Outdoor dining ideas - 8 stylish ways to create a dreamy alfresco set-up

The garden is beckoning, and we'll soon be eating alfresco - here's how to create an outdoor dining space you won't want to leave

Patio with dining table with black legs and wooden top, metal bistro style chairs and a gold pendant light hung above from a wooden pergola
(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

For many of us, dining alfresco is one of the best parts of summer. What nicer feeling than to eat home-cooked food in the garden, surrounded by the hum of nature while you enjoy the sun on your face. If visions of this have been what's getting you through the wet spring, now is the time to start implementing the best outdoor dining ideas, so you can make the most of them when the warmer months finally arrive.

Whether or not your garden has the space for elaborate outdoor kitchen ideas, you can still create a beautiful outdoor dining area to enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner at. The best outdoor dining set ups combine practicality and beauty, so that aside from being pleasing to look at (who wouldn’t want to admire a beautiful tablescape in the middle of a blooming garden?), they're comfortable enough to be enjoyed well after the sun goes down.

‘Whether you have a large garden or compact terrace, any outdoor area can be made into a welcoming space for alfresco dining,’ says Georgia Allman, Stylist, ProCook.

With that in mind, we spoke to experts who know what they’re talking about when it comes to outdoor dining ideas. From practical tips to ensure hosting any guests is stress-free, to suggestions on how to create a beautiful outdoor table, these ideas will make every alfresco dining experience a dream.

Outdoor dining ideas

We’ve narrowed the advice from the experts to bring you eight style-savvy outdoor dining ideas, which can be easily implemented in any garden space. Whether you’re making the most of patio ideas or converting a section of your lawn, these stylish set ups will ensure you do it right.

1. Consider the location

Grey and white modern garden dining set with teal cushions on a patio with light grey paving stones

(Image credit: Future PLC/Claire Lloyd Davies)

Where you set up your outdoor dining area will make or break the entire experience, not just for any guests, but for the host as well. Even if you’re setting up alfresco dining within small garden ideas, you need to think strategically. Which area is easily accessible from the kitchen? Is there a clear path, or are there obstacles that will get in the way?

‘If possible, choose an area of your garden or patio that’s close to your kitchen to set up your outdoor dining space,’ says Nisha Collins, Brand Manager, QD Stores and Cherry Lane Garden Centres. ‘This makes it easier when entertaining guests and serving food, and ensures drinks can be topped up.’

Alfresco dining can often involve multiple dishes, so having a clear path to the kitchen will make your role as a hostess much easier. Try to keep the area around your outdoor dining space clutter-free as well.

2. Add some form of cover

Patio with dining table with black legs and wooden top, metal bistro style chairs and a gold pendant light hung above from a wooden pergola

(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

As we know, British summers are far from predictable. Sure, alfresco dining can happen spontaneously on unexpectedly warm nights, but if you're hosting family and friends, you usually need to set a date in advance. As you can’t guarantee what the weather will be like, some form of shelter is an essential component of outdoor dining ideas.

‘Find a secluded spot for your outdoor dining arrangement so when the weather doesn't agree with your alfresco dining plans you can still enjoy a lovely dinner outdoors,’ says Helen Ashmore, Head of Design, Laura Ashley. ‘Orientation is also important; try and position the dining area in a west-facing spot so you can enjoy the most sun and warmth in the evening.’

Garden shade ideas don’t have to be properly formed structures either. Pergolas are budget-friendly and will protect you from the weather when you dine outside, come rain or shine.

3. Make lighting key

Dining table under a wooden pergola in the garden, with cream linen table cloth and festoon lights strung overhead

(Image credit: Future PLC/Carolyn Barber)

‘Adding lighting to the garden is a key element of creating a cosy outside area,’ says Rikke Blaeside, Design and Range Manager, JYSK. ‘Using lights in a warm tone helps to create a warm, inviting atmosphere in a usually cooler environment.’

Garden lighting ideas will allow you to enjoy your outdoor dining area after the sun goes down, which we all know is one of the delights of summer. Try and incorporate multiple light sources, such as festoon string lights, rechargeable table lamps, and candles. These will go a long way when it comes to creating a gorgeously cosy atmosphere.

4. Choose the right furniture

Dining area on a paved patio, with grey outdoor sofas and a matching dining table positioned under a grey pergola

(Image credit: Future PLC/Susie Lowe)

The best garden furniture is a must when planning your space. ‘Your priority will be a versatile outdoor dining set with a table that’s a good height for eating comfortably and enough seats to fit everyone around,’ says Danielle Le Vaillant, Head of Photography & Film, Cox & Cox. ‘Bench seating is super versatile around a rectangular table as it allows people to squish up when necessary.’

Use your garden seating ideas to create a set-up that is sociable, relaxed, and comfortable. You might prefer to stick to a classic garden table and chairs, which are ideal for smaller groups and more intimate settings. Or if you’re planning on entertaining a lot over the warmer months, outdoor sofas offer a bit more flexibility. Just make sure there are enough surfaces for people to put their food and drinks on.

5. Get creative with a tablescape

outdoor table with white chairs and dining set-up

(Image credit: Addison Ross)

One of the most fun parts of outdoor dining ideas is creating a beautiful tablescape to enjoy while you eat. Start with a tablecloth, then create place settings with placemats and crockery. You can get creative with colour schemes and add in other decorative items like candlesticks, bud vases, and small planters.

