Dinner as Theater: A GIF Guide to NYC’s Tableside Service Revival

From old standards like bananas Foster, to new-school curiosities like bong-smoked oysters, high-drama dishes are making their way back to the dining room.

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Photography by Liz Barclay. GIFs by Amy Chen.

There are a lot of reasons why we go out to eat. Sometimes, it's sheer lethargy that drives us to hunch over a bowl of ramen rather than cooking for ourselves. Other times, we're looking to discover unfamiliar cuisines, or escape our regular lives and gather with friends. And sometimes, we just want to be entertained.

Throughout history, that last part has been a hallmark of some of the most extravagant dining experiences. From the Tudor-era cockentrice—a Frankensteined beast delivered to the table by a small army of men—to classic hallmarks of French service like Dover sole filleted at your table, bringing the action out of the kitchen and into the dining room has been a way to coax a bit of drama out of the act of communal eating.

Sadly, tableside service was on the verge of extinction for a while in NYC, relegated to kitschy mortar-and-pestle guacamole antics and fusty old brassieres that refused to bend to the times. But more recently, there's been a resurgence in dining-room flair. Restaurants like Carbone and Porter House are reviving old traditions like à la minute Caesar salad and canard à la presse, while the revamped Eleven Madison Park has fully blurred the line between dinner and theater. And then, of course, there are bong-smoked oysters in the East Village—because why not?

Here, we take a tour of some of our favorite tableside preparations in New York—from old standards like bananas Foster and crêpes Suzette, to a nouveau twist on lobster fra diavolo—with some GIFs to show you exactly what you're getting yourself into.

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