Coffee Table Vs. Cocktail Table

Kate Eglan-Garton

A long, low table that is usually placed in front of a sofa is referred to as either a coffee table or a cocktail table. Not required to be used exclusively in front of a couch, it was designed as an area to place drinks.


Coffee/Cocktail Table

Before the 19th century, low-lying tables were referred to as cocktail tables or simply tables. They were used for placing drinks and books and adorned with doilies and flowers in from of the sofa in living rooms or parlors.


Near the end of the 19th century, the catch phrase "coffee table" was beginning to be used by Americans, because cocktail table didn't make much sense. In 1938, E.W. Godwin, renown architect and furniture designer, made reference to one of his creations as a coffee table, and the new association was validated.

Today's Definition

Manufacturers today may interchange coffee table and cocktail table as terms with a different series of tables, but there is no underlying difference in the two associations.


A coffee table or cocktail table can be made of different types of material, most often of wood. Bamboo, metal, glass end even plastic are some other popular options. Two small low, square tables set side by side can also be called a coffee or cocktail table.

Another Name?

With changing lifestyles, the living room is taking on different meanings in socializing, working and playing. The coffee table or cocktail table is used for games, laptop computers or putting puzzles together. Who knows what name the coffee table may evolve into in the future.