10 Fabulous Outdoor Dining Ideas

Dining room table and chairs on open kitchen
brizmaker / Getty Images

Whether your outdoor space is a city balcony or a sprawling ranch with enviable acreage, dining outdoors is a much-anticipated ritual during the warmer months of the year. And transforming your backyard or patio into a dining area ​involves very little effort. The goal is to create an outdoor eating area that's both comfortable and stylish.

Here are some helpful tips to maximize the potential of your outdoor dining area, and 10 ideas for how to make a cozy, welcoming dining area worth showing off to your friends.

Consider the Location of Your Outdoor Dining Area

Design a space around your lifestyle, rather than designing your lifestyle around the space. For instance, if you love to entertain, you might want to spring for as large of a dining table as possible. But if it's just your immediate family that will typically use the space, you can create a cozier setting. Either way, make sure there is enough space for people to move comfortably around the dining area.

Moreover, it's ideal to situate the outdoor eating area near an access point to your kitchen. Plus, having easy access to the house is helpful for quick trips to the bathroom. On the other hand, you don't want to place your outdoor table too close to a grill due to the heat and fumes.

It's important to be conscientious about the noise your outdoor dining area will create, especially if you have outdoor speakers or like to hold gatherings late into the night. Establish some breathing room between your property and your neighbors', if possible. And be aware of how noise will carry into your home. Don't situate the table under the window of a child who naps or goes to sleep early. Try to devise a layout that will make everyone happy.

Brick wall and grill outdoor kitchen
Chuck Schmidt / Getty Images

Choosing the Right Outdoor Dining Set

If you're planning to purchase a new outdoor dining set, ask yourself these questions before buying:

  • How many people will use it? Is the set for your immediate family, lots of friends, or just you and a special someone?
  • What shape do you prefer? Most tables are either oval, round, rectangular, or square.
  • Does the size fit your outdoor dining area? Large furniture can cramp a small space while small furniture can look lost in a large space. Measure the space of your dining area before you go furniture shopping.
  • Are you looking for comfort? If your dining chairs will be the primary seating of your whole outdoor space, consider comfortable chairs with cushions.
  • Is there a style you want to match? You can match your home's exterior style and colors with outdoor furniture for a cohesive look. Or you can even carry the theme of your indoor furniture outdoors.

The design of your outdoor dining set ultimately comes down to personal preference. Remember that outdoor dining is inherently informal, and there's no rule that says the table and chairs must all match. Sometimes an eclectic look ends up being much more inviting and comfortable than a uniform dining set. Many people even seek out that look, purchasing inexpensive, mismatched outdoor furniture.

  • 01 of 10

    Set the Table

    Cake and Confetti table

    Cake and Confetti

    Depending on the occasion, you can get as formal with your table settings as you want. Outdoor tablecloths are always a festive choice, and they can hide imperfections on your dining table. Plus, if you plan to dine outdoors often, it can be worth it to acquire a set of reusable outdoor tableware. Dishes and glasses made of melamine or other durable material are ideal, as outdoor dining spaces often see a lot of activity that can increase the odds of an accidental spill. It can be difficult to clean a broken glass or dish off a patio, depending on the surface.

  • 02 of 10

    Consider a Buffet

    Summer bbq party concept - grilled chicken, vegetables, corn, salad, top view
    a_namenko / Getty Images

    A buffet table or bar is an efficient way to allow guests to serve themselves. It goes along with the informality of the outdoor dining experience, and it frees up space on the dining table. Plus, you can dress it up according to the theme of your gathering. Just make sure there's enough room to accommodate a buffet without crowding. Aim to keep at least 4 feet between the buffet table or bar and the dining table for easy access to both.

  • 03 of 10

    Maximize the View

    S.U.S.A.P. backyard dining view

    S.U.S.A.P.

    If you live on a hilltop, the world below will look dazzling at night while gazing at it from an outdoor dining table. How about any views within the yard itself? Do you have a lush garden or a water feature? Maybe your house has lots of windows and, when softly lit at night, looks lovely from the backyard looking in. Locate your outdoor dining area, so you can enjoy the amenities of your own landscape.

  • 04 of 10

    Don't Forget About Ambiance

    Down South Darling patio

    Down South Darling

    The outdoor setting itself will provide much of the ambiance, especially if you live in an area with beautiful scenery. But you still can give your outdoor dining experience a little boost. Consider a centerpiece of flowers, as well as planters around the dining space, especially if your property doesn't naturally have much greenery. You also can set up speakers to have some music while you eat, as long as it's soft enough for guests to talk over. And if you'll be dining in the dark, make sure to add outdoor lighting. Outdoor string lights are excellent for adding a warm glow that isn't too harsh to take away from the beauty of a starry night.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Make Use of the Pool

    Pop of gold outdoor dining pool

    Pop of Gold

    If your property has a well-maintained swimming pool with room nearby for a table, the effect of dining near the pool (or any other body of water) can be calming and elegant. Just make sure to turn off the robotic cleaner and other noisy features that can kill the charm of a dining occasion. Adding effects, such as color-changing lights and pool fountains, can further enhance your outdoor dining experience.

  • 06 of 10

    Provide Shade

    Casa Watkins living outdoor dining shade

    Casa Watkins Living

    You can have the most comfortable outdoor dining chairs, but if they're sitting in the middle of a concrete patio in the desert with the sun beating down, it won't be enjoyable. Provide shade and shelter in the form of an outdoor umbrella, patio cover, or other structure for your dining area. That way, you won't have to worry as much about weather interfering with your outdoor dining.

  • 07 of 10

    Keep Insects Away

    Votives on a Table
    dmfoss / Getty Images

    Insects also can pretty much ruin a nice time outdoors. Fortunately, there are measures to limit their presence around your dining area. Citronella candles are decorative, provide light, and can keep some of the biting bugs at bay. A moving water feature also can repel some insects while freshening the air. Plus, you might be able to outfit your patio with some mosquito netting-like curtains. Make sure to have covers for serving platters and dishes handy to keep bugs off of food.

  • 08 of 10

    Be Conscientious About Accessible Dining

    accessible outdoor dining
    A woman in a wheelchair joins friends for lunch outdoors on a patio designed for accessibility. Fancy/Veer/Corbis/Getty Images

    Is there anyone in your family or circle of friends who has mobility issues? Keep them in mind as you're designing your outdoor dining space, so they can easily move around. This might include paths that are wide enough and level to accommodate a wheelchair, as well as extra space around the dining table.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Position Your Lounge Seating Nearby

    Finding Lovely outdoor seating

    Finding Lovely

    For an easy dessert to after-dinner drinks transition, situate your dining area adjacent to your lounge area. Or mix the two! Use comfy chairs at the dining table to encourage your guests to get cozy and make themself at home.

  • 10 of 10

    Make It Portable

    S.U.S.A.P. portable outdoor dining

    S.U.S.A.P.

    For those working with small yards, make your dining set a portable one. Get folding chairs and a folding table that you can get out for an evening in. That way, when you're done eating, you can fold them up and tuck them away for a morning of yoga on the yard or to make room for a drying rack for the latest load of laundry.