Alfresco dining ideas - our pick of the best

Looking for Alfresco dining ideas for this summer? From relaxed table settings to retro crockery, we've got plenty of garden ideas to inspire from Homes & Gardens.

The term alfresco dining is borrowed from our friends Mediterranean friends on the continent meaning eating out 'in the cool' or 'fresh' and so whatever the occasion, nothing says summer to us Brits quite like enjoying a meal out of doors while our shifting seasons allows us. Whether you have a terrace or small patio in town, are lucky enough to have a country garden, or simply looking for inspiration to give a picnic or party that wow factor, here are some alfresco dining ideas to transform your entertaining space with style.

Lighting is key, especially if your get-together is going to stretch from day into evening. If you prefer a vintage feel, string up pretty LED festoon lights in your themed colour or add tea lights to glass hurricane lanterns to set the mood. For a more contemporary touch, choose a statement candelabra for the table to add drama. When it comes to china, melamine is a pretty but practical choice especially for picnics - opt for sherbet shades for a retro Fifties feel that's very Darling Buds of May. Bundles of bright-handled cutlery will add a splash of colour and can be piled into mugs or small chunky pottery vases to keep things informal. Don't forget the niceties such as a stack of crisp linen napkins in a pretty floral design and personalised name cards for your guests - you may be outside but the details still count. 

Use glass pebbles to anchor them and also to weigh down the corners of a tablecloth if you're using one in the event of it being windy. Brightly coloured patterned cloths give an instant design statement perfect for balmy nights alfresco dining. Finally, fresh flowers always provide an extra special finishing touch - opt for single blowsy blooms such a peonies or dahlias in hot pinks and oranges for a quick pop of colour.

Table setting on lime green table against a striped screen

(Image credit: Future PLC/Tom Leighton)

Contemporary table setting

Why you can trust Ideal Home Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

A striking black-and-white striped screen turns this terrace into a contemporary outdoor dining room. A lime-green table and bench play to the bold, modern feel.

Liked this? You'll love our garden art ideas

Melamine retro tableware in different colours

(Image credit: Future PLC/Ditte Isager)

Retro tableware

Robust yet attractive, melamine tableware is the ideal choice for a picnic. These mismatched vintage style designs in pastel shades strike a jolly note.

China, floral napkins and glass place-card holders

(Image credit: Future PLC/Debi Treloar)

Place-card holders

Dining outdoors should not preclude the use of a proper dining service. Here, china, floral napkins and glass place-card holders all help lend a sense of occasion to a special garden party.

A sail awning and table and chairs outdoors

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dan Duchars)

Outdoor table setting

A sail awning shelters guests from the sun in this country garden. Bistro chairs, fabric runners and pots of freshly cut flowers contribute to the idyllic scene.

Table setting and flowers on an outdoor table

(Image credit: Future PLC/Polly Wreford)

Purple table setting

Strings of decorative Chinese lanterns echo the mauve, aqua and lavender colour scheme of the table setting below. A fabric runner cleverly serves as a place mat for two.

Flowers, lanterns and a candelabra on an outdoor table

(Image credit: Future PLC/Debi Treloar)

Coral table setting 

Vibrant coral, magenta and saffron yellow will help warm up even the coolest of summer days. An elaborate candelabra and large blooms, cut short, add dramatic touches.

Blue and white cutlery in a cutlery holder

(Image credit: Future PLC/Mark Scott)

Relaxed tableware

Keep outdoors lunch a relaxed affair by allowing guests to help themselves to cutlery placed in a ceramic holder on the table. A mix of colours ensures an informal look. Looking for more alfresco dining looks? Visit our garden channel - it's packed with hundreds of inspiring images for every style. Plus, find inspiration with our video guide to the perfect alfresco table setting.


Tamara was Ideal Home's Digital Editor before joining the Woman & Home team in 2022. She has spent the last 15 years working with the style teams at Country Homes & Interiors and Ideal Home, both now at Future PLC. It’s with these award wining interiors teams that she's honed her skills and passion for shopping, styling and writing. Tamara is always ahead of the curve when it comes to interiors trends – and is great at seeking out designer dupes on the high street.