Food for Thought: Communal Tables


There are two schools of thought when it comes to communal dining in restaurants. In my view, the more the merrier. I like eavesdropping on conversations and scoping out more dishes by peeking over at my neighbor’s order. Communal tables certainly lend themselves to diners sharing their recommendations — like Yelp, only live.

I happened to have married someone who is the opposite camp from me. Dan, my misanthropic spouse, is likely to simply leave a restaurant if he’s seated at a communal table with no prior notice. Like so many people with whom I’ve discussed this topic, he places a premium on privacy and personal space.

But not all communal tables are created equal. There are some spots where even haters can deal with sharing table space. Here are three restaurants where we’ve encountered the communal table and comments from me (pro communal dining), Dan (anti group eat), and the restaurateurs, whom I interviewed as part of my review process. Where do you sit on the issue?

Sycamore, 14 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne; 484-461-2867

The setup: A long, wide table is set up with just as much space between parties as there would be if the tables were separate.

My take: Sycamore had one of the most charming dining rooms I’ve visited in the last year, and this beautiful piece of furniture is part of its allure. The spacing makes this as comfortable as it is cozy.

Dan’s take: “I have no problem with this one. At first, it seemed a little odd, especially since we had made reservations, but there’s plenty of room between you and the next party. The best version of the communal table I’ve seen.”

Owners Jennifer and Stephen Wagner’s take: “People here are, for the most part, neighbors. They enjoy the opportunity to mingle this way, but they don’t feel pressured if they don’t want to.”

Stella, 420 South 2nd Street; 215-320-8000
The setup: Two long tables run through the heart of Stella’s dining room. No reservations are taken, so it’s likely that a two-person party will find themselves here.

My take: This isn’t a situation for people with personal space issues, but I liked it just fine. I definitely appreciated the up close and personal previews of the pies.

Dan’s take: “If we hadn’t been there for your review, I would have left. There’s like 24 inches between me and the guy next to me, I had an easier time hearing him talk than you. It also makes it really hard for the servers to hear you, because they are on the opposite side of the table. It’s enough to keep me from ever going back.”

Owner Stephen Starr’s take: “It’s a casual, family-and-food kind of place, and this seating reflects that. Most people don’t seem to mind.”

Amis, 412 South 13th Street; 215-732-2647
The setup: Two tables that accommodate 8 to 10 sit at the edge of the pretty dining room. They look like big cocktail tables. It’s specifically for walk-ins; reservation holders won’t be sat there.

Joy’s take: It’s nice to have space available for people who might want a drink and quick bite, and those tables have a nice view of the street. I would definitely be happy to sit there and make some new friends.

Dan’s take: “The next time I want to go to Amis, I’m making a reservation so I don’t have to sit there. But I know not everybody is like me, and it’s great for the restaurant to have options and flexibility.”

Owner Marc Vetri’s take: “We wanted to accommodate walk-ins, and this gives us space for the neighbors and people who want something after the theater. It’s part of the kind of restaurant we want to be.”

And how about you? Share your thoughts and communal table recommendations in the comments.