Outdoor dining ideas: 26 stylish ways to enjoy eating alfresco
Make eating in the garden a joy with these outdoor dining ideas – from gorgeous table settings to fabulous furniture plus more
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Sunnier times are ahead, so now's a great time to look for stunning outdoor dining ideas. After all, what better way to make the most of good weather than long, lazy lunches in the garden, or sparkling dinner parties held under the stars?
There are lots of ways to pep up your space ready for those unforgettable barbecues or garden parties, from a spacious table and chairs that will seat all your friends to the must-have heating, flooring, and lighting. Oh, and don't forget the accessories: pops of color through cushions, throws, and even a rug will bring summer style to any space and set the tone. We've got plenty of chic table setting inspiration, too.
So, if you're browsing the web for outdoor dining ideas, look no further – we've gathered up the best hints, tips and pretty pictures below to get you inspired. And, if you want even more inspiration, you can find more patio ideas in our feature.
1. Pile on the florals for a summery scene
Celebrate bright colors and vintage-inspired patterns for outdoor dining ideas full of summer cheer. Layer up soft textiles and embrace the clash of jewel-like hues. Try throwing an intricate runner over a lacy table cloth, providing mismatched cotton napkins, and scattering plush cushions over your chairs.
Complete the riot of color with a jumble of pretty outdoor dinnerware – mix modern designs with thrift store finds for a unique look. Of course, you'll want to add plenty of fresh blooms to your outdoor dining ideas too – take a look at our best cutting garden flowers guide for tips.
2. Pep up your outdoor dining ideas with vibrant glassware
When it comes to a visual display, the smallest items of dinnerware are just as important as the furniture for your outdoor dining ideas. Invest in a set you love, with bright colors, bold patterns and some pretty colored glassware. This vibrant set above is perfect for a summer's day lunch party.
Add a striking feature jug and a tray – useful for piling up cutlery – and you're sorted. Got kids? Durable sets made from melamine or bamboo are a great shatterproof alternative.
3. Set the table for an enchanting soirée
To make an alfresco meal feel extra special, take a cue from the scene above. It follows a woodland theme, which is full of sophistication thanks to the muted palette, delicate glassware, and twinkling festoons overhead.
You don't have to hire a florist to create a stunning display – a line of ceramic vases filled with meadow flowers will always look lovely. Place larger bouquets at the end of the table – positioning them in a wooden crate adds a rustic, laid-back look.
Don't be afraid to move your dining set-up around your plot to mark an occasion – even if it's just for one celebratory evening. Beneath one of the best flowering trees is always a good choice for a romantic, whimsical vibe. However, these styling tips will transform even a small patio space into an enchanting environment.
Want to discover more striking styles? Take a look at our garden decor ideas feature.
4. Make the most of a view
Okay, maybe we don't all have sweeping views of rolling hills from our backyards. But when it comes to positioning your outdoor dining ideas, it's well worth thinking about the surrounding vista, especially from a seated perspective. This doesn't have to be something grand – it could simply be a matter of placing your favorite potted flowers at eye level, or using clever garden screening ideas to hide the compost bins.
In any case, crisp white linen and accents of cool green foliage will lift a table no matter where it is – especially if you add a carafe or two of chilled vino.
5. Opt for pretty pastels
If you're a fan of cottage garden styles, then you may well love a pastel palette. And for summer outdoor dining ideas, they're a lovely go-to choice.
Bringing soft shades of grey into the mix is a simple way to add a modern edge – whether it's through table linens, furniture finishings, or galvanized planters nearby. A deeper pop of pink will also help to ground the scene – try incorporating it through a cushion detail, or a flourish of freshly-picked flowers.
Love the look? Head over to our cottage garden ideas feature for more styling inspo.
6. Try reclaimed features for rustic appeal
Like our rustic garden ideas? Then mirror the theme for your outdoor dining ideas – it's the perfect choice for giving your alfresco lunch a laid-back vibe.
Dot tea lights around the scene in decorative holders (or try using mason jars for a charming look), add vintage dinnerware, and try a gingham pattern for your napkins.
