The communal table makes a comeback!
Though today’s solo eater is ushered to his table without a second glance, indeed often into a sea of fellow solitary diners, assured of their social normalcy by their flickering mobile-device tablemates, we must remember it wasn’t always that way. There was a time when solo eaters at popular establishments were looked at with raised eyebrows, and even “prohibited” altogether.
There was a day in America when, a restaurant being busy enough, you would need a companion just to get a seat; the solo diner’s adjacent table place being was too much to spare. Hence the communal table, an invention of the 1940s, which allowed solo eaters to eat at popular or highbrow spots so long as they were willing to sit across from a random fellow solo diner.
One can only imagine the chance encounters that must have happened as a result of these pairings.
As everything old later becomes cool, we note that the communal table has made a decisive comeback–less out of necessity than out of a continual desire for fresh dining experiences.
In walking the streets of Montreal, I have noted not one but countless hip cafes and restaurants making use of the old (French? monastic? Thai Buddhist? who gets credit?) communal table idea to good effect. They seem popular and people seem to be having a good time.
Of course, it’s hard to know who’s talking with who. Are such structures really condusive to different exchanges? Or do we just block out our neighbors as we did before, focused instead on the people we’ve come with?