Outdoor dining ideas: 16 ways to create the perfect al fresco entertaining space

When the sun comes out, outdoor dining is immediately on the menu. Curate your perfect al fresco entertaining space with these easy design ideas

outdoor dining table with rust linen table cloth and bright blue bowls and plates
(Image credit: Denby US)

Sunny days and warm evenings call for us to get outside and up our outdoor dining game. There's something about eating on your deck or patio that just feels a little more special than being inside, so we're here to help you celebrate the season and soak up the joys of al fresco living.

Be it a casual breakfast on the balcony, a quiet lunch on the porch or an alfresco dinner party that lasts well into the night, our surroundings can greatly impact how we feel in the space, so it's important to get it right. 

We should treat our outside space like any other room in the home – considering the flooring, walls, furniture, accessories and lighting – so we've gathered many garden ideas to inspire to create a space that works perfectly for you. Whether you want to makeover your whole space or you just want a few new accessories to bring a new lease of life, we've got you covered. 

1. Add a table rail to your outdoor dining set up 

outdoor dining table and festoon light bracket against a wood panelled wall

(Image credit: Graham & Green)

These table rails are having a bit of a moment and we are here for it. The rails are adjustable so they can fit most rectangular tables, and they're an instant way to add height and statement to your outdoor dining area. 

We love the simplicity of this string garden light design, but you could go wild with hanging floral displays or paper decorations too. You could even bring it inside over winter and create a festive display with baubles and foliage. Honestly, the styling possibilities are endless with a rail like this from Graham & Green so we think it should go right to the top of your shopping list. 

2. Make it special with place names 

outdoor dining table with rust coloured linen table cloth and bold blue dinnerware

(Image credit: Denby US)

There's just something so exciting about approaching a beautifully styled dining table and looking for your name on the place settings. So give your guests that little buzz too with this sweet idea. Simply use plant labels to write on your guests' names, and put them in tiny plant pots – it’s a rustic, eco-friendly and really easy way to allocate seats.

'The first port of call when decorating your table is finding a tablecloth,' says Andrea Waters, head of brands at Portmeirion. 'Go for neutral, natural matieral to avoid oversaturation of the prime colors of your scheme.' 

Here the rust-colored tablecloth contrasts beautifully with the blue dinnerware for a vibrant and organic look. 

3. Consider your lighting 

wooden dining table and big rafia pendant light

(Image credit: La Redoute)

'Lighting is essential for outdoor dining areas, to ensure you can use your garden well into the evening,' says Reilly Gray, founder of Suns Lifestyle. So it's important to consider all the options available to you. 

We love how this space from La Redoute makes the most of its over head cover by installing a pendant light over the dining table. The large, rafia light adds texture and style to the space and will help to zone the patio once the sun has set.

4. Add interest with patterned dinnerware 

outdoor wooden dining table with speckled plates, bowls and mugs

(Image credit: H&M Home)

While our inside plates are often simple, white, and plain, outdoor dinnerware is the perfect excuse to go a bit wild with your choice. This H&M Home table setup uses the same pattern on everything – from plates to mugs – for a look that's fun and playful yet uniform and coherent. 

5. Layer up on fabrics

outdoor dining table with white linen table cloth and mustard accessories

(Image credit: Rockett St George)

Add texture to your tablescape by layering up your fabrics. This table scheme from Rockett St George doubles up on placemats for an opulent and interesting look. The warm yellow will bring the sunshine on cloudy days too. 

'When decorating your outdoor table, choose charming accessories to add interest. Bottle vases or antique urns can be filled with wildflowers from the garden to create an alfresco tablescape. As the night draws in and the ambiance changes, opt for vintage candle holders which will provide a warm, gentle glow,' says Sarah and Sally Wilkie, founders of Home Barn

6. Set the scene with the right outdoor flooring 

(Image credit: John Lewis)

An outdoor dining area will need flooring that can support lots of furniture and your barbecue, so choose a practical, durable surface that is hard (to prevent your furniture from sinking into the ground), and even and smooth (to prevent accidents). 

Ideally, your outdoor flooring will mimic that of the flooring indoors in style, color, and finish for that perfect indoor-outdoor blend: decking is a great option if you have wooden kitchen flooring, but look at paving options if you have floor tiles.  

This scheme from John Lewis features a neutral deck that is the ideal backdrop for numerous looks.

7. Keep everything tidy with ample storage

Ikea outdoor

(Image credit: Ikea)

Every garden needs some good outdoor storage, especially if you plan on cooking or grilling out there too. If your outdoor dining area is covered, you can keep all your utensils and table linens clean and tidy in a kitchen trolley, boxes, and crates outside; otherwise, make space with clever shed storage.

