As the warm sun sets early in the evening, there's a crisp breeze in the air to greet friends and family who are gathering at your home for a memorable meal — al fresco dining season has arrived. The good news is that an outdoor dining setup worthy of entertaining doesn't have to be extravagant. It can be simple, easy, and casual. The first thing you'll want to consider is the amount of space you're working with. Additional factors to keep in mind include lighting, pests, and the weather.
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HGTV's Jasmine Roth says, "When dining outside, lighting is really important. Usually, when you set up your outdoor area, it's nice and light out, but by the time you're actually dining outside, the sun is setting. A mixture of string lights, lanterns, and candles are always good to have set up."
Before you send out the invites, let's go over everything that you'll need, as well as some ideas that will help you plan a memorable soirée.
Things You'll Need
20 Al Fresco Dining Ideas That Will Wow Your Guests
1. Make it functional.
When designing an al fresco dining area, really think through the process and steps of hosting and dining outdoors. Functionality is definitely something to keep top of mind; consider putting a table next to the BBQ area so that you can entertain guests while simultaneously cooking. Plus, you'll be able to use the countertop for easy serving. Just be mindful of placing the table where the wind won't blow smoke toward your guests.
2. Utilize benches.
Consider adding benches on each side of the table instead of individual chairs. This is a great way to add more seating without the bulk of additional furniture pieces. Benches evoke a relaxed and casual vibe that's ideal for a meal outdoors. Position the table near a large olive tree for a little natural shade.
3. Consider a wooden deck.
Flooring is a major way to change the look of an outdoor space. Consider installing a deck, or refinishing the one you already have, for a space that looks just as good as the food. Whether you opt for wood planks, or some other material, just make sure that it is durable and can withstand the elements.
4. Switch up the lighting.
Just like inside, the lighting outside also acts as the perfect finishing touch and will help tie your scheme together. Surprisingly, there are lots of options to choose from, in a range of different styles. For this jaw-dropping setup, Raili Clasen decided to hang an assortment of pendant lights (at varying heights) above the table. Now, the dinner party can continue under the stars.
5. Go for an indoor/outdoor dining experience.
If you're lucky enough to live somewhere where the weather is typically warm and sunny, and your kitchen opens up to the backyard, this is the perfect location for your dinner parties. This modern home by Raili CA Design has large sliding doors that make hosting and serving a breeze. Include casual seating like lounge chairs and couches outdoors, while adding counter stools at the kitchen island inside.
6. Opt for a large dining table.
If you plan on hosting a large group of friends, an oversize dining table is a necessity. There is nothing worse than not having enough room to fit everyone comfortably. This poolside setup by Blackband Design has the right idea with a 10-person table.
7. Position your setup under a tree for shade.
Opt for situating your al fresco dining area under a large tree to create a garden-like setting, similar to this one by Blackband Design. Hang your choice of string lights for ambiance and complete the charming display with a vase of flowers on the table. If you have any food on the table, just be sure to cover it with a food tent or a lid to keep pests at bay.
8. Dine at the bar of your outdoor kitchen.
Maximize space by turning the bar of your outdoor kitchen into an inviting place to dine. Add simple and sturdy barstools — like the ones Gina Holz went with in this setup — and place settings for each guest. This way you can still entertain friends and family while you put the finishing touches on the main course.
9. Add a statement centerpiece.
Elevate your outdoor tablescape by adding a large centerpiece to the mix. For example, the stone vase paired with lush greenery in this picture-perfect scene by Studio McGee adds height and visual interest to the dining space.
10. Set the table.
Something as simple as setting the table can really take your outdoor dinner party to the next level. Go all out with matching placemats, napkins, dinnerware, and more — à la this setup by Gramercy Design — to make your guests feel truly special. And if you really want to wow your family and friends, consider adding handwritten name tags to each place setting.
11. Put your setup next to the pool.
Situate your al fresco dining room where your guests will have the best view. For example, in this backyard by Nicole Hollis, the table is located between two large trees flaunting red leaves alongside the pool. Not sure about you, but we wouldn't mind sharing a meal here — just mind the splashing.
12. Dine under a pergola.
Protect your guests, and the food, from the harsh rays of the sun with a shaded pergola like Pennies for a Fortune did in this backyard makeover. Not only does the stylish structure provide shade, but it also helps to define your dining space.
13. Create a cohesive look.
Just because your space is outdoors, that doesn't mean that your design aesthetic or preferences don't apply. If midcentury modern is your jam, continue the look in your backyard. We love this boho coastal dining space by Pure Salt Interiors. Every element of the design, from the chairs to the table to the lighting, is well-thought-out and beautifully cohesive.
14. Hang string lights for ambiance.
Hanging string lights in an outdoor dining space is pretty much a given. They'll instantly elevate your backyard and they'll provide soft illumination, ensuring your party can continue well after the sun sets. Clearly, the team over at Mindy Gayer Design Co. agrees.
15. Keep it casual.
Follow the lead of Studio McGee and keep your al fresco dining area casual with lounge seating, such as sofas and a hanging chair, and smaller tables. This arrangement is less formal and allows guests the freedom to come and go as they please and eat when they are ready. An outdoor fireplace will make your space even cozier.
16. Carve out space for appetizers.
If you're hosting a dinner party for friends or family, welcome guests by making a charcuterie board or serving fresh fruit and displaying it on the dining table, as demonstrated by this setup from Blackband Design. Guests will love this touch and it will also direct them to head outdoors.
17. Don't forget to trim your hedges.
A beautiful tablescape is great and all, but if the rest of your backyard is an eyesore, no one is going to notice all of your hard work. In the days before your soirée, double-check that the landscaping has been manicured and the outdoor furniture has been cleaned, like this picture-perfect backyard by Mindy Gayer Design Co.
18. Play with color.
Follow the lead of Massucco Warner and use bright colors to liven up your al fresco dining space. Use a patterned runner, along with vibrant florals and napkins, to create a charming and summery tablescape. Bright pillows and seat cushions will tie the inviting scheme together effortlessly.
19. Provide shade with a large umbrella.
Keep things shady with a dining table that includes an outdoor umbrella. Whether you're keeping cool or staying dry, a large parasol is something that you and your guests will appreciate when the weather throws you a curveball. This large terrace by Archer & Buchanan has the right idea.
20. Consider adding a bar.
Every good dinner party has a fully-stocked bar, and that includes your backyard. Whether you opt for a full-on bar, refreshment table, cocktail cart, or this DIY Murphy bar by Hunker contributor Trisha Sprouse, your guests will appreciate the convenient sentiment.