Although it's been a longtime tradition in Europe, communal dining is catching on here in the States. The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and the Marin Independent Journal all recently ran articles on the growing trend.
What's so great about it? Well, dining is a social event, and what is more social than sitting at a table with a group of strangers and walking out with a group of friends -- or at least, a pleasant evening of conversation?
You have to read the vibe, though!
There are so many restaurants now that are conducive to this, with communal tables and what-not but you don't want to be like that person on the airplane who's trying to chat to someone for five hours who clearly doesn't want to talk.
If you want to meet new people in a restaurant situation, you should simply comment on what the other person is eating "that looks good" (as opposed to, "ew, why are you eating THAT") and wait for them to respond. If you get a head nod and an ignore, for the love of all that is sacred, leave them alone. Move onto the person on your left. But if they start to chat, Boom. You've made a friend!
(Go sit by my mother. She'll talk to anyone.)
Yeah, like in any situation, you have to have a good "read " on it.
And my mom isn't the talker, but my dad sure is. No one is safe!
I like the idea of slow food, too, Nikki. I never even had fast food until I was in my late 20s (a vegetarian for 12 years before then). But the idea of making a meal with love and serving it with love to people you love (while eating it leisurely with great conversation), well, that is the perfect meal - regardless of what you're serving.
I get a little anxious when I'm eating with a table of strangers. When I eat at the long tables up in Amish country (Lancaster County, PA) or even some wine tasting multi course thing at Petit Louis in Baltimore, I tense up. I feel like I have to keep my body all close, I have to worry about small talk. I can't have that sensory experience of eating, because I feel like I'm on display. I would never have joined a dating club like "It's Just Lunch" for this reason when I was single. Does anyone else feel like it's no fun to eat with a big table of strangers?
Not only do I find it uncomfortable to eat with strangers (as eating is most enjoyable when not trying to come up with small talk), I also find that I will eat more healthily if everyone around me is. I run into the danger of thinking "well, he/she is eating that [insert unhealthy or fattening food here], so why shouldn't i? after all, it's a special night out." Though this sounds like something interesting to try, as meeting new friends is always nice, I wonder if eating with health-conscious (hence, carefully chosen) tablemates would be the best choice.
I am in agreement with some of the other posters; for me, dining is a social thing but I also think it should foster a sense of safety and comfort. Eating with strangers can be a little nerve-wracking, but that is also dependent on the overall vibe of the group. I'm sort of a chameleon, so I've had times when I've vibed with strangers and times when I haven't. I am also wondering if things like communal dining in swanky restaurants simply foster the kind of superficial connections that modern life is so rife with, y'know?
Food is the center of fellowship/get together. I think if you find one common denominator, then it's easy to meet and have a meal, even with a stranger. For instance, if health is our common denominator, then we all can meet for dinner and talk about health. At the same time, we can keep one another accountable and therefore, we all would feel more conscious about eating health.