Submitted By Simon Hardy Butler, January 14, 2017

Does anyone really like sitting down to dinner with a complete stranger?

In my youth, I accepted the practice, given its prevalence at many of the Chinatown dim sum restaurants I frequented with my parents on special occasions. Yet now, I feel it’s as problematic as whipped cream topping a shepherd’s pie, owing to the fact that eating out should be an adventure shared with others in the same room but not at the same table … and every diner should have the right to, well, privacy.

Sadly, the idea of noshing next to a neighbor appears to have been commandeered in recent years by the hipster contingent, which views this behavior as a kind of social experiment—a phenomenon aimed at getting folks who’d rather be alone or paired with their significant others to kibitz with people they’ve never seen before (and presumably never will again). All in the name of conversation, of course. And fostering dialogue. Whatever.

To my mind, the communal table concept just isn’t very attractive. When an individual visits a restaurant, the goal is to be comfortable, pampered, given things to enjoy. Not to think of things to say to someone you don’t know. We’ve all been bored or annoyed by dining companions at least once in our lives. Why should we have to chance experiencing further discomfort with people we don’t choose to consume with?

Perhaps this sounds a little misanthropic—I can understand that. On the other hand, the notion of sitting with strangers conjures up a number of distressing images that probably don’t belong in the minds of those desiring peaceful meals: a circular table occupied by convention-goers on a cruise ship stuck in the middle of the Pacific Ocean; a subway car permeated by the fetid smell of someone’s lunch being devoured by that manspreading guy in the seat near the door; and so on. Not cool, right? So why should it be cool at your neighborhood restaurant?

I’m hoping this little trend ultimately goes the way of trilobites and velociraptors, but I can’t be sure it isn’t here to stay. Though discriminating customers might reject the prospect of opting for such arrangements whenever they go out for the night, others might be cajoled into thinking this kind of layout is, uh, fun. Hip. The new thing in dining. If an eatery is slick-enough looking and carries a concomitant attitude, visitors might welcome it. That means they might welcome communal tables, too. And I’ve gotta say, that possibility stinks like a week-old buffet.

Not that I can do much else besides gripe about it. Still, I wonder if railing against the dying of the private-table light might get us somewhere in the continuing evolution of restaurant design. If we don’t complain aloud and often, we can’t complain if nothing is done to correct the issue, right?

I certainly complain a lot … and well, I might add. That’s at least a start.

I can only wish it’s not the end.

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