Although fairly novel in Sri Lanka, communal dining or the concept of sharing a table at an establishment is currently trending in many parts of the world. A practice that was most common during the French Revolution has received a facelift lately with many budding eateries following suit; however, it has earned a fair amount of criticism. Café Kumbuk’s communal table has received both criticism and praise; but to us it is the absolute heart of the café.

When conceptualizing the café, we had a few main concerns – we didn’t just want to create a café, we wanted to come up with a space where people could vibe and connect with each other. This was a mammoth task considering the square footage we were working with and the one solution that was almost obvious was a communal table. Although hunting for a specimen to fit our milieu was a nightmare, we stumbled upon the best fit for us at an antique warehouse. We had to fill it in and do a little DIY before we could place it in the café, but it fits right into our cosy space, so it was worth it. This dining situation not only livens up the environment and gives Kumbuk its distinct look, but is also economical for a small business like ours. We have been able to do more covers in the same space with the presence of the large table. These same numbers would have been highly unlikely had we placed several smaller tables down the middle instead.

Although communal dining has been at the brunt of many smear campaigns by many fine dining aficionados, we were determined to build our community café around this very table. The communal table has been a hotspot for interactions since day one; friendships have transpired between our regulars seated around the table; travellers in passing have had many an exchange with their fellow patrons around the same table too. In a culture that focuses more on the food theatrics (stemming from Benihanas, that coincidentally also started the communal dining experience in the 80s) than the dining experience itself, the negativity regarding communal dining is at a minimal. It is especially true of cafes and casual dining spots. After all, I would rather share a table and experience the food than wait an unascertained amount of time for a table.

Although mostly positive, we do get a fair share of puzzled or disgruntled looks when guests have been seated at the long table. We’ve come to realize that more than being displeased at having to share a table, it is the intimidation of having another party staring at you while you silently chomp away that makes people shy away from it. As a rule of thumb, remember that regular dinner party etiquette applies – acknowledge each other with a simple Hello or a nod of your head, take cues from their body language and dive in! You might pick up a few nifty tips and tricks in exploring the island, food and music! Sometimes a communal table can also be a great workstation to set up laptop and get alone time together. With the foodie culture rapidly developing, people also enjoy meeting and getting to know others like themselves that enjoy fine foods, good coffee and a pleasing aesthetic. In these instances the communal tables have brought about many networking opportunities for such individuals too. However, if you’re still not phased by this new and modern gimmick that restaurants are using these days, give it a shot – unless you’ve experienced it, you might not be able to acknowledge it and give it the recognition it deserves. Luckily for you, Café Kumbuk is a chilled out spot to trial this out for the first time!

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