Communal Dining: Attack And Defense

We’ve spilled a fair bit of virtual ink on this site poking fun at a particular Sun-Times reviewer in various ways. In particular, lately, we’ve taken some pleasure in calling out his (to our mind) irrational hatred of communal dining, for which we perhaps too judgmentally declared him an old man who needed to get a new hearing aid, because we think communal dining is pretty awesome.

Now, this is not an apology post. It is, however, a post in which we acknowledge the possibility that perhaps we are occasionally too hard on the ol’ Brunster, slamming various opinions of his merely because they are his opinions, and not because they are in fact deserving of slammage. Because a blogger who is, as far as we know, not as old and set in their ways as Pat Bruno has also come out of the closet as a hater of communal dining. Is her argument enough to sway us?

Abbey of No Olives is firm in her dislike:

I’ve never been to Blackbird, or Otom, or Sepia; while their cuisine is enticing, one obstacle remains. Why, in the name of all that is holy, would I want to sit at a table 6 inches away from strangers when I’m probably going to drop over $200 on a meal? A few years ago, I could easily avoid a handful of restaurants in Chicago that force its patrons to engage in this experience. These days, dozens* of the city’s restaurants are taking away something that Americans typically value when eating out: privacy.

We’re torn. On one hand, we want to take Abbey’s youth and presumable joie de manger (qualities Bruno, in our opinion, does not possess) to validate her perspective. On the other hand, this paragraph could be lifted verbatim from the intro of a Bruno review (Brunoview?), barring that the man’s actually visited Blackbird and Sepia (though we don’t recall him snipping about shared tables there, either).

Also working against her: She hates olives so much that she named her blog in homage to her dislike. Who doesn’t like olives!? Disliking olives is a point against a rational mind.

Of course, to be fair, also also working against her is the fact that we love communal dining. We don’t love it all the time (some meals, like romantic tête-à-têtes and business lunches, don’t really adapt well to the medium) but it’s great for a number of other difficult conditions. Some of our best first dates have been at communal tables — the chatter and camaraderie can help deflect awkward silences, and the premium placed on interpersonal politesse is a great “do I want to see this person again?” litmus test. It’s also, bar none, our choice for solo dining — sometimes you just don’t want to stare at a tundra of unfilled white space on a half-filled two-top, or have to feebly attempt to befriend the bartender over your bolognese per uno. (Though now that we think about it, eating at the bar is just one-sided communal eating, innit?)

Most importantly, though, is that it’s a rare restaurant that offers communal seating but doesn’t offer private tables. Call ahead and make a request, or — since, when it comes to restaurateurs, the communal dining attitude does tend to go hand-in-hand with the “reservations are for suckers” attitude — budget in some time for waiting. Alternately, suck it up, take the seating, and pretend you’re just sitting in a tightly-packed row of banquettes. Build a lego fort around your area of the table and shout IT’S MINE NOW if someone else’s errant piece of charcuterie lands in your area. Bonus points if you scream GET OFF MY LAWN!

Don’t Sit So Close to Me [No Olives]

[Photo: Communal dining at The Bristol]

Communal Dining: Attack And Defense