Photo: Claire Harrison Photography

The rise of communal dining

In recent years I have seen a shift in Britain’s eating style. Restaurants are changing from white-linen and silver service to a more laid back, communal and inclusive approach. Whether rustic furniture, mismatched plates and bowls or friendly, approachable wait staff – the hospitality industry seems to be competing for customer affection by creating the cosiest, most relaxed experience they can.

Most significantly, I have noticed a rise in the experience of communal eating. Entering a restaurant and sitting down on a bench or long table with a group of strangers. Whether you talk to them, well, that’s up to you. But you’re certainly going to watch them eat.

Thinking back, it seems to have started with large, chain, Asian restaurants. Think Wagamama or Yo Sushi. Some of the smaller street food style Indian restaurants in Manchester like This n That also adopt the same system.

So – has the rise in communal eating come hand in hand with the expansion of the British food scene and embrace of new cuisines?

Possibly. But we seem to be going an extra step further. Establishments such as Hatch or Mackie Mayor provide this casual style dining, with the added option of multiple food vendors for the customer to choose from.

I spoke to Gail Titchener from the Northern Quarter’s Mackie Mayor. She said that Mackie was “designed for everyone to enjoy […] from hipsters to mums with prams, to young families, to city workers, to retirees” so that everyone feels at home when they walk through the door.

Their focus is on food provenance, supplying from small local businesses. Gail says that customers should treat Mackie “exactly like a market place – like a giant ‘pick n mix’, if you like”. This caters for everyone’s needs.

Whilst there might be concern over the random nature of the vendors or a lack of coherence in ordering food. Mackie Mayor aims to provide both difference and cohesion. Menus change regularly, from bao buns to rotisserie chicken or cakes, pastries and coffee. But Gail assured me that “there is great cohesion in that everyone involved is a great stickler for detail; ensuring that the food, the waiting staff, the whole experience, is of the same exacting quality each time you come.’

It really is a matter of preference. But in our busy lifestyles, quick ‘street food’ or restaurants with communal tables are perfect to save time but still enjoy a great meal. The atmosphere is lively and celebrates the joy that we all find in good food. I see huge advantages in the inclusive nature of these establishments, but – I must admit – I do hope not all fine dining restaurants are lost.

Tags: communal dining, eating out, mackie mayor, Northern Quarter, restaurants, wagamama, yo sushi

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