How can we eat on the floor without making our guests feel weird?

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Floor tea-parties might work great for you, but how can you make your guests feel comfortable? Tea time © by Mr.Thomas, used under Creative Commons license.
My fiance and I love to eat on the floor. We have a table that we like and we sometimes use it, but we’re just more comfortable on the floor.

We recently had a friend over for dinner and it was a little weird for him, so I want to come up with ways to make eating on the floor more comfortable for guests.

I could start by investing in some cushions or mats, but I’d be interested in any other ideas you guys have. -Becky

We’re going to open this one up to the brilliance of the Offbeat Homies hive-mind: Other than cushions or mats, what can you do to make eating on the floor feel comfortable… and maybe even a bit posh?

Comments on How can we eat on the floor without making our guests feel weird?

  1. My honey and I have found that people will join you on the floor if it’s comfy and it doesn’t seem “dirty.” We actually have a portion of our living room set up as a hookah area. We use a nice rug to partition the space, so that it seems intentional, and not just “oh, we don’t have furniture.” Low furnishings and poufs/pillows definitely help.

    But for me, I think it’s the fact that the rug creates a space that says “this is what you do here.”

  2. Maybe meet in the middle with a low table (rather than plates right on the floor) and some cushions…you could totally play it up with a Japanese or Moroccan feel.

  3. * Rugs or runners to designate a comfy “carpet picnic” snacking spot. (Carpet Picnic would also be a great band name.)
    * Floor Cushions (in my mid-30s, the floor is suddenly hard to sit on and then get up off of) or “husbands” for guests to sit or lean on.
    * Tablecloth, old sheets, Bamboo mats, or actual picnic blanket as indoor picnic blanket (easier to launder and deal with spills)
    * Caddy or tray for condiments so things are easy to pick up and put away.
    * Napkins because it’s easier to spill things when on the floor.
    * A low side table, coffee table, or ottoman that your guests can put their food on, just in case they need to be eased into the experience.

    Great post!

  4. I definitely agree with making it a designated area (if you have space for that) or something to signify the useage of the space.

    I like the ideas of
    – shoes off in the house
    – a rug/mat for sitting on
    but add an extra table runner type place mat thing to designate the area that your food goes on as opposed to your feet and butt.
    This could be rolled/folded up out the way when your not eating.

    or maybe a very low table? (i spy a DIY hack the legs of a regular table post coming on)

    for some people its the comfort level of floor sitting rather than the idea of it.
    so how about some cheap folding stadium seat thingies to offer a bit of back support

    • or maybe a very low table? (i spy a DIY hack the legs of a regular table post coming on)

      We’re actually planning on building ourselves a low, larger table for our new living room. If there’s interest, I can try to create a tutorial for it while we make it.

    • He he – one time we really needed a coffee table and we didn’t have one. What we did have was this table, which we weren’t using: *

      We just sawed off the legs at around the halfway point and voila! Now we have a handy dandy coffee table. It made me realize how much I had missed having it. 😉

      *Note: random blog where I happened to find the picture via google images since apparently IKEA doesn’t sell the table anymore.

  5. I’m all about eating on the floor, but if it seems dirty no amount of tea could get me to pop a squat. Even on my own floor. Colourful rugs also help to hide carpet stains that have been thoroughly cleaned.
    Another concern of your guests could be allergies (mine are cats and dust mites), and fabrics/carpets can soak those things up.

  6. We don’t have a dining table. When we have guests that means everyone is eating around the coffee table. We use large throw pillows from the couch as floor cushions. Every time I am reminded we should vacuum more often.
    I think a small table so that the plate isn’t on the floor makes the biggest difference for most people!

  7. If you want to provide back support, these!

    They come in a variety of levels of expensive/fancy and stack up nicely when not in use. I love them.

    Generally I think the ideas above – setting the area aside for eating, and taking steps to keep the area cleanish (like removing shoes) are the way to go. Indicating that this is part of your normal routine an that you’ve thought through the details will help guests feel comfortable and know how to act.

  8. I was totally going to chime in with “low table” – I know it’s not exactly the same thing as eating off the floor, but it would certainly make people feel more comfortable (I’m thinking something like a roman lounging table).

    My husband, for example, hates to sit cross-legged without a surface to rest his arms on.

  9. Back Support! The only way to get a lot of people to sit on the floor.

    We often host our Passover Seder on the floor (after all, you are supposed to recline) and if it runs long folks are fighting over back support spots. Make sure you give people who aren’t used to floor sitting a place to lean.

