What do you do if you want to eat in your kitchen and the only space left in already overcrowded quarters is a small patch against the end wall or in front of the window? Or if you want to dine, tete-a-tete, in a tidy little area of a bedroom, entry hall, or family room?
You might do well to take a look at what the furniture industry is turning out these days in direct response to these space and life-style demands.
In recognition of the fact that many kitchens today do not have room for a standard dinette set with table and four chairs, many companies are now offering ''cafe sets'' consisting of very small tables with two chairs. Also called ''bistro sets'' in Europe, these compact units take up little space and sometimes come with fold-down leaves.
Many of the sets are made of metal painted in stylish colors. Some are fashioned of pine, oak, redwood, or rattan. Most could function anywhere in the house, and the metal versions might also serve well on an outside porch.
If you want a traditional or country look, S.E.E. Imports of San Francisco is planning to introduce its country pine group to the United States. The table-and-two-chairs set, explains Sharron Emergui of S.E.E., goes well in a small area of a kitchen decorated in the country mode. Or it can be used in a child's room as a desk for study or hobbies, in a family room for games, or as a lamp table in the living room. The table retails for $695 and the chairs for $ 199 each, so the well-crafted and carved country look is not inexpensive.
At the other end of the price scale are three-piece ''Italian bistro sets'' of metal and plastic, offered in New York for as little as $30.
''Casual dining sets are today more important at every price level,'' says Jerry Baker, a vice-president of the Daystrom Company, ''and styling is being upgraded accordingly.''
Daystrom's restyled and recolored metal cafe sets, from its Sun Shades collection, feature smartened-up styling and such new colors as mauve, apricot, almond, khaki, gray mist, mint green, coral, melon, and desert beige. They all have light, airy silhouettes. While most of the new three-piece sets retail for around $200, one set runs as high as $599.
''All the new sets,'' says Mr. Baker, ''are scaled to fit any tight-squeeze space anywhere in the house, and the epoxy paint we put on them withstands lots of wear and tear.''
Chromcraft, too, is exploiting the use of such new and fashionable color finishes as gray, rose, taupe, and mauve, and it is also featuring improved extension tables and swivel caster chairs.
Recent European furniture fairs have introduced many other new sets. At the last Cologne Fair, Fritz Hansen of Copenhagen showed a cafe series made of galvanized or lacquered steel-tubing with gray rubber padding for the chairs.
The Italians have produced metal cafe sets so slim and petite in scale that they look fragile, but are not. City, the Chicago store that specializes in avant-garde Italian imports, is showing such a set with the minute round table marked at $135, with side chairs $69 each.
At the National Furniture Mart in High Point, N.C., this spring, the Elan Furniture Company showed a novel new small-space eating facility called ''The Roomaker.'' This three-piece, multifunction unit consists of a 37-inch-high table with a 24-by-36-inch butcherblock surface, and two stools that slide underneath.
The versatile ''Roomaker'' adapts to many activities - according to Peter Parker, who designed it - including informal kitchen dining, backgammon games, homework stints, general work use, diaper-changing, or home computer storage.
The set comes in a carton, ready to assemble at home with an Allen wrench. It is available through many department and specialty stores, and Sears, Roebuck & Co. lists its price as $119.
If you are a do-it-yourselfer, you can design your own cafe set to your requirements. Ready-made tops and legs or tabletops custom cut to your measurements enable you to put together your own table with any chairs you please. Plenty of hardware, lumber, and life-style specialty stores offer such components.