‘Earthy tones can be brought in with woven jute placemats and wooden serving boards, whereas soft linens and cotton napkins bring a fresh and light feel to the space,’ says Georgia from ProCook. ‘Pops of joyful spring-summer colours can be tied into a tablescape easily with finishing touches such as fresh flowers.’

‘Styling an outdoor dining table should harmonise functionality with visual beauty,’ Dominic Harrison, Designer, King Living adds. ‘A centrepiece crafted from natural elements, such as floral arrangements or a fresh fruit display, adds a touch of sophistication.’

6. Pick the perfect tableware

Place setting with rattan runner, pot plant in a woven pot, and monochrome plates topped with a animal print napkin

(Image credit: Future PLC/Max Attenborough)

To make the outdoor dining experience both practical and aesthetic, make sure you have an ample selection of serveware. Alfresco dining often involves picky bits and a selection of different dishes, so you’ll likely need different types of serveware than if you were hosting indoors.

‘For larger gatherings, use statement serving bowls and platters for lavish salads or buffet-style dishes to create the ideal grazing table that your guests will love,’ says Andrea Waters, Portmeirion. ‘For side dishes and serving up dips, individual side plates and serving bowls are essential.’

7. Make comfort a priority

Warm wood dining table in corner of a small garden with built-in bench lined with blue and white striped cushions

(Image credit: Future PLC/David Giles)

The key to creating the perfect outdoor dining set-up for long and leisurely meals is to make the area as comfortable as possible. Outdoor cushions are a gamechanger for making wooden furniture more pleasant to sit on, and they also make the area look more homely. If there will be people sitting on the floor, provide extra cushions and a cosy outdoor rug to make the experience more pleasant.

‘Provide blankets and light throws so your guests can keep warm when the weather starts to get colder and it’s nearing time for your event to end,’ Andrea from Portmeirion suggests.

8. Up your privacy levels

Gardening dining table with wicker chairs next to a white raised planter planted with olive trees and festoon lights strung above

(Image credit: Future PLC/Lizzie Orme)

'Privacy plays a critical role in outdoor dining ideas and can be achieved through strategically placing screens, planting, or fencing to enhance the exclusivity and intimacy of the dining experience,’ Dominic from King Living says.

Thinking about patio privacy ideas to make your outdoor dining area more secluded will allow you to relax and feel more comfortable in the space. Think of the area like a room inside the home; part of being able to fully unwind comes from the knowledge that we are away from prying eyes. Tall-growing plants or fast growing privacy trees are ideal for providing screening and they will complement the aesthetic of the space. If you want something a bit more substantial, look at more other garden screening ideas such as trellis or fence panels instead.


How do you style an outdoor dining table?

An outdoor dining table should be the perfect blend of practical and beautiful. Tableware, glassware and crockery are used to serve the food in, but you can select these in a style that appeals to your taste.

We recommend starting with a tablecloth, to avoid any spillages on the surface of the table, but also to provide a lovely base layer in the colour of your choice. Placemats can create definitive table settings, and can be layered with a plate, bowl and side plate for each person - depending on the type of food you’re serving of course. Slot cutlery into fabric napkins for an elegant touch, then add decorative items to bring the tablescape to life.

‘The table setting is critical and should reflect durability without compromising on style; materials like melamine provide an excellent alternative to traditional ceramics,’ Dominic from King Living says. ‘Implementing layered textiles, such as placemats and linen napkins, introduces texture and depth.’

Danielle from Cox & Cox adds: ‘A tablecloth will always make an outdoor meal feel more celebratory and even though you may be surrounded by flowers in the garden, you can still choose a table centrepiece. Small posies of fresh flowers in bud vases are charming and won’t dominate the space or hinder eye contact across the table.’

What’s important when creating an outdoor dining area?

Outdoor dining ideas should be comfortable and practical as well as aesthetic. This means having enough seating to house guests, some source of warmth and comfort for when things get a little chilly (patio heaters or fire pits are ideal), and a form of shelter - for when the weather is either swelteringly hot or drizzling with rain.

‘If you don’t have the luxury of an outdoor kitchen, position your outdoor dining area within easy reach of the house for convenience,’ says Danielle. ‘Even then, an additional side table is handy as a makeshift garden bar area to save repeated trips indoors.’

It’s important that outdoor dining ideas look cohesive as well, so that it’s clear what the area is being used for. Aesthetically, it can be very pleasing to look at if your alfresco dining set-up has a theme.

‘A gingham tablecloth with vintage glassware and mismatched crockery can look pretty and beautiful against an English country style garden,’ says Nisha from Cherry Lane Garden Centres. ‘On the other hand, a bold mix of designs, patterns and rich colours can create a stylish Mediterranean backdrop.’

Use these expert-approved design ideas to make sure eating in your garden is easy, relaxing and comfortable this summer.

Katie Sims

Katie Sims has been writing for Ideal Homes since spring 2022. She qualified from her Master’s in Media and Journalism in 2021 and has been writing freelance since. She has worked on Ideal Home’s ecommerce team where she researched the best home products on the market, and on the news team, researching the latest trends for feature pieces.