Outdoor dining ideas — 18 gorgeous ways to enjoy an al fresco meal

These outdoor dining ideas will help you embrace the great outdoors

An example of outdoor dining ideas showing a dining table outside with rattan chairs with a beautiful view of the countryside
(Image credit: Emma Lee / Future )

Make the most of these outdoor dining ideas to spend time with friends and family in the garden all year round.

With these smart garden ideas you can transition from Easter to high summer through to Thanksgiving and Christmas effortlessly. 

Outdoor dining ideas

1. Style an outdoor dining room with a parasol

A garden with a yellow parasol and matching cushions resting on wooden chairs

(Image credit: East London Parasol Company)

Enhance a sun-trap terrace area of your garden with a parasol for a pretty bohemian feel. 

Choose a palette based around natural colours found in your garden for a subtle appearance, or highlight the summer sunshine with bright yellows and oranges to add a splash of vibrancy to an otherwise green planting scheme. 

Coordinate with seat cushions and tablecloths to turn a simple bistro set into an indulgent spot for dining and relaxation. Make sure to take care of your parasol to ensure its longevity.

Lucy Ferguson, founder of the East London Parasol Company who designed this set up recommends to store your parasol in their bag as upright as possible to avoid irritation, away from radiators. 

Avoid putting them away damp, even if you have a parasol made from a water-resistant material, and always remember to take down any type of parasol, sail or umbrella if any wind picks up. 

2. Dress your outdoor dining table

A close-up shot of a dining table outside with a white table cloth and green and white crockery

(Image credit: Summerill and Bishop)

Make an effort to style your outdoor kitchen or dining table as you would for any indoor event. Take inspiration from cult tableware brand Summerill & Bishop by creating a scheme in harmony with the natural world. 

A simple white linen tablecloth laid with glassware and flatware in shades of white and green becomes the perfect setting for a fresh summer luncheon. Flowers are key to achieving this look, so include either a generous bouquet or a selection of bud vases overflowing with seasonal blooms.

3. Showcase natural materials

An example of outdoor garden ideas showing a white outdoor table with matching chairs and a pink table cloth

(Image credit: Emma Lee)

When looking at bar ideas for your garden, create a relaxed vibe by showcasing natural materials. Linen and cotton tablecloths, napkins and seat covers will add a tactile note from nature, and help ground the zone in the garden. 

Heighten this by putting away the melamine and instead setting the table with recycled glassware and satisfyingly organic Wonki Ware. Limiting yourself to plain colours rather the integrating pattern also helps encourage this natural feel.

4. Utilise lighting for atmosphere

An outdoor dining space with a table covered in a white table cloth and chairs with rattan seats below string lighting

(Image credit: The White Company)

‘Whatever the size or state of your outdoor space, you can still create the perfect atmosphere for relaxing outside,’ says Chrissie Rucker OBE. ‘The key is to conjure up an intimate, self-contained area – whether it’s on a terrace or in the corner of a garden.’ 

As in this look from The White Company above, dress this area with pretty outdoor lighting ideas for the perfect ambience. Include festoon or fairy lights, lanterns and candles at different heights and brightness for added interest and romance. 

5. Remember the added extras

An example of outdoor dining ideas showing a dining table with large, dark rattan chairs surrounded by foliage

(Image credit: Neptune)

Give your guests an all-round experience by recreating this set up from Neptune. ‘When designing your outdoor space it’s important to consider a number of things, primarily comfortable seating, and texture,’ says George Miller, Home Designer at Neptune Fulham.

Add a simple sheepskin or throw to ward off the cool evening chill, and our scatter cushions to add a drop of color. Dressing your space will create character, personality and an inviting atmosphere for you and your guests.’

6. Make sure your outdoor dining area is cozy

A cozy outdoor dining area with red blankets, beige cushions and candles

Outdoor dining space by Neptune

(Image credit: Neptune)

If you're dining outdoors on cooler nights, you need to make sure everyone is as warm as possible. This means lining chairs with sheepskins – or faux sheepskins – providing blankets, wraps, perhaps patio heaters or looking into outdoor fireplace ideas, such as a fire pit. Candles and lanterns are, of course, a must.

7. Can you use a dining table outside?

A wooden dining table shown on an outdoor patio area with table lamps

(Image credit: Emma Lee)

Yes – it's a great last-minute option, especially if you have no space to store outdoor furniture in wet weather and don't have a garden dining table large enough to cope with guests. 

You can still enjoy good times al fresco. Simply move your indoor dining table and chairs outside temporarily. Dress your table with linen runners and napkins, and bring out your china and glassware. It will look lovely twinkling in the light of a hurricane lamp or candelabra.

And do as Tasha Green, director of outdoor soft furnishing specialist Weaver Green, does and lay an outdoor rug under your table.

'It makes the space feel considered and comfortable, and keeps evening chills off your feet,' she says. When choosing a spot for your table, make sure it's near enough to the house to make transporting everything a little less onerous.

8. Make an outdoor dining area festive

An example of outdoor dining ideas showing a close up view of a round table with glasswear and a bowl of ice

(Image credit: Future)

Whether you opt for a drinks' area in summer, colorful bunting and garden lighting or baubles suspended from tree branches in winter, there are plenty of garden party ideas to make an outdoor dining space feel festive.

9. Dine under a shelter – or a shade

A pool area with a sheltered patio area and a large outdoor sofa

(Image credit: Mark Bolton)

Outdoor living room ideas, such as a garden pod with a shaded roof, are a fantastic investment for relaxed outdoor dining all year round. Good ones come with a roof that can slide back at the touch of a button, detachable sides and even heaters.

On sunny days, choose a natural muted color scheme for your table setting to keep the atmosphere light and cool. Save on storage space by selecting weatherproof chairs, such as these, which can be left outside all year.

