Outdoor dining ideas – inspiration for a beautiful set-up to feast al fresco

These outdoor dining ideas will help you make the most of your backyard, from sheltered pergolas to fabulous firepits

an outdoor dining table on a porch
(Image credit: Robert Peterson. Design: Mister and Mrs Sharp)

Transforming your garden into a setting with simple outdoor dining ideas is a simple way to make the most of your backyard space. Acting as an extension of your home, outdoor dining can impress guests and make for a calming space for relaxation amongst nature. 

'There’s no better feeling than spending the warmer months enjoying your outdoor space,' says Heather Mastrangeli from Illinois-based interior design studio Innovatus Design. 'Dining outside is a real luxury during the summer and you should make the most of it! Being surrounded by plants and greenery, and watching glimpses of the sunset makes spending time with family and friends even more special.'

Whether you've invested in outdoor kitchen ideas already, or you're looking to make an outdoor dining space become an extension of your home when the sun's shining, there's plenty of set-ups to consider. 

To find the best outdoor dining ideas, we've talked to the expert designers and find out the inspiration behind their garden dining creations. 

Outdoor dining ideas to upgrade your entertaining in your backyard

Garden trends are showing the rise in popularity of hosting at home and making the most of outdoor space. 'We have seen the rise in popularity of outdoor dining tables and sets, outdoor kitchens and firepits,' observes Jonny Brierley, CEO of Moda Furnishing.

'As the past year has taught us the importance of making the most of our outside space and the number of home buyers looking for gardens has increased, we have come to realise there's nothing more enjoyable than sitting round the table with family and friends,' he adds. 

But what's the ideal outdoor dining set up? Here's 8 of the best ideas to get you started. 

1. Dine under a pergola

A pergola with a curtain rail for added shade

(Image credit: Meghan Beierle-O’brien. Design: Laura Roberts)

A pergola is a great idea for elevating your outdoor dining experience and offer plenty of opportunity to turn it into a design feature. Typically a simply frame construction, they are easy to erect, and can be deftly propped up against the back of your house. Use paint to create harmony between your tablescape, interiors and exteriors, painting it in a tasteful and fitting shade. One smart pergola idea is to place potted plants at the base of each pillar to encourage plants to crawl and spiral upwards, like wisteria. 

If covered in foliage, pergolas can provide shelter from the rain. Meanwhile, the slats can provide some relief from direct sunlight. Shade from above can be complemented from the side, and sheer curtains hung from rails is a great outdoor shade idea to give the space a soft and boho edge, as seen here in this example from interior designer, Laura Roberts.

'The client was looking to have an intimate outdoor dining experience,' explains Laura. 'The sheer curtain allows for the dining area to be closed off from the rest of the yard, while still allowing light into the space. This elevates the dining area to feel more intimate and elegant.'

2. Create the right atmosphere for outdoor dining with color

Little Green's masonry paint is suitable for the outdoors

(Image credit: Little Greene)

Color is a key consideration when designing your outdoor dining area. Not to be overlooked, your outdoor set-up can be an extension of your home, so it's important that it matches or complements the interiors in some way. 

Ruth Mottershead, creative director at paint company, Little Greene, says that color is the perfect way to transform an outdoor space quickly and easily. 'Be it a refresh of garden furniture, creating an outdoor feature wall or painting fences, railings, a gate or even plant pots. It can add personality to your exterior,' she says. 

Consider the atmosphere you want to create, is it calming or traditional, are you letting the planting deliver the color, or are you looking to give plants a boost with a bold contrast color.

Be aware that gardens can change throughout the seasons with varying tones of spring flowers and autumn leaves, so think about the year as a whole when picking a paint color idea and scheme. 'Paint A4 pieces of paper and stick them around the space so you can see the effect of light, review them at different times of the day - you'll be amazed at how tones can alter,' advises Ruth. 

If using paint, always consider the finish. Outdoor paint requires it to be totally weather resistant, durable. This outdoor scheme is painted in Little Greene's Intelligent Masonry Paint and does just the job.

3. Design outdoor dining around a firepit or fireplace

A garden table is surrounded by an array of materials

(Image credit: Nina Magon)

Not just for the summer months, an outdoor firepit means you can cozy up next to a fire in the cooler seasons and enjoy being outside for longer. Firepits also add a touch of glamor and make for a focal point that can tie your outdoor dining scheme together. There are a wealth of decisions to make when considering what firepit idea to go for.

Make sure to plan the position of your firepit accordingly. They are often solid installations run by gas, so it pays to consider the gas and electrical supplies to the pit. Also bear in mind how close the pit is to your home, avoiding plumes of smoke billowing into your home.

Think about the material used - is it going to be made from concrete or stone and weather you are going to be burning wood or fuel. The two main types of firepits on the market are gas or bio-ethanol and there are pros and cons to both types, depending on whether you want your firepit just to visually look amazing or if you're after a more practical solution. Bio-ethanol firepits look great but aren't as warm.  

Also consider a firepit with dual use, like a pit that folds away into a tabletop or works as a grill. 'Some firepits have built-in grills so that you can enjoy an evening to its fullest without having to leave the table,' explains Jonny from Moda Furnishings

4. Consider your lighting choices

A colorful pendant lamp hangs over a dining room table

(Image credit: Mind the Gap)

'When dining outside on a covered loggia or terrace, it’s important to make sure you have good lighting for those outdoor dinner parties,' says interior designer, Laura Roberts. 'There’s nothing worse than trying to entertain in a poorly lit environment!'

