Coffee Table Vs. Cocktail Table (What’s The Difference?)

Last Updated on February 14, 2022 by John Moretti

Almost every home everywhere has some form of a small table in the living room. Regardless of the size of your home, you probably have a coffee table or a cocktail table in front of your couch. However, the standard use of these small tables has many wondering what the difference is between them?

Modern coffee tables and cocktail tables are used interchangeably. However, there are some classic distinctions between them. True coffee tables are robust, sturdy, coffee table and should be round. True cocktail tables are square or rectangular and much more beautiful and ornate with more stylistic elements.

The coffee table and the cocktail table are both staple pieces of furniture, and one or both of them are used almost everywhere in the world. Is there a difference between these two types of tables? If there are differences, what are they? Do the differences even matter? Let’s find out!

Coffee Table Vs. Cocktail Table

Closer Look at Coffee and Cocktail Table

Almost every home everywhere has some form of a small table as a centerpiece in the living room or placed in front of a couch or chair as a convenient surface for eating from, for storing things, for placing beverages, and for general décor.

These small tables are typically referred to as cocktail tables or coffee tables, and many use these terms interchangeably, but are there any differences between these tables?

As it turns out, the coffee table and the cocktail table are two different pieces of furniture, even if not many people realize it.

Let’s explore these two types of standard household tables to understand them better, highlight some of their unique features, style elements, and designs, and also explore some of the differences between coffee tables and cocktail tables.

Differences Between Coffee and Cocktail Table

Coffee Table Vs Cocktail Table

Shape of The Tabletop

The main difference between a cocktail table and a coffee table is the shape of the tabletop itself. Coffee tables are round tables, and cocktail tables are square or rectangle.

However, modern versions of these tables do not always conform to these rules. The fact that modern coffee and cocktail tables can take many forms means that we must rely on some more well-defined features to tell them apart from one another.

Height of The Table

A big indication of the type of table is the height of the table and the style of the table. For example, coffee tables are typically robust, low tables that often have some form of storage within them, or they are big, heavy, solid tables that are not meant to be moved. These tables are tough, solid, simple, and heavy.

Main Style Features

Living Room Tables

Both the coffee table and the cocktail table are defined as small tables typically kept in a living room, paired with couches or chairs, and generally designed to be low enough to comfortably rest a glass or cup on without much effort.

Both tables are usually no taller than the seat cushions of the couch or chairs around them, and they tend to be used as multi-functional tables that conform to whatever need is required of them at the time.

1. Coffee Table

Coffee tables have style features that make them more robust, more sturdy, less delicate and ornate, and more multi-functional. Coffee tables are generally harder wearing and can handle some scuffs without becoming too tarnished.

The main style feature of what is defined as a true coffee table has a round top. This may seem counterintuitive, but the definition of a coffee table is one that is round rather than square or rectangle. This feature dates back to the earliest coffee table designs and uses.

2. Cocktail Table

Cocktail Table

Cocktail tables, however, have styling features that are more ornamental, more ornate, designed to be beautiful rather than useful, and are defined as square or rectangle tables.

This type of table is less hard-wearing, less sturdy, and is more focused on form over function. However, the modern cocktail table takes on many forms, as does the modern coffee table.

Conversely, cocktail tables have much more stylistic freedom and are typically more beautiful than coffee tables. Many modern cocktail tables are equipped with wheels to be moved around; many others are tall tables that are waist height or taller to accommodate for use while standing.

Cocktail Table

Cocktail tables have many more ornamental features and are often akin to artistic centerpieces as well as functional tables.

Apart from the classic round and square shape definitions, these are the commonly accepted differences between these two types of tables.

How Can You Tell Coffee and Cocktail Table Apart?

Coffee Table Vs Cocktail Table

Based on the differences that we have highlighted already, telling a coffee table and a cocktail table apart should be relatively simple.

Coffee Table

Coffee tables are heavy, stationary, should be round, and are not typically designed to be particularly beautiful, but are rather more functional tables that are intended for daily use.

Coffee tables are usually used singularly and almost always in close proximity to the main seating arrangement in a room. Coffee tables also often have coasters on them to protect the table from heavy mugs, while cocktail tables do not, as to preserve the aesthetic of the table.

Coffee Table

Cocktail Table

Cocktail tables should usually be square or rectangular, they are more ornate and beautiful, and many modern versions are taller than waist height to be used while standing.

Cocktail tables may be scattered around a large room to make space for multiple standing conversations and provide a convenient resting place for a cocktail anywhere in the room.

Cocktail tables often have ornaments on them or are completely empty, while coffee tables almost always have a centerpiece item, books, or other items of interest to strike up conversations.

Do Differences Really Matter?


At the end of it, the distinction between modern coffee tables and cocktail tables is not always very clear and does not often matter much.

Many furniture manufacturers use these terms interchangeably, and interior decorators do not mind what the table is called so long as it serves the function that the room requires.

This means that the distinctions between the coffee table and the cocktail table are often inconsequential and are of no real significance, except, of course, when taller tables are involved, as these are almost always considered to be cocktail tables.


Coffee tables and cocktail tables are often used in the same context and for the same purposes in the modern home. These tables are functional pieces of furniture that are beautiful to behold and easy to use.

Which type of table you use or which type of table you buy is irrelevant, so long as the table itself serves the function that you need it to. Any small table can be either a cocktail table or a coffee table, depending on which drinks you place on it!