This is the secret to outdoor dining when you're short on space, says interior design expert Bobby Berk

Plus, get decor inspiration for your al fresco dining table from our Queer Eye favorite

an outdoor dining table at a home by bobby berk
(Image credit: Sara Ligorria Tramp)

Eating in your backyard is one of the true joys of summer, but while casual outdoor dining is an easy affair, hosting guests al fresco presents its own set of challenges. For one, you're not near the kitchen, making food prep plus entertaining a little tricky. 

Once you are all seated outside, the next challenge is making your table set-up work, something Netflix star and Shutterfly's interior design expert Bobby Berk thinks is key to making an outdoor dinner party a success. 'It is very important not to choose items that take up too much of the table and overpower the space,' the interior designer tells Livingetc. 'You want to make sure your space, and your guests, don’t feel so crowded and that they actually feel like they are outdoors.' 

Yet, you'll also no doubt also want to make any al fresco dining events this summer feel like a special moment, but with table-space at a premium, how you can decorate  your backyard in a way that feels magical, but unobtrusive? Plus, you might also be competing with the trend for sharing platters, eating up more, valuable table room. 

Thankfully, Queer Eye's Bobby knows a thing or two about entertaining outdoors in style, so we grilled him for his top tips for better outdoor hosting during the summer months. 


bobby berk outside of casa tierra

(Image credit: Sara Ligorria Tramp)

Small moments make a big impact

Pinterest might yield inspiring images of outdoor tables with beautiful, elaborate centerpieces that are sure to make eating al fresco a magical experience, but it's not always practical for real life. The question is then, how can you bring some of this magic of these outdoor table settings to a smaller set-up? 

'To avoid huge centerpieces that leave little room on the table, I love bringing in some of the garden either on your plate or utensils,' Bobby suggests. 'You can tie some greenery around the utensils or add a sprig of green on the plate. This helps create a relaxed yet fun environment to avoid too much on the table with big vases but brings in natural elements, naturally!'

The same goes for lighting your table. While tall dinner or chunky pillar candles might offer maximum impact, they can be unwieldly when you're dealing with a table full of food, drink and more. 'Glass candles are a perfect way to amplify your tablescape,' Bobby says. 'They are easy to move and will keep your tabletop lit so you can keep your conversations going until midnight.' 

a table set up with outdoor dining products

Shutterfly’s latest outdoor collection includes more than 1,000 unique designs by Spoonflower independent artists. Every design sold on Spoonflower products and select Spoonflower-designed Shutterfly products support an independent artist. 

(Image credit: Shutterfly)

Streamline your decor theme 

Whether you're celebrating a certain event or are just looking to bring a certain style to your space, it's easy to go over the top with a theme and crowd your table. 

'A growing trend in outdoor tablescape design can be described as “less is more.”  Keep it simple by sticking to one design theme and elevate it with small decor touches throughout the space and tabletop,' Bobby says. 'To avoid having to overhaul your entire outdoor set up each time you have a different party theme, I'd suggest adding in smaller decor items to give the space a fresh look and feel. Adding small pillows on your chairs or placing table linens on your outdoor table will automatically create a chic look and feel in your space without breaking your bank.' 

If you are sticking to a budget, the best decor around can be found growing in your own small garden. 'Whether it’s greenery from your garden, backyard or a plant or flower that is in season in your area, you can never go wrong with smaller plants and flowers to elevate any party,' Bobby adds. 'Low maintenance plants, like succulents, are also a nice way to add greenery to your table as it adds color and brings a desert style to the space.' 

What's on trend for outdoor dining right now?

Whether you're choosing an outdoor dining lighting idea, a table set, linens or cushions, there are a few trends that are hot right now when it comes to creating an engaging outdoor space. 

'To achieve a Boho style for your tablescape, focus on choosing vibrant colors and luxurious textures for your linens and add accessories like pillows to add extra comfort,' suggests Bobby. 

'If looking to achieve a modern farmhouse style for your tablescape, using plenty of natural plants, flowers and greenery is key to transporting your guests to a countryside oasis, while for a contemporary style for your tablescape, keep the design and color choices simple and neutral as this will help you achieve a sleek and understated look.'

While outdoor decor trends have erred towards neutrals in the past, people are now experimenting with color in a bolder way outdoors. 'Infusing color is always a great way to elevate one’s outdoor tablescape. From bright pinks and oranges to neutral navys and tans, color will perk up your outdoor dining scene. Try adding pillows to each of the dining chairs, throwing a table runner down your dining table, or adding color to your cloth napkins and dinner plates to brighten up your tablescape,' says Bobby. 

Hugh Metcalf
Editor of

Hugh is the  Editor of From working on a number of home, design and property publications and websites, including Grand Designs, ICON and specialist kitchen and bathroom magazines, Hugh has developed a passion for modern architecture, impactful interiors and green homes. Whether moonlighting as an interior decorator for private clients or renovating the Victorian terrace in Essex where he lives (DIYing as much of the work as possible), you’ll find that Hugh has an overarching fondness for luxurious minimalism, abstract shapes and all things beige. He’s just finished a kitchen and garden renovation, and has eyes set on a bathroom makeover for 2024.