Restaurant Critic Reports on Dining at

A Communal Table

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Patric Kuh, Restaurant Writer for Los Angeles Magazine, shared his reaction to communal table dining in a February 2004 column on Zen Grill and Sake Lounge.

(Read's writeup on Zen Grill and Sake Lounge click: California)

Kuh's observations are provocative; offers thanks for them. Here are excerpts:

When restaurants offer communal tables, as many increasingly do, we [Los Angelenos] don't quite know how to act. "Is that your sports section?" the conversation icebreaker that might get you through a club sandwich and a root beer at a lunch counter won't cut it.

Perhaps if there were some signal understood to indicate that today we'd just like to eat and not "share," we'd feel more comfortable about sitting down with strangers. But there isn't. [People seated around the 26' long common table at Le Pain Quotidien (212) 327-4900; 1131 Madison Street; New York, New York throughout the day need no signal. People do their own thing whether it's eat and go or strike up a conversation, eat and then go.]

The communal table is ensnared in the symbolism of goodwill, benevolence, and altruism with that sort of buildup, what's an Angeleno to do but steer clear of its seats?

Eating at a communal table today is something like an improv act. Everything depends on who's there and how you're feeling.

[That's telling it the way it is bravo!]

A young woman with a knockoff Kelly bag on her arm and a genuine look of displeasure on her fact approached me. " Are you sitting here" she asked. I allowed that I was, and she turned on her heel. "But it's the communal table" I said to the empty spot where she'd stood.

It's a cold wind that blows when you've been dissed at the communal table. Yet I managed to smile to myself. What could be more ridiculous than trying to get disparate Angelenos to share a meal, I thought.

About an hour later came the twist. As I was signing my bill, the young woman reappeared. "I'm sorry," she said. "I hope you didn't take it badly. I didn't mean to be rude." I said that I had understood she'd been expecting a table for herself and her girlfriends on a night off. I thought it was touching that she would come back to apologize.

She saw a guy dining alone on a Saturday night and felt badly for making him feel even worse.

[She may have felt sorry for being rude, but why did Kuh assume she thought he felt bad about "dining alone on a Saturday night"? Was he projecting "his feelings" on her? Perhaps, because many of us find dining out alone on a Saturday night a pleasurable experience.]

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