On a recent visit to Soul Gastrolounge in Charlotte’s Plaza Midwood neighborhood to meet a friend for dinner and discussion, I immediately took note of the restaurant’s seating arrangement – a combination of booths and tables, some artfully arranged into seating groups, others within mere inches of another patron’s table.
While initially curious as to whether we’d be able to engage in conversation without either inadvertently including the table next to us or their conversation’s volume dominating our own, I noticed the conversations were, as defined by Ray Oldenburg, “lively, scintillating, colorful and engaging” (Oldenburg, 1999). He describes conversation as the detail that cannot more clearly indicate a third place.
The couple seated next to us appeared to be in their late 60s or early 70s. As the proximity of our table would determine, we quickly engaged in conversation and learned the couple frequented Soul throughout the week, making it their third place beyond home and church. They offered suggestions as to what to order from the restaurant’s famed and expansive menu as well as set our expectations – the pork belly tacos would be served with giant cubes of watermelon nestled on top – and otherwise engaged in friendly, interesting conversation throughout the duration of our meals.
While difficult to state with certainty based solely on my observations, it appeared as if strangers were willing to become friends at Soul, actively engaging in conversation and banter either when seated at the bar, a table or a living room-esque grouping. Encouragement of dialogue through proxemics helps shape Soul as a third place for patrons, permitting open, spirited dialogue with diners who may just turn into newfound friends.