Keep an eye out for reclaimed treasures to bring extra character to the scene. For example, these metal baskets and a weathered wooden tray make a great addition to a tabletop – especially when filled with small glass bottles of pretty garden flowers.
7. Fit durable flooring
Just like an indoor dining room, your outdoor area will endure all the scrapes and scratches that come with supporting heavy furniture. So, invest in a durable, hardwearing surface that's slip- and spill-resistant too.
Uneven flooring is a huge trip hazard, especially when you’re carrying a tray of cocktails or plates of food, so opt for a smooth tiled or decked surface for safe walking.
Setting your outdoor dining space near your house? Opting for the same or similar flooring will give you that indoor-outdoor link.
8. Use decking to zone your space
You’ve probably heard talk of zoning, a way of defining a space – indoor or out – with separate areas. It's often used in open-plan living, but it also works brilliantly in a garden – in this case, for an outdoor dining area.
This setup uses raised decking to create a section of the plot that's dedicated solely to dining out, and the introduction of a structure around the area adds interest. Get the look with decking of your choice, or use tiles to define a patio area for eating.
Find more great decking ideas in our feature.
9. Make a statement with a pergola
Another way to zone your space is by including pergola ideas in your design. Stylist Maxine Brady (opens in new tab) has used one to create a cozy seating area in the corner of the plot, differentiating it from the rest of the garden and the dining set outside the house.
A bonus of a pergola is that you can paint it to create a feature – we love the pastel shades in Maxine’s space, but a dark and dramatic charcoal shade would look just as fabulous.
10. Barbecue all summer long
Love a good grill, or fancy trying your hand at homemade pizzas? With a range of price points, outdoor cooking equipment like the best BBQ and best pizza oven are a great investment for anyone who loves to host in their garden.
A top-of-the-range barbecue might come with extra storage and multi-fuel capacity, but you can get a decent model on a budget, including portable tabletop barbecues for small spaces. We love this version above, which is part of a modular kitchen set-up. It's got space for pots and pans as well as a decent sized cooking surface.
11. Cook your meals alfresco
Outdoor kitchens are growing in popularity as more and more people opt to eat and host guests in their back gardens. Far from a luxury, you can create your own kitchen space on a budget with the likes of Ikea (opens in new tab), whose Klasen (opens in new tab) storage cabinets and trolleys are perfect for wheeling out with the barbecue.
If you’re looking for something a little more fancy, there are bespoke, more permanent options out there. And if you're handy with a spot of DIY, you could even knock something up yourself.
Find more inspiration in our round-up of outdoor kitchen ideas.
12. Keep your cool with a gazebo
As much as we love the sunshine, it's important to integrate shaded areas into your outdoor dining ideas. The last thing you want is a sunburnt guest.
Depending on your budget, there's a range of patio cover ideas to choose from: from parasols (attached to a table or separate) to pergolas, which can offer dappled shade, and gazebos. The bonus of a gazebo, of course, is that you're protected from pesky summer showers too – and so is the delicious spread you've laid out for guests.
13. Choose folding furniture for small spaces
In need of small garden ideas? Opt for folding furniture that can be easily stored away in a garage or shed when not in use, like this bistro set above.
This kind of furniture is normally a little daintier than others, so you can afford to go for strong, bright colors to bring some pizzazz to your garden. Another option is stackable furniture: chairs that can be piled on top of each other will take up less floor space in a crowded garage.
14. Keep it compact with bench seating
Another great option for smaller plots, benches are a stylish alternative to chairs that can easily be tucked under a table when not in use. They also double up as extra seating space for more informal gatherings.
15. Make guests comfortable with cushions
As pretty as garden furniture is, it's not always the comfiest – which is where seat cushions come in.
