Last summer my husband and I wanted to try a new Island restaurant, but unpredictable work schedules are not conducive to well-planned date nights. It was the middle of the week, albeit in August, and we were just hoping for a quick dinner before a movie. Without time to make a reservation, we took our walk-in chances.

“Ten minutes and I can seat you on the porch,” the host at Beach Road Restaurant in Vineyard Haven told us. He led us to a communal table where fourteen people were chatting and co-mingling at different stages of their meals. Quickly, the expectation of an intimate dinner for two slipped away and we acquiesced to being amiable, if not downright social.

Anthony Esposito

I was eight months pregnant at the time and as any woman who has been there knows, a swollen belly invites commentary, inquiry and advice from armchair experts: “It’s definitely a boy!” “It’s definitely a girl!” “Will you breastfeed?” “Don’t be a hero, take the epidural.” “You should sleep train.” “Whatever you do, do not sleep train.” Still, dinner was delicious and the low-grade awkwardness was vaguely pleasurable in its novelty. My husband shared fishing tips with the guy sitting across from us and we were able to laugh our way out of a potentially awkward situation with a solo diner who thought she might like to come to the movies with us.

Even before Beach Road was fully constructed, manager Chris Cajolet knew there would be a communal aspect to the space. The menu is ripe with perfect-for-sharing small plates and on a screened-in porch there is an oversized communal table reserved for walk-in guests like my husband and me on that busy August night, “It was the best use for that space,” Mr. Cajolet said. From his manager’s perch, he sees guests socializing and interacting on the porch and only occasionally does someone choose to wait it out for a private table than sit with strangers.

At Down Island, a new Oak Bluffs eatery, both the menu and the physical space reflect the intended communal vibe. Down Island is the sister restaurant to nearby 20byNine, both establishments owned and operated by the Celestial Restaurant Group. “We are four good friends who decided to open uncommon restaurants on MV,” said Adam Jaime, who, with Doug Abdelnour, Steve Ansara and David Gaffey makes up the team of Island restaurant veterans in charge of both spaces. “We’ve traveled all over the world-together and apart — inspiring all of our restaurant ideas.

Chef Scott Cummings is at the helm in the kitchen. “At Down Island we’ve really elevated the food,” he said, “It’s refined but casual. You can have a really nice meal without getting dressed up.” The five-course set menu is served family style. Ingredients are locally sourced and seasonally focused and while diners can usually count on courses including meat, seafood and nuts, with some advance notice Cummings is happy to offer substitutions to accommodate dietary restrictions.

In addition to some smaller, private tables, Down Island features an eight-seat communal banquette that can bring diners together — or not. “It can be communal,” said Cummings, “but it’s not forced.”

Rob Meyers, energy manager at South Mountain Company, is a regular at Down Island and he loves the food, calling it, “Boston or New York City quality without the pretension.” Mr. Meyers and his wife Mary dine out frequently and almost always choose to sit at a restaurant’s bar. “You can interact with the staff, learn about the menu,” he said.

Mr. Meyers appreciates the concept of communal dining for the potential to socialize, engage and interact, but he’s also clear about what communal dining should not be. “It does not mean passing the mashed potatoes to your politically opposite drunk uncle at Thanksgiving,” he said, “It means a relaxed atmosphere, with approachable and engaging staff who are very knowledgeable regarding their craft. It can be as social as the diner wants it to be.” He also credits Cummings’ artistry as a chef for creating dishes that are delicious and also plated in such a way that divvying them up is easy.

Shared plates and big tables are also on the menu at The Covington, the newest addition to the Edgartown restaurant scene. A partnership between brothers Ted and Patrick Courtney, owners of the popular Port Hunter, and acclaimed Island chef Chris Fischer, The Covington’s “Japanese-and-Italian-inspired Coastal New England” cuisine is served in a dining room that encourages community; booths and a wrap-around bar line the perimeter, while a single, communal table stretches the length of the space.

“Some dinners just get so boring when you know everybody,” said Mr. Fischer, who won a James Beard award this year “It’s definitely nice for people that don’t know each other to sit at the same table and share a dining experience with people they’re just meeting. Especially here on the Vineyard, where everybody has a different story.”

According to Mr. Fischer, the decision to incorporate a communal table was less in deference to the zeitgeist and more based on “practicalities of the space,” which, he believes, is how it should be. “We’re not trying to follow a trend. If you’re following a trend, you’re chasing.” Whatever the reason, it’s curious that communal dining would be having a moment now, in this increasingly digital age. Perhaps the mild discomfort of small talk with strangers is the push we need to look away from our devices. Or maybe the communal table is just a clever way to accommodate shy, solo diners, unwilling to post up at a table for two; call it dining alone, together.