This outdoor kitchen from Ikea is a flexible space on wheels that can be added to as you need more surfaces.

8. Create atmosphere with an outdoor speaker

(Image credit: Cuckooland)

Music makes any dinner party better, so why not have it on when dining outdoors, too? You can, of course, simply have sound coming from the indoors, but for convenience's sake (think changing a song quickly or controlling volume), invest in an outdoor speaker.

The Aglow Bluetooth Outdoor Speaker from Kreafunk is waterproof and doubles up as an LED lantern.  

9. Up the comfort level with an outdoor rug

(Image credit: Cuckooland)

Making outdoor dining as comfortable as its indoor equivalent is all about investing in extra details, especially where it comes to soft furnishings. Sumptuous seat padding is a must, but to take your al fresco dining to a whole new level, lay an outdoor rug underneath your dining set. 

The San Juan Outdoor Rug by Fab Hab is waterproof and reversible – and visually striking. 

10. Refresh your dining chairs with summery shades

painted outdoor dining table and chairs set

(Image credit: Protek)

Dab hand with the paintbrush? For party-appeal, treat an unloved table and kitchen chairs to an assortment of new colours with the best exterior wood paints and create a setting that’s fit for a feast.

'It's important to take into account weather conditions during painting, drying, and curing times when decorating outside. In the height of summer, direct sunshine can manipulate paint, so avoid decorating in direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day,' says Matthew Brown, technical consultant at Sadolin & Sandtex.

11. Make your table inviting with crisp table linen

Eden outdoor dining set

(Image credit: John Lewis)

One of the pleasures of indoor dining is crisp and fresh table linen – so why not have the same level of detail outdoors? Choose natural, luxurious fabrics such as cotton and linen for a slightly rustic, cozy look and feel, but go for natural finishes and colors, as they won't fade as obviously as bright colors. 

12. Take not just dining, but also cooking, outside

Ikea outdoor

(Image credit: Ikea)

If your kitchen is not right next to your patio dining area, transporting heavy dishes between the inside and outside may be a challenge (especially if you are cooking for a large group). So, why not have a little outdoor kitchen dedicated to al fresco cooking right where you will be having dinner? Add a few plant pots, including herbs, and you have a self-sufficient outdoor dining area complete with a mini kitchen garden

13. Create an intimate arbor space with plants and lights

festoon lighting over a vine covered decking dining areas

(Image credit: Lights4Fun)

Al fresco dining cannot be beaten for enjoying the sunshine and open air – but what about when it gets too hot, especially during lunchtime, or at night when you might need a little more shelter? Create a natural roof by training climber plants, such as ivy or a vine to form an arbor. Then accessorize with pretty string lights (like these from Lights4Fun) and enjoy outdoor dining without overheating.  

14. Embrace the shade with a parasol

Ikea outdoor dining

(Image credit: Ikea)

Outdoor dining means being at the mercy of changeable weather, from strong sun to an unexpected shower. To keep everyone comfortably cool – or protected from rain – choose a dining set with a parasol, or add a freestanding or clip-on version to your existing dining ensemble. This option is especially useful for exposed outdoor areas and terraces. 

15. Take a unique approach 

Neptune Monaco 6 seater table under a pergola

(Image credit: Neptune)

Adding your personality to your al fresco dining set up is a must. Whether you're into modern looks or shabby chic everything, remember that adding your own favorite pieces into your design scheme will make all the difference. We love this boho look. To create your own, invest in a beautiful metal outdoor dining set and then accessorise with favorite lamps, cushions, and lights. Hey presto, a brilliant dining spot outside!

16. Choose stacking outdoor dining chairs to save space

Grey Stacking Armchairs

(Image credit: Bridgman)

If your garden or terrace is on the small side, and you are planning on entertaining after dinner, you will want to pick the best garden chairs that are either easily folded or stacked away. The Florence Stacking Armchair from Bridgman is smart and made from aluminum, making it lightweight and easy to move around. 

'Opt for designs made from high-quality, rust-proof aluminum and teak. These will not only stand the test of time but will also withstand all weather conditions. Furniture that is designed for a life outside won't need to be brought indoors,' says Gray.

Amelia Smith
Content Editor

After joining Real Homes as content producer in 2016, Amelia has taken on several different roles and is now content editor. She specializes in style and decorating features and loves nothing more than finding the most beautiful new furniture, fabrics and accessories and sharing them with our readers. As a newbie London renter, Amelia’s loving exploring the big city and mooching around vintage markets to kit out her new home. 

With contributions from