clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Buy the Vibrant Tablecloths Brightening Up Restaurant Dining Rooms

Oilcloth tablecloths are practical, affordable, and fun

If you buy something from an Eater link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics policy.

A dining room with tables covered in blue, floral oilcloth tablecloths
Night + Market Sahm 
Wonho Frank Lee/Eater LA

So much of restaurant design doesn’t make sense outside of restaurants: No one (I would think) is going to install a booth tree, 2020’s first major design trend, in their dining room. Sure, certain design trends, like the current tendency towards maximalist walls, are meant to be aspirational — but isn’t nice when you can exactly replicate the thing that makes a restaurant dining room so inviting?

Consider the oilcloth tablecloth.

These colorful tablecloths are nothing new. The material itself was first used as a floor and roof covering in the 18th century. In the 1950s, with the advent of vinyl, oilcloth made its way to tabletops in patterns we’d now call retro, and since then, their utilitarian nature — they’re waterproof and stain resistant while being more durable than plain-old plastic — has made them staples at outdoor restaurants and market-side food stalls around the world. For years now, Thai restaurants like Pok Pok and Nong’s Khao Man Gai in Portland and Night + Market in LA have used oilcloths in tropical patterns to reference Thailand’s thriving hawker culture, recreating the feeling that you could be eating this food outside, just a few feet away from the entrance to a market.

A restaurant dining room with big round wooden tables in the center of the room and rectangular tables covered in oilcloth table cloths, one in pink houndstooth, one zebra, and one in an orange fruit pattern
Laser Wolf
Michael Persico

Oilcloth tablecloths are popping up at other kinds of restaurants, too. There are vibrant oilcloths covering the tables at South Philly Barbacoa and at Michael Solomonov’s latest Philadelphia restaurant, Laser Wolf, where the look was inspired by vendors at the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, who, at the end of the day, would grill meat over charcoal to be served at tables covered in oilcloths.

At Laser Wolf, the oilcloth expands beyond the tropical patterns most often favored by restaurants to include zebra, houndstooth, and cherries: They blend with stately bare wood tabletops for an eclectic aesthetic that calls to mind summer camp dining halls. According to a rep for Laser Wolf, the tablecloths came from two oilcloth specialty sites — Oilcloth by the Yard and Oilcloth Alley — and the restaurant notes that affordability is another draw.

As more restaurants bring oilcloths into their dining rooms, they begin to feel like an enviable design statement — not to mention a vibrant backdrop for overhead food shots, which might make them more relevant now than ever. Here are just some of the many, many options for dressing your table in the tradition of these sensible-but-fun restaurants:

Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.

Sign up for the Sign up for the Eater newsletter

The freshest news from the food world every day