Bringing Everyone to the Table…Literally

Some may call it getting back to basics while others may call it a subtle social experiment, but whatever you want to call it, the communal table is becoming an increasingly popular trend. A few restaurants that tend to stay on the cusp of social movements are trying out these so-called “gathering tables,” and finding that isolation is not a necessity for a pleasant eating experience.

However, before attempting to implement this kind of dining setup, owners should consider a few details about similar plans that have been successful.

Uncertain Motivation

Since this concept is fairly new for modern American eateries, the jury is still out on whether or not these communal tables are a good idea. Also, there is some debate about why a restaurant would implement this dining style in the first place.

Some believe that communal tables will spark more conversation between guests and, therefore, serve as a type of networking opportunity. Restaurants with successful “gathering table” programs have reported that many customers have begun to form friendships with other regulars that they notice seated near them on a regular basis. Restaurant owners with this view of the benefits of communal tables advise that other restaurants should be prepared to have a lower table turnover as a result of the increase conversation between patrons.

On the other hand, some believe that the communal table is a way to actually cut costs from rising rent prices in many locations. Essentially, their theory is that people may connect superficially with someone who asks them to pass the salt, but they will still want to finish their food and leave more quickly rather than lingering to visit.

This should, in turn, increase table turnover to compensate for the increased rent. Some go so far as to say that seating for these tables should be limited to benches because they are less comfortable and will further discourage patrons from lingering.

Friendly is as Friendly Does

If a restaurant intends to increase friendliness in the establishment, they must not do so at the expense of patrons in the rest of the dining area. First, they should make sure that incorporating communal tables will not disrupt the traffic flow in the rest of the dining area. These tables are very large, such as those that are usually only seen in conference rooms of some restaurants, so they must be placed carefully. They may not work at all for some dining rooms, so it is usually best to implement this plan in conjunction with a full remodel of the dining area, or to plan for it before construction of a new restaurant.

Also, if these tables are full and patrons at them are conversing consistently, they can create a lot of noise that is distracting or irritating to other customers. Again, correct placement of these tables is essential to avoid alienation of other patrons.

Restaurant owners should take into consideration proper lighting to ensure that the ends of the tables don’t get left out of the light. Also, most restaurants should only devote a small portion of their dining rooms to communal dining at first, as many customers may still feel uncomfortable sharing a table with strangers.

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