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Gather Round the [Communal] Table

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.

Seven Lamps communal tables

Seven Lamps communal tables (photo credit: Alexa Lampasona)

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

8 comments Add your comment

Michael Erickson

January 20th, 2014
10:16 am

To me, it’s just a slight variation on sitting at the bar, which is my favorite way to dine. I think it depends on the occasion, as well. If I were on a first date, this probably would not be ideal seating. Out with a bunch of friends on a Saturday night? Absolutely!

zeke

January 20th, 2014
10:38 am

NOT VERY APPEALING!!!

jimmyz

January 20th, 2014
12:00 pm

Umm…can anyone say Smith House in Dahlonega? They’ve been helping people make new friends for how many years? Or Buckners Restaurant in Jackson…

berry steve.......

January 20th, 2014
4:38 pm

Oh yes, the Smith House and forget Dillards!

Billy

January 20th, 2014
7:18 pm

I’m fine with communal dining but I think places like Cypress Street do it the best with regular dining options and a few communal tables. If you’ve been to Perimeter Mall lately, they have added several communal tables in the food court. It’s kind of awkward but it allows for more seating, so it’s better than having to wait for a table.

I’m not a fan of places like The Spence where there is no bar, just communal tables. There is something different and better about sitting at a bar and having cocktail rather that at a communal table.

[...] Gather Round the [Communal] Table [AJC] [...]

Donna McClung

January 21st, 2014
7:35 am

This has been done at the Smith house in Dalonegah for years and years. It is a good experience and a chance to meet new people.

Kar

January 21st, 2014
10:39 am

A friend and I did that during our first visit to Sobban’s. Wasn’t sure what to expect, was it really Korean food or something too nouvelle? Sitting at the communal table was a good way to ask what people were having and for recommendations.

Had a good conversations with a single diner who was there for the first time too. We did end up sharing dishes up through desert with her which extended the experience for all of us.