Sunday, November 23, 2014

Communal Tables Suck

I'm certain that this is how SHE saw the evening.
As the title of this post may have led you to believe, I am opposed to communal/community tables in bars and restaurants. While I understand a business owner's need to squeeze dollars out of every square foot of a property, I will wait for a regular table to open up or I will eat elsewhere before I will again sit at a communal table.

Honestly, food and beverage industries, you're lucky that I sit in those extended booths with tables butted against them where one person gets a chair and the other has to sit next to someone else's backpack or purse, or coat, or stuffed cat, or whatever. It's awkward and weird. So, frankly, are those bars or restaurants that put tiny tables so close together that I'm practically sitting on the next patron's lap.

Why am I so opposed to sitting next to my fellow humans? Reasons:

1) The Internet: In the days before the Internet a community table may have been appealing. Back then, it may have been novel to overhear the minutia of other people's lives. Now, thanks to technology, a constant bombardment of personal and celebrity information is IN MY POCKET. Can I ask not to have it force-fed to me over dinner? Douchebags discussing the best way to maximize granular experiences and strategize cutting-edge architectures? It's on the Internet. Non-wits droning on about their day? Blogging. Dumb-knobs pretending to be film/book/food/anything critics? Internet. I don't need to hear it IRL, folks. It's all blown into my face every day by the media pipe. I'm offended that I'm expected to give a flinging crap about it in click bait form. I'm more offended when it is accompanied by the eye-watering stench of whatever cheap-and-wretched fragrance the next diner over has doused theirself with for the evening. If that fragrance is patchouli I've obviously wandered into a stable and must be going. Ta-ta, hippies! Enjoy your grains!

2) Personal Space: Hello? Does anyone remember not having to shoehorn yourself into an airline seat where you'll be sitting on top of a guy who hasn't showered or changed clothes since the Eighties? All of the hip restauranteurs bemoan factory farming practices that pen animals up against each other but they'll pen in the people giving them money without a second thought. Restauranteurs, will you cut off my beak so that I can't attack the woman at the next table for whining endlessly about the mean thing that HER MOTHER said to her that morning? Don't get me wrong, if that conversation is at my table I'm all ears. Other people's problems are only attention-worthy if I know you.

Look, I'm not asking for free-range dining, but how about not asking me to rub elbows with people I wouldn't have asked to dinner in-a-thousand-evers? Hi? Jerks.

Which brings me to ...

3) This story: My wife and I love to spend our anniversary revisiting our honeymoon. Whenever we do so we make a point of dining out at our favorite restaurant from that trip and ever since. On one anniversary the restaurant had scheduled a special event where the chef would prepare a four course meal with wine pairing using a variety of wild, edible mushrooms in interesting ways. While we'd set aside another night for a regular evening out at the restaurant, having experienced the chef's talents in years past we couldn't miss this special event. We were informed, however, that the event was filling up quickly and that our only seating option was a community table in the wine cellar.

At once I wanted to say no, as one of the many reasons that my wife and I kept coming back was that the place was fourteen-table intimate in a way that wasn't claustrophobia-inducing, but this was a restaurant where we'd met, and had a lovely evening talking to, the founder of Il Fornaio and his wife. It was the place where we'd sat next to Kruk and Kuip and their wives. Everyone we'd ever met there, including the chef, the sommelier, and the rest of the staff, was charming and fun. We'd never had a bad experience at the restaurant. What could go wrong?

/cue ominous music/

The Worst Person in the World and her husband could go wrong, that's what.

First, let me say that the rest of the diners seemed nice enough, but I was already having regrets when I realized that we were in a gilded cage together. No joke, the wine cellar was a thing of beauty, the table was perfectly appointed, and the food and wine were everything we'd hoped, but when our server closed the door behind him it felt more like a cell than a cellar. My wife and I, poster children for introversion, were suddenly forced by the intimacy of the setting to get to know our cell mates.

Well, the "getting to know you" didn't stand a chance when SHEBEAST opened her maw. With a voice as loud as her dress and manners to match, this woman became the turd centerpiece of what should have been a delightful dining experience. When she wasn't interrupting or over-talking the conversations of others she was verbally, and occasionally physically, abusing her husband who cowered next to her as timidly and amiably as a whipped dog. To make matters worse, she REFUSED to be ignored and spewed ignorance toward any and all who dared to politely look the other way. She managed, in just the first half-hour, to display her crackpot opinions on every taboo dinner conversation subject that you might imagine. Politics was only the beginning. I don't know what a Duck Dynasty or a Honey Boo Boo is, but I know one when I see one. She also came with enough money to bankroll a pricey dinner event, unfortunately.

We all tried to be polite at first. We tried to laugh her off. Trust me, my inner twenty-something longed for the days when I would have stood up and told her to get the &%*@ out, but I'm a husband and father these days, and I use &%*@ to express myself. We'd all payed good money, and a lot of it, for the evening and this THING was verbally urinating all over our night. I, for one, was enraged, but was trying to be a respectable man. Choking back anger doesn't make your food taste better, I've discovered.

That said, yelling at her would, I soon found out, have only made things worse. As others at the table scolded and attempted to silence her, albeit more politely than my twenty-something self would have, she, like a Hulk who grows stronger with rage, became louder and more annoying with every reprimand, and all in the name of "fun". She was mean, sure, but the woman was only in-all-of-the-wrong-ways trying to improve everyone's good time with her witless banter. Her intentions, our manners, and knowing what she and her whipping boy would be paying for the meal, meant that no one asked the servers to escort her out. While she did settle down after a time, she never completely shut the &%*@ up.

In the end we were al left with a shambles of a beautiful evening. Worse, my wife and I were left feeling terrible about her poor husband and what life with such a creature must be like. If he had hit her, how different would our collective reaction have been? It still haunts us. Thanks for keeping it really real, communal table!

Finally ...

4)  If you're within earshot it's difficult for my dinner companion and I to make fun of your stupid hair.

I could go on, but I think I've made my point. If I'm dining out, I'd like to chose my dining companions and not have them chosen for me by order of appearance. It's supposed to be an experience, not an experiment in terror. Besides, community tables only lead to crap like this, and nothing good can come of it.

In the end, most of our emotional wounds have healed and my wife and I have enjoyed more wonderful dinners from one of our favorite chefs in the interim, but, come on, enough with the communal tables already. People suck, give me some space.