Feasting tables, or communal tables are becoming more and more popular. From Michelin Starred restaurants to McDonald’s, everyone is getting in on the act. Is this just about maximising covers or is there something deeper going on?
Personally I have always liked a communal dining experience. I like the informality of it, the spontaneity of discussion, the possibility of interaction. It is the possibility of interaction that, I believe, has led to the rise of communal seating in restaurants, bars and cafes.
The more our lives revolve around social media and our phones the less physical social interaction we receive. Pubs and restaurants are social spaces, neither proprietors nor punters want those spaces to be filled with people gazing emptily into their phones. So as a kickback against social media we now design our spaces to include communal areas and communal seating – literally forcing people to interact.
When we dictate interaction through design and layout it takes the pressure off people. Think about this scenario, you go into a beer garden with half a dozen picnic tables, three of the tables has one person on each table, so you (naturally) take a seat at the fourth table – in this scenario I would also imagine that those four people are now all staring at their phones. In the exact same space replace the picnic tables with one massive communal table and you will have a totally different experience. It might not be everyone making friends and introducing themselves, but you will get a smile or a nod of acknowledgement when you sit down, people will be less inclined to be on their phones constantly, as your friends and their friends arrive you will end up interacting and talking.
That said communal tables don’t have to be a way to force interaction if it is not wanted. People will happily seat themselves on communal furniture without acknowledging other customers (think Starbucks, McDonald’s etc) and get out whatever phone or device they have to hand. Somehow it is better to do this in a communal setting. There is something intangibly inclusive about being ‘alone together’.
But let’s not beat around the bush, communal tables = more covers, more covers = more energy, more energy = more buzz. It’s a win-win, throw into that equation the fact that you have the chance to make a new friend and everyone is happy. I think the trick is not to overdo it. Alongside these communal tables there should be more private booths and loose furniture to give people the choice. Also to make this spaces versatile; while we design them as communal spaces they are also there very much to be booked by large party’s.
Communal furniture may not be universally loved, but in our casual culture where the line between dining and social experience is increasingly blurred, and where communal tables offer so much economic potential, there will certainly be more opportunities to take a seat at a communal table for a long time to come.