Not only do they up the comfort factor for guests gathered around the table, they also add a welcome dash of texture, color or pattern to a garden. Just make sure they're weather resistant: you're almost certain to forget to bring them in at some point, leading to the familiar sinking feeling when you hear rain pattering against the window…
16. Invest in a lighting scheme for your outdoor dining ideas
As with any room, garden lighting ideas are a must in an outdoor dining space. At a minimum, you'll need lighting around the dining area itself, which will set the mood as well as allowing guests to see the treats you've cooked up.
You'll also need task lighting over any cooking areas – the best outdoor wall lights are great for this. If you have a path leading up to your dining area, lighting will be a welcome addition when it gets dark, and you could also consider illuminating your favorite trees or plants for a dramatic effect.
17. Switch on a summer soundtrack
No dinner party is complete without a soundtrack, and that goes for garden parties, too – so get yourself an outdoor speaker that delivers. Alexa – play that summer playlist!
Get your perfect garden soundtrack with our guide to the best bluetooth speakers.
18. Add texture with a rug
When it comes to the finishing touches for your space, treat it like any other room in your house, right down to the soft furnishings you use. The best outdoor rugs will provide comfort underfoot and add pattern and color.
Look for recycled plastic rugs for eco credentials – not only do they save plastic from landfill, but they're also water resistant and super durable.
19. Mix and match furniture for an eclectic look
Paint your outdoor seating ideas in complementary shades for a modern and playful look. We love the rich fuchsia, pale lilac, and soothing blue combo in this set-up above.
Continue the eclectic theme with bold-hued dinnerware, and why not add in a candelabra or two to make the scene feel extra special? These gold designs are a modern twist on a classic and ooze with style.
20. Tidy accessories with outdoor storage
Planning to dine out late into the evening? You'll need plenty of blankets and cushions to keep guests warm, so invest in some storage to keep them clean and dry when not in use. A box like this is handy for storing soft furnishings, as well as garden tools or kids' outdoor toys.
Head over to our garden storage ideas feature for more tips.
21. Keep cozy with outdoor heating
Extend the life of your outdoor dining area into early autumn by investing in some outdoor heating. You can buy tabletop gas or electric patio heaters for under £100, or invest in a standing or hanging model in a stylish finish for a little extra.
Want more of a feature? Fire pit ideas or a chiminea can be a focal point as well as a practical source of heat, like the stylish fire pit table pictured above.
22. Transform an old dining set with paint
Give your old dining room furniture a new lease of life by upcycling it into a garden set. Brighten it up with a lick of paint, then finish off with a lacquer to seal and weatherproof it.
Set against a background of green foliage, colorful flowers and neutral fencing, anything goes when it comes to the shade you choose (though we’re personally partial to a bright pop of yellow for a cheery summer hue). Let your imagination run wild! Take a look at our guide to painting garden furniture for all the tips you need to get started.
23. Whip up a cocktail at your outdoor bar
If your ideal dining set-up includes some outdoor bar ideas, bring that dream to life in the garden. Okay, you might not have the space or inclination for a full-on tiki bar like the one above, but you can purchase outdoor bar tables from your favorite retailers, or even build your own from pallet boards if you have the DIY prowess.
Love the idea but no room to spare? A portable drinks trolley is the perfect compromise.
24. Choose sleek furniture for a contemporary look
Love a contemporary garden scheme? Make sure your dining furniture matches by choosing sleek, slimline styles in modern materials – think smart steel frames and powder-coated aluminium finishes.
Use accessories like cushions and throws to soften sharp lines and add color.
25. Soften your set-up with natural materials
Perfect for traditional and modern gardens alike, dining sets in natural materials like light wood and rope will soften a space and add texture. You can bring in more natural textures through accessories, too: try finishing off your table with a potted plant in an earthenware planter.
26. Mirror your indoor scheme for harmony
There's no reason you can’t treat an outdoor space like any other room in the house, so if your home has a clear scheme, carry it out into your dining area.
Love Scandi style? Opt for an outdoor dining table in a light wood color. Love industrial style? Put a table like the one above on your wishlist right now…
What do I need to consider when choosing an outdoor dining table?
