Table Talk

I’ve always preferred round tables. They’re just – perfect.

The first thing I notice at restaurants are the tables. If they don’t have round ones – sigh – proceed as usual. If they do, however, the place instantly gets an extra star in my proverbial book. They make meals taste better.

‘Always’ is a bit of a stretch—it wasn’t until recently that I became more aware of way the table shape influences our social interactions. And since then, I’ve noticed the major flaw presented by rectangular (inclusive of square) tables throughout in the restaurant industry and beyond – even in our own dining rooms.

Look, to be fair, rectangular tables make a lot of sense: you can line them up and increase length, easily accommodating larger parties. They fit together nicely for convenient, space-efficient storage after-hours. And they do just fine for a romantic dinner for two.

But versatility does not necessarily a good design make (bear with me).

While rectangular tables are well-suited to small intimate settings, they run into issues with group sizes larger than four. And although the evidence which follows is purely anecdotal, entirely unempirical—and ultimately, my opinion—the optimum table for larger parties is circular.

Without further ado, let’s get into the (indisputable) ideal arrangements for parties of all (worthwhile) sizes.

 

Party Size: 1-2 (I’ll only discuss 2-person situations as 1-person situation is trivial)

When at dinner with a friend, lover, or somewhere in-between, you can choose to sit either opposite or adjacent to them, depending on the size of the table.

When possible, I prefer to sit adjacent to my friend. I find that conversations flow better and it’s a more versatile seating arrangement. If it’s an intimate setting, you’d naturally want to be closer to the other person. If it’s casual, you aren’t facing each other and can provide ways to make things relaxed (perhaps gossip about the neighboring table, without having to execute the thinly veiled casual-head-swivel).

However, this also depends on the size of the table. Smaller square tables are unable to seat two adjacent to each other. Larger square tables might be too large to sit opposite each other.

I may be pedantic (exhibit: this whole piece), but I’m also practical. There’s basically no difference between rectangular or circular tables in this situation. In fact, I dare say go with a square table here. If you choose to sit adjacent at a round table, how do you define “adjacent?” How close is too close? What if you’re not 90 degrees from each other but instead at 60°, or 120°?

 

Party Size: 3-4

This one is pretty straightforward. Whether it’s a rectangular or circular table, there really isn’t a bad seat.

Everyone can see everyone and everyone can use normal voices to be heard.

 

Party Size: 5-6

Here is where the fun starts.

Restaurants tend to accommodate 5-6 people in one or two ways: two tables side by side or 3 tables side by side.

With two tables side by side, seating will look as followed:

table 1

Honestly, this isn’t all that bad. Though the distance between the two people on the ends isn’t desirable, I consider this an “open” seating arrangement and everyone has an opportunity to participate in the conversation effortlessly.

But the success of the above arrangement is contingent upon the size of each table. If too small, there isn’t room for people to sit at the ends. Restaurants are now force to use the below setup:

table 2

While it may seem non-problematic initially, we run into some issues here. The people sitting in the middle (the orange ones) on each side are actually partitioning the table in half—people on either halves will have a harder time communicating with the other side, resulting in two (or even three) separate conversations being formed.

Not only did the orange people in the middle just split the table in half, they also just divided their own attention as well: do I join the conversation to my right? Or the one on my left? They become jack-of-all-conversations and masters-of-none.

So…get a round table. Assuming everyone is evenly distributed (which is a fair assumption—we’re not savages), all dinner guests are able to contribute equally to one conversation.

 

Party size 6+

First, I’d like to preface that some people enjoy big dinners. I respect that, even if I think they are misguided. They might even argue they’ve never really had an issue at a dinner with 6 people seated across three lined up tables. Sure.

Beyond 6, however, minor issues only become magnified. If conversations weren’t split in half before, they certainly will be with 7, 8, or even 9 people seated at square tables. But this is just tip of the iceberg.

Who gets the bill at the end? How will they negotiate the inevitable Venmo? Who will end up paying more than their fair share because someone only brought not-enough cash? Or, my personal favorite, the “Oh, my meal and drink was $18 bucks total, and I only have $20s. Let me throw down a $20. That should cover tax and tip, right?” Get more denominations people!

I digress (and digest). Square tables can work for smaller groups (4 or fewer). Where circular tables truly shine is once we get to 6+ people. As much as I prefer to keep dinners cozy, I’m also guilty of I-can’t-invite-Tom-without-inviting-Lizz (x10).

Food is great, but the people and the conversations make meals truly special. Round tables promote inclusivity and memorable conversations. They bring us all a bit closer.

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