Alternative Dining Tables for Alternative Dining Styles

We’ve talked before about what you can do without a dedicated dining room, but what about going without a dedicated dining table? In many modern homes, there simply isn’t room for a dining table both in terms of space and functionality. For instance, this spring I’m using my dining table to start my garden indoors. But if you don’t eat at the table, where else in the home can you have a meal? Here are some alternative dining tables for different lifestyles.

Kitchen Island

Dining tables can be pre-built into your house with a sturdy kitchen island (by Jack Rosen Custom Kitchens)

Your kitchen island doesn’t have to just be a prep station while cooking dinner; it can also be where you eat it, too. Bar seating has become an incredibly popular option for families with large, open kitchens – doubly so for ones with busy schedules! But not all island seating is created equal. You can create anything from an intimate breakfast table for two to serviceable seating for a crowd. Bar-height islands are great for keeping kids and guest engaged while you cook, while two-tier islands come closer to replicating a traditional dining table experience, but with a much smaller footprint.

Take Your Food to the Living Room

Not all coffee tables make good dining tables, so pick your material and size wisely (by Park and Oak Design)

Living rooms are meant to be the centers of household activity, so it only makes sense that some people eat in this room together as well. Whether you’re catching up on a favorite show or enjoying a meal with a lot of company, sometimes the best dining room is actually the living room. That said, coffee tables aren’t usually good for much more than coffee; unless you spring for a multi-function or adjustable coffee table, plan to have it serve something closer to the role of a buffet table than your dining table. For family-style meals, consider laying out your spread on the coffee table, and supplementing with nice looking tray tables that are high enough to use for eating.

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Skip the Table Entirely with a Tray

Chris Craft Rectangular Tray, Q058 by Old Modern Handicrafts

Most kinds of tray-based eating have gotten a bad reputation over the years. It’s considered “lazy” or “anti-family” compared to eating at the dining table. But being anchored to a table and tablecloth isn’t for everyone – and it’s certainly not the only way for a family to eat together. If you want the comfort of the couch without needing to lean over to the coffee table, consider bringing the table to you. This can look like individual or sets of standalone or fold-able tray tables. If you don’t like the look (or don’t have the space), lap desks and serving trays are also available. Balance a full meal on your lap with these smaller trays, which act as a safety mat to protect your clothes, couch, and floor from spills and stains. Bonus: lap tables can even be a solid accessibility feature for those who have trouble bending or grasping.

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Take a Stand with Standing Trays

Noa Console Table in Oak Melamine with Black Painted Metal and Removable Tray from Casabianca
Noa Console Table in Oak Melamine with Black Painted Metal and Removable Tray KD-B100OK from Casabianca

Breakfast in bed can be a glorious treat. Sure, you need someone to bring it to you for maximum staying-in-bed purposes, but there’s no more luxurious way to enjoy a lazy weekend morning. That said, a nightstand is NOT a comfortable dining table. Nor is it a good idea to let food accumulate on one. If you dine in bed regularly, you need a better solution. Standing trays with legs that hold them above your lap are a popular option for breakfast in bed. If you’d use one for more than just a special occasion, though, it might be worth looking into furniture with adjustable or removable tray pieces to help facilitate the process.

Eat at Your Desk

Kalmar L -shaped Office Desk With Inclusive In Dark Brown, 138AMC164 by Manhattan Comfort

To some, eating at your desk is a sign of dedication. To others, it’s mixing work and play too much. Either way, sometimes it’s unavoidable – whether you’re grabbing a snack between video calls or finishing up dinner during online game night. They don’t make dining table desks, but if you eat at yours often, be pro-active about the desk you choose. Make sure your desk is properly sealed to withstand food-grade cleaning products between meals, or else you’ll strip your desk. Also, try to avoid getting crumbs or other food debris on or in your keyboard. Keeping drinks well away from (ideally: kitty corner to) your work surface can also help keep you from damaging your electronics.

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Dining tables don’t always fit in modern homes, but that doesn’t mean you have to go without. From dual-purpose furniture like islands and side tables to impromptu meal centers like coffee tables and trays, there is always a place for you at the table.