Outdoor Dining Spaces: The Best Design Tips and Tricks

glass patio table
Glass and wrought iron dining table on a patio in a drought-tolerant garden. Jeremy Samuelson/Getty Images
  • 01 of 15

    Get Inspired: 14 Fabulous Outdoor Dining Ideas

    patio table in backyard
    A simple patio table with a cloth looks pretty in the early evening light. Westend61/Getty Images

    A love for grilling is the reason many people step outside into their backyards, or on their decks, patios, or balconies. Grills and outdoor kitchens make nearby dining tables a necessity, at least during the warmer months of the year.

    Whether your outdoor space is a city balcony or a sprawling ranch with enviable acreage, dining outdoors is a much-anticipated ritual and pastime during the summer and warmer months of the year. Take a cue from restaurants that turn sidewalks or courtyards into...MORE outdoor cafes at the first sign of spring. It's one of life's simple pleasures.

    Transforming your backyard or patio into a dining area involves very little effort—just common sense and planning. Follow these design ideas and tips to enhance the experience for you and your guests.

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  • 02 of 15

    Yard Size Dictates Where the Table Goes

    friends hang out on terrace
    Friends hang out on city terrace to dine and entertain one another. Xavier Arnau/Getty Images

    If your yard is a balcony or another kind of limited outdoor space, the location of your dining table and possibly a grill is pretty much decided for you. A bigger yard means you have more choices, although you'll want to consider a few important points before plopping that granite table out under the faraway oak tree.

    • If the kitchen is indoors, it's a good idea to locate the outdoor table not too far away, for easy access.
    • Make sure the table isn't too close to the charcoal barbecue...MORE or smoker.
    • Give guests room to move between the outdoor kitchen, dining table, and buffet table.
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  • 03 of 15

    Location, Location, Location

    brick outdoor kitchen
    Brick outdoor kitchen. Chuck Schmidt/Getty Images

    Carving out the right area for an outdoor dining table should be viewed as an opportunity to design a space around your lifestyle, rather than designing your lifestyle around the space. Dining outdoors and entertaining guests is one of the true joys of having a home and yard.

    Things to Consider

    So, where do you put that patio table? If space is not too limited—like on a city balcony—you will need to consider several factors:

    • Near the outdoor kitchen or grill makes sense, although you don't want...MORE to be downwind of a charcoal barbecue or smoker.
    • If the kitchen is indoors, it's a good idea to locate the outdoor table not too far away, for easy access.
    • If meal prep will take place inside, you want the table to be located nearby. Just maybe not butted up against the outside kitchen wall. During the summer, outdoor walls can get really hot—like fry-an-egg-on-a-vertical-surface hot.
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  • 04 of 15

    Placement Should not be an Afterthought

    dining set on patio
    A dining set on an uncluttered flagstone patio, attached to the house. Fuse/Getty Images

    Other factors will influence the placement of your patio table and chairs. Things to think about:

    • Select a site near a door for easy in-and-out access. Think about quick trips to the kitchen and bathroom.
    • A buffet table or bar is a handy way to allow guests to serve themselves, goes along with the informality of the outdoor dining experience, and frees up space on the dining table. Make sure there's enough room to accommodate both guests and the buffet table or bar without crowding. The rule:...MORE about 4 feet between the buffet table or bar and the outdoor dining table.
    • You want your guests to have a good time. But if someone gets louder when they get more relaxed (libations), will the patio table be near your children's bedrooms? Will the noise carry if you locate the dining table next to the fence dividing your property and your neighbors? Devise a layout that will make everyone happy.
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  • 05 of 15

    Setting the Table

    outdoor place settings
    Outdoor hardwood table is set with modern placemats and tableware. Glow Decor/Getty Images

    Depending on the occasion, you can get as informal or fancy as you want.

    • Outdoor tablecloths are festive and can hide an imperfect table.
    • Outdoor tableware is a more eco solution to paper plates and can be used for several years. Patterns and solids are usually made of melamine—but not your grandmother's Melmac.
    • Plastic utensils can be washed and reused, or you can use the regular stainless or silver if you prefer.
    • Choose drinkware made for outdoor use. A broken glass can be a mood killer.
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  • 06 of 15

    Finding Shade

    gazebo with fabric cover
    Fabric gazebo with chandelier and a rectangular dining table. Fotosearch/Getty Images

    You can have the most expensive, gorgeous outdoor dining table in the land, but if it's sitting smack-dab in the middle of a concrete patio in the desert with the sun beating down, nobody is going to care. Provide shade and shelter, in the form of outdoor umbrellas, shade cloth or sails, or a gazebo.

    If you have a roof over your deck or patio, you can dine outside any time of day. Otherwise, you can shade the dining table with a patio umbrella or use a pergola with a tent-like roof. Another...MORE idea: dine when the sun goes down, and you won't have to worry about supplying shade.

