The pros and cons of communal eating

Communal eating. Some people like it, and some people really don't, apparently. Union Local 613's brand of southern hopsitality begs the question: Are you comfortable with it?

Are you down with eating at the same big table as one or two other groups of people?

Some of the tables at Union Local 613 are meant to be shared, but not all of them. (Kristy Nease/CBC)

So I was out for a group birthday dinner at Union Local 613 last week. There were eight of us at the beginning of the night and we were seated at a long table near the back.

Beside us, at the end of the same table, were a man and a woman we didn't know.

I'd been to Union quite a few times and wasn't upset by the communal seating (and indeed, I never have been). But one of the guys in our party seemed a little concerned about it. He wasn't angry or annoyed, he was just worried our big group might be ruining our neighbours' good time.

But the pair seemed perfectly content, and when our table grew they happened to be leaving anyway and gladly offered up the extra seats.

Then, at the end of the night, an interesting card with a bad review arrived alongside the bills.

"A Canadian's take on Southern Hospitality," the front of it reads.

"We arrived for 7pm and were seated at a table with 3 other couples. It was incredibly awkward, and almost enough to make me want to leave. The entire dinner was fairly quiet, as our conversation felt inhibited because we were sitting inches from two couples on either side of us. If I went back here again, I would most definitely would (sic) request a private table, though having been my first time here, I had no idea that a communal table should have been expected."

That's part of a Yelp review by Ottawa's Abbie S. You can read the whole thing here.

And on the back of the card, a quote from the late literary critic (yes, I had to look him up) Cyril Connolly:

"There are many who dare not kill themselves for fear of what the neighbours will say."

Sidebar: Things I would not discuss (or want to hear discussed) at a communal table.

  1. Artax drowning.
  3. Breaking up.
  5. Homicide.
  7. Eye surgeries.
  9. Genital warts.
  11. Any STIs.

I thought it was pretty cool for a restaurant to feature a bad review on a billfold, and it made me think about the whole communal seating thing. I, personally, really like it. But of course, like anything, it has a time and a place.

Would I go to Union to break up with someone, or to have a really serious conversation with a close friend about some deep and dark struggles with my mental health? No, likely not. But does that mean communal seating sucks altogether? I don't think so.

So why do some people have such a problem with it? It's common in other parts of the world, so what makes us different? Is it a Canadian thing? An Ottawa thing?

Here's what some Ottawans thought on the Twitter! Union Local 613 even took part in the conversation when someone suggested that restaurants should let their customers know about communal seating in advance. Check it out. Mobile users can see it by clicking here.

And feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section at the very bottom of this page, of course.


Kristy Nease


CBC Ottawa reporter Kristy Nease has covered news in the capital for nearly 15 years, and previously worked at the Ottawa Citizen. She is particularly interested in crafting long reads on a variety of subjects, including climate, intimate partner violence, health care and the courts. Get in touch:


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