Skip to Content

Table Runner vs. Tablecloth vs. Bare Table: Which is Best?

Photo collage of different table setting.

The question of whether to dress a table or not has become complicated as more choices become available. There’s the tablecloth which is a staple to special occasions or to a dinner party. It adds color and texture to an otherwise unappealing table.

There’s the table runner which is a cool in-between option for those who want to show off their rectangular dining tables but want to spruce it up with a new look season to season. Then there’s always the option to just expose the table and let it be seen as a stunning table that it is. We’ve listed down below the features as well as the pros and cons of a table runner, tablecloth, or a bare table to help you decide how to make your table stand out at its best.

Related: Types of NapkinsTable Setting Ideas

Table Runner

Dining table set with white table runner

If you love the beauty of your table but want to provide some protection to keep the top of it safe from spills, stains, or food, then a table runner is an ideal choice. This long piece of fabric can come in a variety of designs and sizes, making it easy to improve the appearance of your table without obscuring all of its beauty. If you want to add a little extra interest to your table or provide a small amount of protection, then a table runner is a great choice.

Chat Box

Home Expert (Bot)
Hello, how are you? Ask me anything about interior design, home improvement, home decor, real estate, gardening and furniture.

While they do not offer all of the protection that a tablecloth does, they do help to insulate part of the table and can easily be changed with the seasons to help create a festive dining area in your home.


  • Adds texture, color, and visual interest to your table while still allowing the beauty of the table itself to show through.
  • Can be very dramatic or subtle depending on the texture and color you choose.
  • Festive table runners add holiday cheer without being overwhelming.
  • Can be used in a variety of different ways to add interest to the table. Shorter table runners will highlight the centerpiece while longer ones create a more dramatic look. Using two table runners in the shape of an “X” will draw attention to the center of the table.
  • Table runners are ideal for layering on top of a tablecloth for an interesting look.
  • Will not obscure attractive table legs.
  • When used down the middle of the table, it is very unlikely that anyone will spill on a runner.
  • Table runners add a little extra protection to the center of the table, which can help to protect it when hot dishes are placed on the table.


  • Will create an uneven surface for dishes since there will be edges of fabric along the whole length of the table.
  • Since it does not cover the whole surface of the table, some people find them to be jarring to look at.
  • Still need placemats if you wish to protect your table. I have 2 kids and placemats are a must. An exception is if you use multiple table runners set up width-wise. Check it out:
Dining table set with multiple width-wise table runners

Dining table set with multiple width-wise table runners


Dining table set with tablecloth

It’s best to use a tablecloth when you want to make sure your table is completely protected. Because they cover the entire surface of the table, they are ideal for keeping your heirloom or antique piece of furniture from being damaged during a meal. It’s also a great idea to opt for a tablecloth if you want to hide the condition of your table.

Putting a tablecloth on an older folding table will instantly update it and hide its condition. Another time when a tablecloth is preferable is when you want to elevate your dining experience, as a classy tablecloth will instantly improve the appearance of your table and make your meal much more special.


  • Tablecloths are ideal for hiding an imperfect table and creating an attractive location for eating a meal.
  • It is easy to take a tablecloth outside and shake off any crumbs so that they do not spill on the floor.
  • A bright tablecloth is a great way to freshen up an indoor or an outdoor space as well as bring extra color into the room.
  • When a tablecloth gets dirty, it is easy to put it in the wash and place a new one on the table.
  • Tablecloths will help to protect the surface of the table so that it is not accidentally damaged during a meal.
  • They are available in a number of colors and styles to match the décor of the room or to decorate for a specific holiday.
  • Because they add a layer of insulation to the table, tablecloths will help to reduce noise caused by people putting down their glasses or dropping silverware, which can result in a nicer and quieter meal.


  • Long tablecloths will obscure the legs of the table, which can decrease the visual interest of the room.
  • It can be difficult for some people to sit at a table with an overly-long tablecloth that pools in their lap or on the floor.
  • Because they cover the whole table, it is very common for people to accidentally spill on the tablecloth, requiring the whole thing to be removed and then washed.
  • Choosing the wrong size or shape tablecloth can make the tablecloth look out of place or strange. However, you can get around this by using multiple table runners running width-wise.

Bare Table

Table set with no tablecloth or table runner

Opting to eat off of a bare table will not only save you from having to wash a table runner or tablecloth when the meal is over, but will also create a more homey feel to your meal. If you love the appearance of your table and want to showcase its natural beauty, then it’s a good decision to skip the tablecloth or runner altogether. Additionally, it’s preferable to keep your table uncovered if you have children in the home and are worried about them accidentally marking up your tablecloth or runner.


  • Not using a tablecloth or a table runner makes it easy to showcase the beauty of the table itself, which is especially ideal if it has a gorgeous finish.
  • Getting in and out of chairs can be significantly easier when there isn’t a tablecloth in the way.
  • It’s easy to wipe down a bare table after meals without having to worry about a table runner or tablecloth getting stained or in the way.
  • For families with children, having a bare table makes it easy for the kids to work at the table without first having to remove a covering.


  • Water rings can damage the table and will require the surface to be sanded and refinished to remove the marks.
  • Without a tablecloth present, meals will tend to be much noisier. This is because glasses, silverware, and dishes will sound much louder when placed on a bare table.
  • Very fragile china can accidentally chip or crack when placed on a bare table with too much force.
  • A bare table tends to be much colder to the touch than one with a tablecloth or table runner.
  • A centerpiece can easily get visually lost on a bare table.

Chat Box

Home Expert (Bot)
Hello, how are you? Ask me anything about interior design, home improvement, home decor, real estate, gardening and furniture.