Life Table Talk

Friday 22 August 2014

I'm done sharing tables with strangers

The concept of personal space and privacy has turned me into a restaurant claustrophobe

Patricia Murphy

Published 09/05/2014 | 16:15

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"Can you put up with being the unwitting third wheel on a stranger’s first date?"

I’ve recently realised that whatever bright sparked restauranteur first decided to introduce communal tables to the Dublin food scene is no friend of mine.

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Long wooden tables accompanied by equally awkward benches have transformed me into a restaurant claustrophobe, deeply fearful of having to spend another meal elbow to elbow with a complete stranger.

Upon a recent excursion for an impromptu dinner in the city centre, I stumbled towards Bison Bar intent of drowning in a sea of melty pulled pork post work. Pushing open the door it was quickly realised that a long wait would have to be endured before getting my mitts on my desire.

The long tables were brimming with dreamy slow cooked meats and sides of creamy slaw but witnessing some poor guy attempt to clamour out from his window seat in fear of knocking everyone’s beers like dominos was enough for me to abandon that particular whim.

With pulled pork still on the mind, I trekked towards George’s Street eyes focused on Pitt Brothers from afar. Upon arrival a 15 minute wait was sited, long tables once again overflowing with meat-lovers, bums perched upon hard benches.

I briefly decided that my hunger took priority over my desire to avoid listening to strangers speak with their mouths full until I sat in the waiting area, unwillingly becoming involved in a conversation with men at the table four inches from my face. Time to hit the road again, Jack.

Where was I to go from here? Neon on Camden Street is cheap and delicious or what about my old reliable Jo’Burger. Are the burgers still good enough that I can put up with being the unwitting third wheel on a stranger’s first date and shuffle in panic every time some randomer on my bench fancies the loo?

The newly developed restaurant claustrophobe inside me put the foot down. It’s about time somebody did.

I have finally realised that I don’t need to share my dinner experience with people that aren’t my friends and I don’t want to. I want to be able to hear my companion without shouting over tables and not have to endure some brat next to me rattling on about a tough week at work before asking for my ketchup.

I feel that my gossip intake has dramatically lessened since the arrival of these tables on the scene, my neck aching for all the craning I do for fear that a wayward friend or a mean former boss is within bench shot.

We have been brainwashed into thinking that these communal dining experiences are hip and forward, rather than a blatant opportunity to fit more people into a smaller space. Although I’ve never been content with this stranger table sharing, I have put up with it for a long time assuming it was a fair trade off for reasonably priced delicious offerings.

This is a cop out. Extra pennies in our pockets are so rare these days that any meal on the town should be thoroughly enjoyed and feeling like you’ve escaped from a can of sardines does not a happy evening make.

For me, eating out is not just about wonderful food. It’s about spending time with people I love, being able to talk with some element of privacy as I unflatteringly tuck into my cheesy burger, which I later did at our own table in Against the Grain.

The internal claustrophobe in me deserves a little love after years of table sharing abuse. With that in mind, does anyone know where we can get some pulled pork with a side of personal space?

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