One of the biggest emerging trends in restaurants is the return of the communal table. Communal tables are long, shared tables where people are typically sitting in close proximity to someone they do not know. While sitting next to a total stranger can be initially awkward, the trend has had some success. The communal table is not an entirely new concept. While it has been around for a few years, it was actually once the most popular dining style during the French Revolution. Today, several restaurants have taken the concept and reinvented or modernized it. Restaurants from fast food giants to small mom and pop restaurants are trying out the communal table. It seems that this has become a trend for a number of reasons. From better utilizing space to providing an improved social experience communal tables are changing things up in restaurants.

While the benefit in communal tables for restaurants is an increased amount of seats for people in a smaller space, people believe there is much more to it than simply boosting sales. Communal tables play a part in developing a better experience. Restaurant Development and Design Magazine said that communal tables are “particularly appealing to millennials, who look for restaurant destinations that can accommodate their desire to socialize, graze and linger.” At these tables diners can choose to “engage with others at the table, or engage with technology.” Communal tables make it much easier for customers to take their time, start conversations, or work behing their computer screens. They give the customer much more freedom to decide how they would like to enjoy their dining experience.

Both McDonald’s and Starbucks have been using communal tables for years now. For McDonald’s utilizing the communal tables was all about offering different types of seating to enhance the experience, spokesperson Danya Proud said “offering different types of seating, including communal tables, is a big part of being able to deliver the type of in-restaurant experience more consumers seek today.” Communal tables better allow fast food restaurants to give customers the experience that they are looking for. As for Starbucks, redesigning stores to feature communal tables and new modern designs was about incorporating communities into local stores. Starbucks is very much a group experience. With more people and growing populations in the communities they most cater to, Starbucks sought out ways to not only mix up aesthetics, but improve on the customer experience. In more metropolitan areas, Starbucks found that people will sit close by strangers without a second thought and in urban areas they sit right next to each other, alone but together. These communal tables are giving customers everywhere to make their dining experience far more of a social experience.

However, the communal tables can only work with some restaurant concepts. Restaurants and quick service restaurants who focus on providing a more communal, social experience will clearly be far more successful as they foster interaction.

For restaurants, communal tables can be used for high-turn around seating or for seating large parties and groups. Communal tables also impact the way in which waitresses and staff engage with their customers. Staff must be well trained and prepared to handle customers and encourage more interaction. Your restaurants should build service entirely around a social exchange.

If your bar or restaurant is considering adding communal tables to your restaurant it is important to think about whether or not the concept will be successful. Think about if your restaurant fits the social component added by communal seating and if it fits the atmosphere of the restaurant. Will communal tables allow for more seating in your restaurant or will it hinder your turn-around time? Will your staff be able to manage encouraging interaction with customers at tables? Most importantly, you should offer alternative seating options to customers who are not interested in sitting at a shared table.

While they cannot work in every restaurant situation, communal tables have definitely made an impact in how people are enjoying their meals. It has made dining out about enjoying food and company. It seems that the concept is going to be sticking around. No longer as communal tables for lunchrooms and cafeterias. You could very well be having your next dinner with a group of strangers.