By Jennifer Maerz
You don't need to read the smart little piece on the rise of communal table dining in The Atlantic today to know this trend is already huge in San Francisco. Three out of the four times I ate out recently, I sat at communal tables. If you want a last minute seat at NOPA, or walk in without reservations at Starbelly, or even if you have a 7 p.m. on the books at Namu Gaji, there's a good chance that you'll be sandwiched between strangers.
Living in a dense city where much of what we do is already sardine-like (riding the bus, cramming into apartments, squishing our cars into parking spots), it makes sense that restaurants here are embracing our comfort level with zero personal space so they can get more bodies into their restaurants. One Chicago area architecture firm told The Atlantic that 85 percent of its restaurant clients now demand communal table space. I'd imagine we have an equally high percentage of shared-table dining spots here.
Communal dining etiquette is something that's always fascinated me, though. We may be well versed in the sharing economy, but we occasionally have a ways to go when it comes to issues around sharing tables:
Couples Sitting on the Same Side of the Bench
The general rule is, unless you snag the corner spot, you sit facing your dining partner, treating seating arrangements less like a porch swing and more like a see-saw. It's all about the balance. I recently ate brunch at a communal table, where a couple refused to sit across from one another, even after the host gently explained that's how the restaurant does things.
People Who Hover Too Close to the Seats They Want to Snag
If you want our place at the table, we shouldn't be able to smell your breath, cologne, or your desperation.
Cockblocking Another Stranger at Your Shared Table
It sounds odd, but I guess it has happened. Not cool, dude.
Extra: Offering strangers bites of your food
This feels so wrong, but my Southern friend actually did this last week (after a couple cocktails) and it turned out so right. She offered the guys on a date next to us big bites of our unfinished entree; they later offered her fried chicken in return. Happy feelings about the friendliness of San Francisco ensued. So I guess I'd keep the idea of sharing food at communal tables optional for Southerners who couldn't possibly creep anyone out.
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