Atlanta, it can feel like you’ve been propelled back into the high school cafeteria. People are still unsure. Do you acknowledge your seatmate? Do you tell them to settle down if they get too loud?
Antico Pizza and Seven Lamps highlight this trend. The two have vastly different concepts: an Italian pizza versus craft food and cocktail.
Seven Lamps’ General Manager John Pak has noticed his guests’ reactions and it goes two ways. People either accept dining with strangers or they don’t even try. Women tend to respond the most negatively.
“We’ll see some women who walk in these doors and walk right back out,” he says. “It intimidates them and they are too far out of their comfort zone.”
Once people settle in to their dining experience, Pak sees people taking full advantage of the communal tables. Typically the 20’s and 30’s generations catch on quicker. He’s seen these groups interacting with each other, even ordering plates to share with their new companions.
“Our servers are very in-tune to the guests’ needs,” he says. “So they can tell when people are out of their comfort zone and we try to accommodate people accordingly.”
So what do you think about communal tables? Who would be the ideal group of strangers you’d dine with? Should Atlanta keep up with the trend or hop off?
-By Alexa Lampasona for the Food & More blog