A pergola is another useful way of demarcating seating or eating areas, plus it brings an attractive architectural element to an outdoor space.

'They add height and interest to a garden,' says RHS Chelsea Gold medal-winning garden designer Kate Gould. 'And are useful for creating shady, secluded seating areas.' For a comfortable spot such as this in which to kick back and relax, choose low-level seating with plenty of cushions.

10. Keep it simple with a less is more approach

A round outdoor dining table with rattan chairs and a white parasol in front of a white house with foliage

(Image credit: Alicia Taylor)

There is no simpler way of creating a welcoming spot for al fresco meals than with a generous table and some comfy chairs on a paved area near the house, like this one at interior designer Fiona Crole's home. 

'Round tables make for an informal, relaxed setting, plus everyone can see and hear each other,' says Amy Conn, product development season leader at Neptune. A classic parasol ensures you can linger on the hottest summer days, and adds shelter on cooler days.

11. Choose a room with a view

A white outdoor dining area in a garden room with white lanterns and white rattan chairs

(Image credit: Jon Day)

Beat unpredictable weather with a garden room. Michael Barnes, MD of Apropos, which specializes in indoor/outdoor rooms, says, 'Verandas – with or without bi-folding doors – and aluminum pergolas to shelter you from sudden rainstorms both offer great options for a stylish hybrid garden space.'

12. Inject style with colorful dining chairs

A garden room with a large wooden dining table and green and blue chairs

(Image credit: Jody Stewart)

Against the backdrop of stripped wood flooring, these brightly upholstered chairs inject energy into this room designed Tor Interiors.

Go one step further and have the backs covered in a contrasting design, then take them outside for one day only. Want to brighten plain chairs to create a cheerful color scheme to suit the occasion? Bright blankets and cushions will do the trick and add to your guests' comfort.

13. Add a pretty tablecloth

An example of outdoor dining ideas showing a dining table on a patio with grey chairs and blankets in shades of grey and pink

(Image credit: David Brittain)

Pale grays and taupes form the starting point for a beautiful al fresco table. Add accents of blush on candles and vintage greens on glassware. Muted metals, coarse linens and mottled marble add cool and serene country details.

14. Set a pastoral scene

An outdoor dining space with a table decorated with floral table cloth and chairs with colourful cushions

(Image credit: Mark Scott)

Let the heady beauty of garden-grown delights inspire your late summer decor. Lay a table ready for a harvest-time gathering with linens influenced by the cutting garden alongside homely and honest serveware and furniture.

15. Unwind with a relaxed country look

A wooden dining table with two chairs next to a river in front of lavender

(Image credit: Mark Bolton)

One for warmer weather, a table and chairs set by the river makes for an exceptional experience, especially when accompanied by birdsong and bluebells, and the fragrant scent of lavender.

16. Seek a view

A table covered in a table cloth and breakfast items with a scenic view beyond

(Image credit: Emma Lee)

When creating your outdoor entertaining scheme, why not take the colors of the surroundings as your starting point?

In the case of this Provençal terrace overlooking a glorious vista, we needed to do little more than echo the soft olive greens of the fields and hills beyond.

For relaxed summer dining, the best thing is to keep place settings simple. It helps guest feel like it's time to relax.

 17.  Set up a pretty picnic area

An example of outdoor dining ideas showing an al fresco dining space with green plants surrounding a table with bench seats and cushions

(Image credit: Future/Photography: Dan Duchars; Styling: Marie Nichols)

Give al fresco dining a refined twist and banish brash melamine in favor of beautiful glassware, rattan and brass.

Get all the senses going with a sensational spread of mixed materials and colors to evoke the vitality of the garden on the tabletop.

Layer a relaxed linen base cloth with striking glazed stoneware, colored glassware and a ‘living runner’ of abundant foliage and staggered fresh flowers. A simple canopy shade adds an exotic finishing touch, complemented with a peppering of luxurious cushions. 

18. Focus on the details

A close-up shot of an al-fresco place setting with green crockery and rattan place mats

(Image credit: Future/Photography: Dan Duchars; Styling: Marie Nichols)

Enjoy a healthy eating plan with dinnerware favouring the five-a-day mantra – don’t skip the leafy greens. Adopt an allotment-style mix and match approach with artisanal designs in ‘perfectly imperfect’ organic shapes.

When it comes to floral arrangements, say au revoir to formal installations and give fresh, seasonal stems the space and freedom to cascade, tumble and spread wildly – embracing a variety of heights and shapes for effortless volume and untamed beauty. 

How do you build an outdoor room?

Think about how you are going to use your outside space before diving in with a re-design or splashing out on expensive furniture.

Is eating al fresco for a single occasion or all year-round your main objective? Or is it to create a sunny seating area that doubles up as a spot for sundowners in summer? 

For garden ideas that function as cozy dining spaces, you can demarcate the chosen space in various ways: 'Planters can form a screen to separate an area, or lighting can mark out spaces,' says RHS Gold medal-winning garden designer Rosemary Coldstream.

For a longer term solution, Rosemary suggests looking into different paving or deck ideas to enhance your design: 'use paving or decking, which can be laid in opposing directions to zone different areas.'

How can I make my patio look nice?

If you're stuck for patio ideas, the key is to view a garden as an extension of the kitchen or living room and are style your patio accordingly.

'Be bold by integrating interior and exterior colors and style,' says RHS Chelsea Gold medal-winning garden designer Tony Woods of Garden Club London. 'If you have a feature wall color inside, run it outside and along the boundary. Or if you have a very light interior, continue it outside: then choose furnishings to fit the space.

'The key with styling an outdoor area is to look at the hard landscaping and work around it, building your theme from that starting point,' advises Tasha Green of outdoor soft furnishing specialist Weaver Green.