  10. I think setting up the expectation of having an “indoor picnic” (or some such phrasing other than dinner) before the guests even get there will help them frame the idea of “oh, I’m obviously going to be on the floor.” This way, it’s not a surprise situation that they’re suddenly evaluating when it comes time to eat.

    If you have any tablecloths or picnic blankets about the house, stage an honest-to-goodness picnic. Picnics are fairly familiar to many people who are otherwise unfamiliar to eating on the floor, so this brings having dinner at your place closer to their comfort zone. Not that you would have to do this all the time… once people have been initiated, it shouldn’t feel like any big deal a second time around.

    • Yes, I was just going to chime in that you could take a page from the Central Asian playbook, where (if not using a low table, which is also common/acceptable) you have a table cloth/runner spread on the floor in your designated space, and there’s a pretty elaborate spread set out so it makes it clear that that’s the eating space, and not just a piece of fabric on the floor. It immediately becomes something to congregate around, rather than people potentially feeling like they have to navigate their way down to the ground with a full plate of food. Also, can’t agree enough about making sure you have a no-shoes-in-the-house rule if you want to implement this – I think there’s a reason that most (all?) of the cultures that eat on or very close to the floor are very strict about removal of shoes in the house! ;o)

  11. I like all the ideas people have suggested before me, so ALL OF THAT, and also if you can configure your eating space such that you never have to walk through or over it (and potentially step in someone’s food or knock things over), I think that would help a lot.

  12. A couple of people have been saying Japanese tables, but there are Korean tables, too! (Maybe other cultures do this as well?) My hubby and I eat exclusively on a low Korean table, which is at the perfect height for crossed legs. All we did was go into a large Asian supermarket and pick one out. The legs fold, so it would be easy to stash in a closet/against the wall when you aren’t using it.

  13. My first question would be – how ‘dinner party’s is this dinner? So, pizza (easy to eat in any position) or something like pasta, steak, (drippy, hard to cut, etc.) If people are new to eating on the floor, you’ll have to help them build up their skill level. You want them to enjoy dinner, not spend the whole time worrying about spilling and dribbles.

    Ultimately, you’ve invited them over because you like them. You have prepared a dish that you know suits their tastes, chose music or activities you think they’ll like, and tried to give them a fun, relaxing night. If you think they’ll feel awkward sitting on the floor, skip it.

    Set the table and ‘set’ the floor. Offer both. If they are game, hit the floor! If the hesitate or laugh nervously, pull up a chair!

    • Food is definitely something to take into consideration. I’m not comfortable eating off a plate (especially eating things like pasta that requires a fork) that is too far away, so I’d probably have to pick up my plate. Pizza or burgers, though, would definitely be okay, since they’re easy to pick up.

      A low table might help, too. I eat sitting on the floor at a friend’s house all the time, but around the coffee table.

  14. I love all of the suggestions already given. Having some kind of cushion or low seat would be good for anyone who has difficulty sitting on the floor.

    I know that would mostly be older people, but I’m 25 and have hip and knee issues that make it really uncomfortable for me (dad has been the same from a young age, though I’m not sure how common it is).

    Having something to lift my butt higher makes it heaps easier to get my legs into a comfy-ish spot so that I don’t cramp up or have to shift positions every 30 seconds.

    • This – I have arthritis in my feet and incipient arthritis in my knees. If I knew I was going to have to sit on the floor, I’d pass because I go to friends’ houses to have a good time, and being unable to gracefully or without pain sit down or get back up again would make me feel horribly self-conscious. But a variety of seating in several heights would accomodate, especially if at least one other person were sitting in something off the floor (even a bean bag would do) so I didn’t feel out of place.

      As for our house, we have large throw pillows on the floor for people who prefer to sit there, but most of our visitors prefer to sit on the hearth instead if there’s no chair/couch seating available.

  15. Set the floor as you would set the table. use a table runner, place mats etc! I would leave a good amount of space for each guest incase they need to stretch their legs occasionally! alternatively use a coffee table so guests who can’t or don’t want to use floor can sit on the sofa but you can still sit on floor and around the table!

  16. Being a tad uncoordinated, away from a table I find it difficult to eat anything more advanced than finger food or bowls that can be held up with one hand and food “shovelled” with the other.

