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Breaking Bread

Communal tables bring diners ever closer.


The Cooperage / Shannon McIntyereTen years ago, the thought of possibly dining with someone else’s Aunt Betsy would have been cringe worthy. Today, it vies for one of the Bay Area’s hottest dining trends. It seems a natural complement to shared small plates and family-style dining, with the bonus of meeting new people.

New urban-edged Revel in Danville boasts three high-top communal tables. General manager Andy Tetlow says diners are often bashful at first, but ultimately—especially after a glass of wine—they connect, satisfying a hunger left untended to in our virtual culture.

“It brings it back to what brings people together—food and drink,” says Tetlow. “It’s like bellying up to the bar. It breaks the ice.”

At a typical bistro, we awkwardly pretend not to notice the stranger 18 inches away. With communal tables—typically reserved for walk-ins—that pretense dissolves, creating an opportunity to engage and have fun. This is best accomplished when you sit facing one another, but if you want a little more intimacy, grab a corner, or sit side by side. The only rule—to chat or not to chat, to share or not to share—is that there are no rules in communal dining.

At Penrose, chef Charlie Hallowell’s hottest new Oakland restaurant, half the seating is communal, encouraging customers to meet, share recommendations, and discover drinks and dishes they might never have tried.

“There is no better salesperson than another customer,” says general manager Cate Whalen. “Communal dining is an opportunity to break bread with people who live where you live.”

If you’re still not convinced, Lafayette’s booming The Cooperage American Grille might be a way to ease in: There’s an 18-seat communal table showcased in the dining room. General manager Michael Iglesias usually leaves one chair in between parties to create a “natural break”—an uncommon approach.  

Or try communal dining in an ultracasual setting. When Sideboard in Danville relocated this year, owners Erin and Ford Andrews went from one communal table to four. “At first, it was a little weird for people,” says Erin. “But once you do it, it opens doors.”

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