Table sharing

Table sharing
Table sharing
Chinese name
Japanese name

Table sharing refers to the seating at a single table of multiple separate parties—individual customers or groups of customers who may not know each other.



By practicing table sharing, two (or more) groups of customers who may not know each other sit together at a table in a restaurant, and are able to get a table faster than waiting for the first group to finish.[1] However, in many cultures, the act of sharing food with another person is a highly emotionally-charged act; even in cultures which take a more casual attitude towards it, sharing a table with strangers in a restaurant can create some awkwardness.[2]

Table sharing is a common practice in busy restaurants in Japan.[3] In Japanese culture, being invited to a person's home to share a meal is rather uncommon and indicates a close relationship.[2] However, sharing a table in public with strangers is just a routine occurrence with no special meaning.[3] It is said to be an example of how Japanese concepts of personal space are adapted to crowded urban living conditions.[3] The custom of table sharing is also widespread in old-style yum cha Chinese restaurants, dai pai dongs and cha chaan tengs in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and parts of China.[citation needed] The Chinese restaurant process, referring to certain random processes in probability theory, is a mathematical allusion to this custom.[4] Harry G. Shaffer reported in the 1960s that it was a common practise in Soviet restaurants.; he used the opportunity of being seated with strangers to strike up conversations with his fellow diners.[5] Table sharing is also practiced in Germany, both in restaurants and in beer halls.[6][7]

Business aspects

American business author Cheryl L. Russell points out that promoting sharing of tables can be an effective part of creating a friendly atmosphere in a restaurant, and would also enable the restaurant owner to free up a table for another party.[8] However, a hospitality industry training guide from the same publisher recommends that waitstaff avoid seating strangers together unless crowded conditions demand it. The authors suggest one way of bringing up the topic is to explain to the guest the length of the wait for a private table, and then to suggest sharing a table with a stranger. They also advise against seating a man at a table where a woman is dining alone, or vice versa.[1] In South Korea, McDonald's found that customers would leave more quickly if they were seated next to strangers, thus effectively increasing the restaurant's capacity.[9]


In Japan, diners who are strangers to each other will generally be seated together only by their mutual consent.[3] In Canada, advice columnist Mary Beeckman pointed out in 1948 that the head waiter would generally ask a patron before seating a stranger at his or her table, but that refusal to do so would be regarded as "stuffy and selfish".[10] South Korean McDonald's customers tended to feel awkward asking for permission to sit at a stranger's table, and were more comfortable being conducted to a seat by an employee.[9] Being asked by the waiter to share a table or not may be a function of party size. For example, in restaurants with tables seating four to six people, a party of two or three may be requested to share a table, as one author pointed out in the context of Belarusian etiquette.[11]

Japanese etiquette does not require that one converse with the unknown party with whom one is seated.[12] In the United States, Emily Post advised that it was not necessary to say anything to a stranger with whom one shared a table, not even a "good-bye" when leaving the table. However she pointed out that one would of course naturally say good-bye if there had otherwise been previous conversation during the course of the meal.[13] Simiarly, Mary Beeckman advised that the safest rule was not to try to start a conversation when sharing a table with strangers.[10] A travel guide to Germany advises that one would generally say Mahlzeit (bon appétit) and goodbye, but that no other small talk would be required.[14] In contrast, in some African cultures, it is considered impolite to share a table with strangers without exchanging some words.[15]


  1. ^ a b Arduser, Lora; Brown, Douglas Robert (2004), The waiter & waitress and waitstaff training handbook, Atlantic Publishing Company, p. 46, ISBN 9780910627474 
  2. ^ a b Tiger, Lionel (1987), The manufacture of evil: ethics, evolution, and the industrial system, Harper & Row, p. 61, ISBN 9780060390709 
  3. ^ a b c d Nishiyama, Kazuo (2000), Doing business with Japan: successful strategies for intercultural communication, University of Hawaii Press, p. 25, ISBN 9780824821272 
  4. ^ Teh, Yee-Whye; Jordan, Michael I.; Beal, Matthew J.; Blei, David M., "Sharing Clusters Among Related Groups: Hierarchical Dirichlet Processes", Advances in neural information processing systems (17): 1385–1399, 
  5. ^ Shaffer, Harry G. (1965), The Soviet system in theory and practice: selected Western and Soviet views, Appleton-Century-Crofts, p. 121, OCLC 405914 
  6. ^ Steinbicker, Earl (2002), Daytrips Germany, Hastingshouse/Daytrips Publishing, p. 17, ISBN 9780803820333 
  7. ^ Bekker, Henk (2008), Munich and Bavaria Travel Adventures, Hunter Publishing, p. 149, ISBN 9781588436825 
  8. ^ Russell, Cheryl L. (2006), "Restaurants and Food Service", 2001 innovative ways to save your company thousands and reduce costs, Atlantic Publishing Company, pp. 233–234, ISBN 9780910627771 
  9. ^ a b Watson, James L. (2006), Golden arches east: McDonald's in East Asia, Stanford University Press, p. 148, ISBN 9780804749893 
  10. ^ a b Beeckman, Mary (1948-08-13), "Request To Share A Table Is Polite In A Restaurant", The Ottawa Evening Citizen,,2744761, retrieved 2011-04-18 
  11. ^ Morrison, Terri; Conaway, Wayne A., Kiss, bow, or shake hands: the bestselling guide to doing business in more than (revised ed.), Adams Media, p. 35, ISBN 9781593373689 
  12. ^ Takada, Noriko; Lampkin, Rita L. (1996), The Japanese way: aspects of behavior, attitudes, and customs of the Japanese, McGraw-Hill, p. 20, ISBN 9780844283777 
  13. ^ "Nothing usually said to stranger", The Milwaukee Sentinel, 1952-09-20,,941982, retrieved 2011-04-18 
  14. ^ Bekker, Henk (2005), Adventure Guide Germany, Hunter Publishing, p. 28, ISBN 9781588435033 
  15. ^ Batibo, Herman (2005), Language Decline and Death in Africa, Multilingual Matters, p. 34, ISBN 9781853598081 

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