You walk into a restaurant and, instead of the expected array of seating, there are only a handful of tables surrounding one large, central table that seats 20. The host smiles and directs you to seats between a couple reading the newspaper and a small group that is having a lively discussion. A few of the other diners seem to be keeping to themselves and a few more are drawing new people into their chatter. Generally, the food is not shared, but the space is.
The first time that you find yourself in a restaurant with a large communal table, your initial reaction might be something like mild shock because we are all so used to being seated at our own tables and not interacting with anyone other than members of our own party and the servers. Some people find it to be uncomfortable, eating a meal while seated with strangers, while others enjoy the experience.
Among those who do enjoy it are restaurateurs, since more restaurants are adding in this type of seating and some restaurants are even encouraging their diners to eat "family style" meals with their new companions.
Sitting at a large table gives you a sense of space, even if there are other people sitting there, especially if it is a large, wide table, not a narrow one that evokes the school lunchroom. It gives the restaurant a familiar, casual feel, like you're joining in a meal at someone's home. At restaurants like bills in Sydney (pictured), it feels that way, too. Sharing food with people you don't know seems like it might be going a bit far, however, and when diners are reluctant to sit at a communal table, knowing that they are expected to actually eat along with the other people, it could put people off before the trend even gets off the ground.