The communal table is a wonderful idea, holding out the promise of making new friends while breaking bread. But like many an ambitious menu item, it’s often better in theory than in practice.
Long, mission-style tables have been cropping up in all kinds of restaurants in the past few years. Such destinations for the couture-clad as Zengo in DC’s Penn Quarter, Sette Bello in Clarendon, and Ceviche in Silver Spring have followed trendsetting Zaytinya in making the communal table the centerpieces of their lounges and dining rooms. Less glamorous but no less functional are the rugged farm tables at Buck’s Fishing & Camping in Forest Hills and Logan Tavern in Logan Circle.
The communal table is not to be confused with the group table, which you can find at old-school Japanese restaurants such as Benihana, with parties clustered together to watch the knife-wielding show. Restaurateurs claim the European-inspired communal table fosters a relaxed conviviality. “It adds to the neighborhood feel,” says Manuel Iguina, manager at Ceviche.
It’s a nice idea: strangers sitting elbow-to-elbow, sharing a few jokes and a few plates and departing as friends.
But do the tables really bring diners together? Not at Zaytinya, where manager Sandy Lewis tells us the hosts make a point of seating people a few chairs apart “for comfort.”
Evidently, in a city where making connections is sometimes the difference between success and failure, not everyone is interested in making just any connection.
You’d think it would be a different story at Logan Tavern, a laid-back hangout for neighborhood locals. But one night recently, while every table and seat at the bar was taken, only the communal table sat empty.
“It’ll be a wait,” said the hostess. “Or, you could just sit there,” she said, gesturing toward the communal table as thought it were a last resort.
We did, and eventually she sat another couple there, too—at the opposite end.
At Buck’s, it’s easier to find two people sitting together at the bar than at the communal table.
A bar. Nothing new. But still the best place in town for finding a little conversation and community.