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  • 07 of 15

    A Table with a View

    table on deck with view
    A casual deep-seating dining set on a deck with a spectacular view. Randy Craig/Getty Images

    What's the view like from your yard? 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 lovely garden, pool, or nicely illuminated water feature? Locate a dining table so you can enjoy the amenities in your own landscape. Maybe your house has lots of windows, and, when softly lit at night, looks lovely from the backyard looking in.

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  • 08 of 15

    Choosing the Right Patio Dining Set

    cast iron dining set
    A cast-iron dining set with a perfectly matching rug underneath. Tim Abramowitz/Getty Images

    If you have a beautiful outdoor dining table with matching chairs, all you need to do is maintain and clean it. Do you plan to purchase an outdoor dining set anytime soon? Ask yourself these questions before buying:

    • How many people will use it? Is the set for your family, extended family, friends?
    • What shape do you prefer—oval, round, rectangle or square? Does that shape and size fit into the space you have in mind? Furniture that is oversized can dwarf an already small space. Likewise, furniture...MORE that is too small can look like it is floating or is lost in a larger space.
    • Comfort: Will the dining chairs be the primary seating for your outdoor space? If so, you might want to consider dining chairs with cushions. The chairs can serve double duty as seating near the pool or fire pit.
    • Style: If you're starting from scratch—good for you. What style is your house, apartment or condo? Georgian, Craftsman or modern? None of the above? Look at your inside furnishings and what you like about them, then carry the look outdoors. Or surprise everyone—including yourself—and go with something unpredictable and completely opposite of what's happening indoors to change the look. Time to go outside and let down your proverbial hair.
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  • 09 of 15

    Mix and Match Patio Dining Furniture

    dining table on balcony with string lights
    An odd mix of chairs is charmingly eclectic with string lights and candles at night. Hero Images/Getty Images

    You're dining outside; it's informal. There's no hard-and-fast rule that the table must match the chairs, and that all the chairs must match. Even Martha Stewart would probably give a thumbs-up to combining styles and types of chairs. Some seek out the look and consider it eclectic. Others have acquired numerous patio chairs and tables throughout the years or have a passion for vintage outdoor furnishings.

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  • 10 of 15

    Poolside Dining

    patio dining near pool
    A dining set is located in the perfect spot under a pergola and near the swimming pool. George Gutenberg/Getty Images

    If the swimming pool is well maintained and there is room, the effect of dining near the pool or a body of water can be calming and elegant. Water has a way of doing that. Just make sure to turn off the robotic cleaner and other noisy features that can kill the charm of the occasion. Adding effects like color-changing lights and pool fountains are little extras that will enhance your outdoor dining experience​.

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  • 11 of 15

    Use the Indoor Table Outdoors

    indoor table used outside
    Indoor table and chairs are used outdoors for a charming experience. Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

    If your indoor dining set is not heavy and extremely expensive or valuable, make the occasion special by pulling it outside, under a big tree. Dress up things with a tablecloth, centerpiece, and lanterns.

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  • 12 of 15

    Consider Size

    modern outdoor patio
    The clean, simple lines of a patio complement this modern home. Astronaut Images/Getty Images

    Make sure your furniture isn't too large for the designated outdoor space. Big, comfortable, deep-seating sets are popular but simply won't work if your guests don't have room to get in and out of their chairs or move around the table. Measure the space before you go shopping for dining furniture. Less, and sometimes smaller, is the smarter way to go.

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  • 13 of 15

    Accessible Dining

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

    Do any of your guests use a wheelchair, walker, or cane? Be mindful and make necessary changes so that they can easily move around. This would include paths that are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, space around the table for a smooth entrance and exit, and a level ground.

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  • 14 of 15

    Ambiance: Those Little Touches

    woman setting outdoor table
    A woman sets a table with special touches, light candles, flowers, soft cushions, and pretty table settings. Linda Burgess/Getty Images

    The mood that is created during the outdoor dining experience can be remembered for years. And that doesn't mean a tantrum thrown by your inebriated uncle or cranky niece. Help set the stage for an enjoyable evening outdoors. Some ideas:

    • Music: A little night music is always nice, especially something that allows guests to relax and talk.
    • Centerpiece: something low, so guests can see one another over it. Pick something from the garden: flowers, foliage, a bowl of fruit or vegetables, maybe a...MORE nosegay of fresh herbs.
    • Beverages: A martini, wine, beer, iced tea, or whatever your guests like. Don't know? Find out beforehand.
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  • 15 of 15

    Keeping Insects Away

    patio with pergola
    Dining set under pergola on patio with nearby fountain. Gary Alvis/Getty Images

    Ah, the bugs of summer. Fireflies and ladybugs are welcome, but mosquitoes can pretty much ruin a nice evening outdoors. Citronella candles are decorative, provide light and can keep a limited number of biting bugs at bay. If you're fortunate to have or can buy a fountain, the moving water can repel some insects while freshening the air. Cover serving platters or individual plates with special net devices that fit over the dish.  Some gazebos have mosquito netting-like curtains. Supply bug...MORE spray for your guests, but apply it away from the dining table.