A Table for 20

The hottest foodie trend isn't on the menu. It's eating a communal meal with folks you've never met before

Timothy Devine for TIME

Diners at Buddakan, a resturaunt in the Meatpacking District of Manhatten, sit at a long table that seats over 20 people in the middle of the resturauntís dining room.

It's 8 p.m. on a Thursday night, and at Buddakan, a restaurant in Manhattan's ultra-trendy Meatpacking District, friends Lisa Natt-Irom and Jeanne DiGangi and their husbands are sitting down to an intimate dinner with 18 complete strangers. "Hi, I'm Jeanne," says DiGangi, 42, as she slides into her seat at the 30-ft.-long table that is the centerpiece of the room. "Have you eaten here before? What's your favorite thing? You have to try the butternut-squash dumplings!" she says before taking a breath and introducing the rest of her party.

Welcome to the communal table. Except for the occasional dim sum pig-out,...

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