Lighting can come from a number of sources. Hanging pendants with colorful lampshades such as these from MINDTHEGAP make for an elaborate centerpiece, while sconces on a wall give an ornamental touch, and floor lamps can also be dotted around your dining table - just make sure the bulb is rated for outdoor conditions and potential wet weather

For practically lighting your backyard, electricity is easiest and can light your garden at the flick of a switch. But when it comes to outdoor dining lighting ideas, a solar lighting solution makes smart use out of the sunshine, and your lights grow stronger throughout the day. Candles and natural light are also a nice touch to your outdoor table setting.

For a simple solution, a strong of fairy lights can add a magical touch when weaved over your dining table, just make sure they are hung high enough to not obstruct the area. Executed correctly and they can illuminate your table in a gorgeous glow.

5. Think about soft furnishings

An outdoor garden with outdoor tables

(Image credit: Kate Anne Designs)

When thinking about outdoor dining, your soft furnishings are very much part of the scheme and will beckon your guests to the table by adding comfort. 

'Cushions may seem like small details but when it comes to transforming your space they offer a quick and easy solution, and as the days get warmer their transformative power is no longer limited to indoors,' says Martin Waller, founder of global design brand, Andrew Martin

As well as bringing much needed comfort to your garden seating, the addition of outdoor cushions allows you to blur the lines between interior and exterior helping to create a space that is often left unused through half the year, feel like a carefully considered living area,' he adds.

As well as pillows, think about your outdoor furniture and the comfort of your guests as they sit down. This outdoor furniture from Andrew Martin is upholstered in removable and waterproof fabric with outdoor foam fillings. From nautical inspired armchairs to sofas that recline, they are a great functional yet aesthetic addition to your outdoor table. 

'We shouldn’t have to compromise when using fabrics outside. Long gone are the days of slippery nylon cushions and covers. Now there is a whole host of luxurious and well-designed fabrics that can be used.'

6. Bring the indoors outside with a rug

Outdoor rugs make for a nice indoor outdoor look

(Image credit: Go Modern)

Another tasteful way to extend your interiors to the outdoors and warm up your spaces is with the best outdoor rug. This sets the stage for your table and can create a simple yet elegant Boho twist, while covering up any part of the patio you're not quite happy with. 

Annie Selke rugs are made from PET so are highly durable and weather resistant, while The Rug Company create outdoor rugs made from perennial yarn, which is fade and stain resistant. Go Modern's designs (pictured) are all made from  recycled materials and are fade proof and easy to clean. Otherwise always bear in mind that the thicker the rug, the longer it takes to dry out.

7. Create casual dining at an outdoor kitchen

casual seating around an outdoor kitchen

(Image credit: Kate Anne Designs)

An outdoor kitchen is a focal point and really makes the most of your garden space. Set your dining table nearby and enjoy cooking and entertaining outside with your guests, hang utensils artfully on a garden wall, and make space for plenty of storage. 

However, you can also create a more casual dining experience just as you would indoors with breakfast bar seating at an outdoor island. Whether it's family or friends sitting at the outdoor kitchen countertops, grilling has much more of a social aspect than cooking indoors, so it makes the perfect set-up for outdoor entertaining. 

8. Create super comfortable outdoor seating to eat at

A curved garden sofa around a table

(Image credit: Moda Furnishing)

Outdoor dining is only good as long as it's comfortable. That means creating a comfortable environment (that's warm enough), but also seating that makes guests want to linger outside. So, why not opt for sofa chairs for outdoor seating at a dining table. 

Whether it's a statement piece, or a place for your guests to relax, think about the space wisely as well. Buy modular to piece a long sofa together, or go small with a garden appropriate loveseat. 

A circular sofa fits snugly around this dining table, while an L-shape sofa styled with plenty of cushions encourages guests to relax by a firepit.

Where to place your dining area in your garden

When it comes to planning your outdoor dining space, space and shape are the first two things to consider, says Jonny from Moda Furnishing.

'If you have a long narrow garden, you may decide to 'zone' the space, while wider gardens can benefit from access points across the back of the house.' 

Think about how you can make use of a corner of your garden and if you want access to your house for use of the kitchen, or for your dining area to be right at the bottom of the garden, creating a hidden botanical oasis.

'The second thing to consider is how you will use the space,' says Jonny. 'Perhaps you want a space for lounging in the sunshine or cozying up with throws in the cooler evenings, or maybe you need a set-up to support a BBQ. Maybe you even want a space for watching films on an outdoor screen.' Ensure you know exactly what you want to use your garden for, in the same way you would consider the purpose of a room in your home.

Oonagh Turner
Livingetc content editor and design expert

Oonagh is a content editor at Livingetc.com and an expert at spotting the interior trends that are making waves in the design world. Writing a mix of everything and everything from home tours to news, long-form features to design idea pieces on the website, as well as frequently featured in the monthly print magazine, she's the go-to for design advice in the home. Previously, she worked on a London property title, producing long-read interiors features, style pages and conducting interviews with a range of famous faces from the UK interiors scene, from Kit Kemp to Robert Kime. In doing so, she has developed a keen interest in London's historical architecture and the city's distinct tastemakers paving the way in the world of interiors.