    The one thing for me that’d make a proper meal less difficult would be lap trays, especially those with bean-bag bases that improve balance on uneven surfaces (i.e. crossed legs).

    • I love these things. Especially the ones that come with a cup holder (because I spill my drink no matter where it is). And bean bag trays bring the food closer to you, so you don’t feel as awkward and “away” from your plate.

  17. My family is very pro eating on the floor. My dad actually has a fully furnished living room and dining room except he never uses them. He would much rather sit on the floor. He has nice carpeting and lots of big pillows to sit on. He also has small end tables strategically around the room in case you need a hard surface to cut your steak or keep your coffee mug up and away from a toddler. For the most part visitors really dig it. My dad is a bit quirky so it everyone loves that he has a unique home. He also has a few big comfy arm chairs around the room for people who just can’t or won’t sit on the floor to eat.

  18. Do you have pillows or cushions that could be used like a chair back? I do better with a little back support, I usually just grab a pillow and scooch up to a wall or the back of the nearest piece of furniture. Part of what was mentioned before making it feel intentional, grab place mats and your dishes and set places on the floor before hand.

  19. You know, I have gotten strange looks for eating on the floor at other people houses. For some reason, when meals are shared, it always seems to happen in the living room rather than at a table. I am totally uncomfortable eating a plate of anything while sitting on someone’s couch. I just know I’ll spill it and ruin the upholstery. Therefore, I always migrate to the floor while eating. Sitting on the floor, I feel I have more control over the plate. Also, it’s easier to clean the floor than the couch. Maybe it’s paranoia on my part, but I’ve also never had to clean up a huge mess from my friends floor. Meanwhile, I’ve seen several plates of food spilled on couches. For informal dining I am definitely pro floor.

  20. I want to second the low table idea. Having a designated “eating area” on the floor is good, with cushions or a colorful rug, but for me it is awkward to be eating off of the floor, just the height difference. Could you hack a low folding table for when guests come over that can be packed away in a closet?

  21. You are planning on letting your guests know in advance, yes?

    Because people might make different clothing choices if they know they are going to be sitting on the floor. For example, if someone where planning on wearing a tight dress, they might have trouble sitting comfortably on the ground.

  22. When I lived in a studio with no table, no one said anything about having to eat while sitting on the floor. But I am part Korean, so it’s part of my culture and upbringing. I had a little Korean table that folded up when I wasn’t using it, and it was designed for eating while sitting on the floor.

    When I had non-Asian guests, I found they were more comfortable when I set a pillow on the floor for them to sit on. (Don’t offer – they may try to be “polite” and decline, but if you just put it there, then they will use it!).

    In lieu of a table, you may want to look into eating trays. Germaphobes don’t want to touch the floor when eating (regardless of how spotless the floor might be), and a tray or table in between the floor and their plate and silverware minimizes hand to floor contact.

    As the others mentioned, perception of cleanliness will affect people’s attitudes about sitting on the floor. In Asian homes where it is more common, they typically do not wear shoes indoors. If you wear shoes indoors, you could pull out the “eating” rug that is not normally on the floor.

    Lastly, consider any medical conditions your guests may have. Guests in their late 40s and older may be experiencing some arthritis in their back and/or legs but not want to admit it. I’ve met an awful lot of athletic people in their 20s who have knee problems. For these guests, sitting all the way down on the floor and then getting back up can be difficult, painful, and embarrassing. If you don’t want to use the table, then perhaps get TV trays and let them sit in a chair/ottoman/couch near you.

    • Yeah definitely – even “just” being (substantially) overweight means that sitting on the floor may put you in an awckward position since you aren’t necessarily as graceful as you’d like to be.

      Also (before I was ungracefully overweight) sometimes I’d just pull out a sarong to lay out since my floor is not usually spotless. Then you feel like you can lay down your fork if you need to, etc. because it’s clean and light.

  23. We always do dinner parties on the floor at our place, since our dining room table (a) only seats 2 and (b) is always covered in clutter. I usually use the dining room table as a “buffet” of sorts for people to fix their plates, and then I set our coffee table as I would a dining table – complete with placemats, silverware, chair cushions (which are fairly cheap at Target/Walmart/etc) and even coasters. Since we have a very modern square couch, guests can sit with their backs against the couch for support, and we sit on the ends or at the “head and foot” of the table.
    I always make a comment that we eat Japanese style in our home, and no one has ever balked. Everyone seems to love it, and it makes for great conversation, IMHO, because everyone is so close together.

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