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Coffee Table vs Cocktail Table

A close look at a waiting area with a couple of armchairs and a table.

Have you ever been somewhere, perhaps a party, and as you are mingling, bam? You painfully run into that low table in the middle of the room. We have all likely done this at some time or another.

The coffee table or the cocktail table is usually the table that we have a scrape with. These great little tables that serve central functions in dwellings have bumped more than one shin. Aside from being low tables, they serve as almost a workhorse of furnishing accommodating books, decorations, drinks, and any other items in spaces like living rooms, lounges, and restaurants.

When comparing side by side, the coffee table vs cocktail table shows they are very similar, while also having some key differences that make them unique furnishings.

What is a coffee table?

A living room with a gray L-shaped sectional sofa paired with a black coffee table.

A coffee table is a low, small table that is usually of an oval or square shape but can be square or many other shapes. It may or may not have drawers or other storage functionality. Some coffee tables are very modern and spare.

There are many different styles and designs of coffee tables. They are constructed to be solid and sturdy, depending on how they are made and who manufactures them. They can be long and short with long ones being favored for big living rooms.

The coffee table is typically found in living rooms or other social areas around sofas, chairs, and couches. Though they have traditionally been used for entertaining guests with coffee or tea during the Victorian era, over the many years since they have been in use they have taken on a broader utilitarian function.

In modern times, it has become common for these tables to be used less for coffee or entertaining, and instead serve to present decorative furnishings, vases with flowers, books, or other items, not necessarily just coffee cups and saucers. Many people use these tables for laptops, games, or other modern uses.

What is a cocktail table?

A close look at a sleek black cocktail table paired with a green sofa.

The cocktail table, sometimes indistinguishable from a coffee table, does have a different history and some features that make it stand apart from its counterpart the coffee table. Cocktail tables are generally a little more rectangular in their top, though they can be round or other shapes. They can be long, but many cocktail tables are short.

There are both low and high cocktail tables. Lounges, bars, restaurants, and home-dwelling may have high tables for social events and aesthetics. Cocktail tables tend to be able to accommodate drinks and other cocktail-related accessories with ease.

Some cocktail tables may carry a greater sense of refinement as well. In general, the cost, construction, and materials used affect the quality of any piece of furniture, including these two types of tables.

Features of coffee tables and cocktail tables

There are certain features to be noted when discussing coffee tables vs cocktail tables. They are similar in many respects, but a cocktail table may be high and low whereas a coffee table tends to be just low. They both can be built to be solid and highly functional.

The coffee table vs the cocktail table shows they have differences and similarities. The quality of the features between the coffee table vs cocktail table is dependent on several factors. Better-made, higher-cost tables may offer a greater degree of features and aesthetics than a less expensive table.

There is a massive range of tables to choose from in this category that has notable features.

Basic features

This is a square wooden coffee table with wheels and drawers.

Coffee tables are often solid and short. Typically they are about as tall as where the cushions are on couches and sofas. They can be made from heavy wood or even plastic. Some designs come with drawers which adds a useful storage function.

Many have space underneath that can be used for stowing items too. A coffee table is usually chosen to fill in a room and they are useful for entertaining, as well as adding decorative touches. Cocktail tables can be low and function much like coffee tables, though they tend to be less bulky and can be found in a wide range of materials.

This is a sunset view of a terrace that has a couple of armchairs and a cocktail table.

Glass tabletops are common on cocktail tables because they are easy to keep clean. Many cocktail tables are low, but there are high tables too. These may be more common in a lounge or restaurant than at a home cocktail table. This is something that makes cocktail tables a little more useful in certain settings than a coffee table.


When coffee and cocktail tables are constructed, a variety of materials are used from exotic and specialty woods including cherry, oak, and mahogany to more cost-effective options like plastic, particleboard, or other synthetic materials. Solid wood was traditionally used in furniture construction and many vintage coffee tables are made with this material.

Materials like hard plastics and resins have allowed for mass production and different design styles of cocktail tables. These pieces of furniture are made with hand tools, as well as machines. Hardware such as bolts and other metal components are usually used to hold these tables together when they are built.