Picking the right garden table ideas is crucial to make the most of eating outdoors. The experts share their advice:
- For everyday living, think about what you need, and how many people you want to seat around your table, as suggests Jess Contomichalos, Stylist at Danetti (opens in new tab). 'Is it formal dining you're after – or is it somewhere to perch with a drink and a chat? If you do entertain a lot then ensure your table is big enough.' Lynsey Abbott, Outdoor Living Buyer at Dobbies Garden Centres (opens in new tab), adds. 'If you want to have the option to have extra seating for visiting friends and family, it's always best to get a slightly larger set which will give you the room to do just that. Striking the balance is important though, as compact dining tables are really practical and you can buy single stackable or foldable chairs that can be stored away until needed, offering flexibility.'
- 'Do you entertain often? If so, think about a table with an ice bucket incorporated,' Jess says. Take a look at our garden party ideas for plenty more inspiration for unforgettable outdoor celebrations.
- 'If you're short on garden space, look at a glass table top as this will visually create space and won't encroach on the view of your garden,' Jess continues. 'A solid block of table top is great if you have a large space but could look cumbersome in a small space.'
- 'Ensure it is easy to clean and definitely invest in a cover for the winter to keep it in tip top condition,' adds Jess. You can find more maintenance advice in our dedicated guide on how to clean outdoor furniture. You may also wish to keep it somewhere dry in peak winter months, or in harsh weather conditions, adds Lynsey. So, this is another factor to consider when you’re buying a new outdoor dining set.
- Also, measure up your space, suggests Lynsey. 'One of the most important elements before you start browsing for a new outdoor table is knowing how much space you have, to tailor the size you're looking for,' she says. It might be that you have a set area in your garden in mind to dedicate to your outdoor dining room: on the patio, under a pergola, or on a raised deck. 'If you have a smaller garden, the main use might be for outdoor dining, but you’ll still want to have some extra room to fit outdoor essentials like a barbecue or fire pit,' she adds.
What are some top tips for dressing an outdoor dining table?
When it comes to outdoor dining ideas, the finishing touches can transform a so-so space into something truly stunning. Alison Howell, Design Development Manager of Burleigh (opens in new tab), shares her top tips for table dressing.
'A large bowl of ice has real centerpiece quality and will curb your trips to and from the fridge,' she says. 'Fill your favorite large bowls with lots of ice, fresh halves of citrus fruits and the tipple of your choice. This year I've been displaying a line of generous footed bowls down the center of a table to hold ice, bread and sharing dishes.'
'Beautiful weather encourages a more relaxed dining atmosphere,' Alison continues. 'Embrace that with simple glassware, plain coarse linen napkins and let your tableware do the work. Mix and match patterns in the same hue to amplify the impact.'
'My favorite tip is to forget about seasonality,' Alison adds. 'This year, I'm enjoying a dark palette for summer dining – there's nothing like a deep, rich color to set off the hues of fresh summer produce.'
How can I keep my outdoor dining area warm?
Eating outdoors in the evening can be totally romantic, especially if you've got flickering candlelight and soft music on the go. However, you need to make sure that you, and your guests, are warm enough to relax and enjoy the experience. Danetti's stylist Jess Contomichalos shares her tips:
- Try patio heaters – they're not expensive but can make a real difference as the sun goes down.
- If you can – invest in a fire pit – they're warm, atmospheric and bring people together. Gathering around a fire is centuries old – give it a modern twist with a safe, enclosed and contemporary design.
- Introduce a touch of the Mediterranean to your party and include throws in baskets for your guests to wrap up in whilst sipping sundowners.
Take a look at our outdoor heating ideas for more inspiration for keeping things cozy.
After a stint writing for true life titles, Ellen made her venture into the world of interiors magazines in 2017 on Real Homes magazine where she is now deputy editor. She's a fan of clever tips and tricks for renters, and has a special interest in sustainability in the home. While she's waiting for a garden to call her own, Ellen keeps herself busy with her collection of houseplants – 28 at the time of writing, but ever-growing. She also enjoys helping out at her grandad's allotment and has made friends with the local cat along the way.
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