These days, every pretentious newly opened Los Angeles boîte seems determined to prove how casual and unpretentious it is by using the de rigueur decorative accent of the day: a communal table. When Los Angeles had only a handful of communal tables, they were charming if somewhat uncomfortable. These days, they've become ubiquitous. At best, communal tables are annoying. At worst, they're infuriating. In Los Angeles, they are most definitely a decorative cliché that has outlived its charm.
It's one thing if you're sitting on a hard wooden bench in a Copenhagen hostel sharing gritty travel stories over a breakfast of havarti and brown bread. It's another when you've just paid $30 for a steak and you're pressed haunch to haunch against people you barely know. Philippe's gets a pass since the restaurant is older than God and still serves pickled eggs. Everyone else has some explaining to do.
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In theory, communal tables can work well. In practice, they almost never do. The seating is usually a pair of long, hard, backless wooden benches. Every time anyone needs to stand up or sit down, everybody else has to readjust so the poor, trapped patron can extract himself.
Then there's the awkward straddling of the bench. If you're wedged in the middle of the row, you end up inadvertently teabagging your seatmates. If you're a woman wearing a skirt, you've probably just flashed your knickers at your tablemates. If you somehow manage to do neither, you still look like a graceless slob. Even Heidi Klum with her gazelle legs would look like a complete cow extracting herself from a packed communal table.
Far from being anti-communal, we're just aware of the barefaced commercial motivations behind communal tables. Restaurants need to do as many covers as possible, so they cram in a communal table that seats 20 people where a few regular tables would only seat 16. Restaurants also need high customer turnover. One way to achieve that is to make the seating as uncomfortable as possible. We get it.
The restaurant industry is hard. The economy is in the tank. Communal tables are still awful.