Outdoor Dining 101: Everything You Need to Create the Perfect Al Fresco Setup

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Whether your outdoor space is a cottagecore-inspired garden setup or a more mid-century scene with pops of color, we all have one common goal: Creating the best environment possible for breezy al fresco meals.

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"For my al fresco setup, I mainly wanted the vibe to be that of an outdoor zen oasis," says interior designer and licensed therapist Anita Yokota. "A place where the five of us can relax together and have family dinners. Living in Sunny SoCal, we love being outside, so having a cozy and inviting feel for our new dining setup is key!"

Yokota took that inspo and put it to work to create her own outdoor dining space in her backyard. She snagged all the pieces for her setup from Walmart, which means besides nailing the relaxed look she was going for, they're also affordable and durable (more on that later).

Keep scrolling for Yokota's step-by-step for creating an outdoor dining space, no matter your style.

1. The goal

Before skipping to the fun parts (the mood boarding and shopping), Yokota first recommends thinking practically: Why are you creating this space? What will you use it for? Whether your end goal is an outdoor oasis for 'me time' or a space where friends and family can gather to have BBQs and create memories, that's going to affect the decor.

"You need to consider the time of day you and your family like to spend outdoors eating," Yokota says. "Are they mid-morning brunches or late evening dinners? That will guide your design in dining furniture, decor and tablescape."

Yokota's finished space easily goes from cottage-y brunches (see exhibit A, the cake stand) to grilling masterclasses, with all of the essentials she needs to make meals a breeze.

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2. The anchor piece

If your space is on the small side, Yokota recommends starting with the largest piece of furniture (in an al fresco situation, that's likely going to be the dining set), and working your way out.

"Always place the largest piece of furniture in the center of your patio or dining area," Yokota says. "From there, dot the accent chairs, side tables and lounge chairs surrounding the anchor (the dining set)."

She looked for a set that was both simple and cozy—with clean lines and a bold black hue—that could seat enough people for all her friends and family to visit and eat. Plus, the table also met her other requirement: durability.

"When I look to purchase any sort of outdoor decor pieces, I mainly look for durability and versatility," Yokota says. "Will the piece stand up to our family of five? Will it last more than one season? I also look for outdoor decor that has some versatility — things that I can swap in and out if I feel like changing up the look and feel of the overall backyard design." Check, check, and check.

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The black metal set she went with is subdued enough that it can easily complement many different decor styles for when Yokota wants to mix things up, yet it's still chic on its own.

Mainstays Kingston Ridge 4-Piece Outdoor Patio Furniture with Grey Sling Conversation Set, $147

Better Homes & Gardens Black Outdoor Seat Cushion, $19.84

Better Homes & Gardens Stripe Outdoor Pouf, $47

3. The details

Next up: The final touches — from adding a few comfy pillows to setting the table — which have the power to totally level-up the look of your setup. Yokota opted for black, white, and teal accents to warm up the space. "The pillows are full of personality, texture and pattern," she says. "Yet they are not too bright or flashy."

And adding an outdoor rug helps separate the space. "The rug grounds the dining space and it is soft underfoot," Yokota says. "Once we step foot into this area, you immediately know it is a dining space." Sticking with her classic black and white theme, she chose a woven, striped rug that delivers on both style and durability.

Want to create an even homier vibe? Hang string lights or add lanterns. "Hang as many as possible and criss cross them so that they create a warm glow at night while dining," Yokota says. "It is intimate and cozy! Keep a basket of throw blankets nearby so even if it's a bit chilly and you still want to hang out and eat, you can give guests or yourself a nice lap blanket." Who needs a vacation when you've got this relaxing space at home?

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Better Homes & Gardens Bobble Stripe Outdoor Toss Pillow, $12.82

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Better Homes & Gardens Zuri Matte 12-Piece Dinnerware Set, $39.99

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