Traditionally, a cocktail or coffee table would be constructed by hand using woodworking tools. More modern techniques and materials have allowed for greater production and delivery of this type of furnishing.

Design features

Both cocktail and coffee tables have design elements that may appeal to different tastes or functionality needs. Coffee tables have evolved, but traditional tables are still widely appreciated for their construction and aesthetic. Heavily carved wood, rustic styles, and novel modern adaptations using current materials define coffee table aesthetics.

A close look at a cast iron coffee table with a round top.

A cocktail table shares similar styles as a coffee table, though many cocktail tables tend to be more actively used for drinks, hence the name. Cocktail tables will often be rectangular and are popular in social situations. Glass tops are seen in many cocktail tables for better management of accidental drink spills.


Since these tables are built low, they can be more durable depending on certain attributes and factors. The coffee table vs cocktail table comparison is usually fairly even as far as durability. This quality depends on the materials used to construct the tables and workmanship.

This is a close look at a wood-top coffee table in a living room.

A solid oak, short, well-built coffee table will be much more durable than a table made poorly or with cheap, flimsy materials. A durable table will be made with quality components and materials. The better a coffee or cocktail table is produced will define how durable it ultimately Is.

Cost differences

A new coffee table can be inexpensive and come unassembled by many large retailers. The cost can go up considerably by thousands of dollars depending on materials used, who designed and built it, and other factors that can be expected in high-end furnishings.

In general, people will usually pay between $200 and $500 for a quality coffee table. Cocktail tables will be in the same price range as coffee tables. Cocktail tables can get expensive if they are made with high-priced materials like certain metals, wood, and glass.

Either table can carry a hefty price tag, but they are also affordably abundant at many retailers.


There are several benefits of both of these tables. Cocktail tables are useful for hosting large parties and are easy to clean usually. Since a cocktail table can be either low or high, it can find more utility in heavy social situations perhaps than a coffee table.

A couple relaxing at the outdoor terrace with a cocktail lounge.

A cocktail table may have a variety of storage options for beverage utensils, food, snacks, and other items used in entertaining guests. Not that coffee tables don’t have their advantages. Coffee tables are very useful to center and fill in rooms. They can lend a more traditional, classical feel to architecture creating cohesion.

They also double as decorative furnishings for books, magazines, and other day-to-day items. Both tables are low and do not take up a lot of space. This makes them useful in smaller rooms where space economizes.


The cocktail table does not seem to have a defined date it was first recognized as being different than coffee tables. Coffee tables do appear to possibly have a long history of usage than cocktail tables. Many people speculate the cocktail table gained in popularity around the 1920s and the name came into use then.

It could be because socializing and entertaining were popular in that era as well as creative designs emerging from furniture makers. Coffee tables have a little more definite grounding in their historical start date than cocktail tables. It is widely accepted that these tables became popular during the Victorian era.

A sitting room with a couple of sofas flanking a large black coffee table.

Many people would host social gatherings and events during this time. These small functional tables soon gathered popularity among social crowds at parties due to their centering function in rooms and their utilitarian usefulness during a busy event with many drinks.


The coffee table and cocktail table are very useful furnishings. Of course, they can be used as support for food, plates, and drinks. The tables make excellent furnishings for entertaining small and large groups.

They may or may not have drawers and cubby space built into them. This feature allows Items such as silverware or special plates to be conveniently stored. A coffee table can be used as a centerpiece in a room.

It can balance out furniture elements and create a cohesive design in rooms such as dens, living rooms, and family rooms. Both coffee tables and cocktail tables can be used to display art or other items. They are effective as multi-purpose tables that see a lot of activity.


I like coffee tables because they have a classic feel to them. Though there are many similarities between a coffee table vs cocktail table, the coffee table is a great choice. Both tables offer elegant functionality and style.

The coffee table simply has an older, more traditional appeal to it that I enjoy. Of course, both tables are useful to have to depend on space and needs. Solidly built coffee tables will make

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