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What is a Cocktail Table?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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A cocktail table is generally synonymous with a coffee table. It is usually a useful table placed either to the front or to the side of seating areas like couches and chairs, onto which you can place a drink, alcoholic or otherwise. The cocktail table comes in a variety of different sizes, materials and styles, and choosing one, usually means looking for something that fits well with your living or family room décor.

One thing you might consider when you purchase a coffee or cocktail table is the height of the table. Most are set low, on short legs. What you should be thinking of is the reachability factor for guests. A table that is too short for a high sofa or chair may be a little uncomfortable for use by yourself or others. In general, you should aim for a table that is no more than a inch or two (2.54-5.08 cm) lower than the seat of your sofa, to provide ease in reaching for the table, and placing drinks.

It may also be easier, especially if you’re choosing tables for chairs or short sofas, to choose end tables instead of cocktail tables, or alternately a high table that is located behind a sofa or chairs. The only difficulty with using an end table instead of a coffee or cocktail table is if your seating leaves some people without table access. A long couch is better served by having a cocktail table in front of it, or a tall table behind it, so people sitting in the middle of the couch have a way to set drinks down comfortably. End tables may not serve this purpose as well, since family or guests may have to reach over each other to set a drink down.

Lots of people agonize over just what kinds of cocktail tables to purchase. All wood, rattan, wood and glass, and metal and glass tables exist. Some people prefer the glass top for a cocktail table, since it can be easier to clean, or a marble top. Such tables may also have a lower shelf for placing things like remotes or magazines, or a drawer to keep a few items in like your favorite Sudoku puzzle book and a few pencils. If you do choose a wooden top, be certain to provide guests with coasters or at the least napkins, so you don’t end up with water rings on a wooden surface that can’t come off, or damage the varnish on a table.

While you’re considering access to drinks, you should think about the potential pitfalls of a cocktail table. Since these are short, they are often easily accessible to pets and children, and very large cocktail tables in small living spaces can be detested by all living in the home if they are tripped over regularly. If you have easy access tables, be sure that children in the home are watched carefully so they don’t accidentally pick up alcoholic drinks or hot beverages, and pets should be trained not to touch or go near coffee tables so they won’t take advantage of guests putting down food or drink. To limit this, some people prefer a taller table in back of the sofa, which is less accessible to children and pets, and clearly less easy to trip over in a smaller room.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a HomeQuestionsAnswered contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
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Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a HomeQuestionsAnswered contributor,...
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