21 ideas for outdoor dining rooms

Set the scene for great outdoor parties or just dinner for two

Tuscan table

Thomas J. Story

Tuscan dining: The courtyard

Designer Paul Hendershot calls his Ojai, Calif. garden "a Mediterranean courtyard without walls."

The centerpiece is a concrete-topped table (more on that next slide).

Inspired by the casual elegance of Mediterranean-style gardens, Hendershot carpeted his patio with pea gravel. "It feels good to walk on when barefoot," he says. 

A pepper tree provides light shade on hot days. To complement the tree ― and the garden's overall look ― Hendershot also planted boxwood, 'Provence' lavender, Myrtus communis 'Compacta' (which he likes for its scent), and upright rosemary.

Picnic table

Thomas J. Story

Tuscan dining: The table

A cast-concrete table is the focal point of the outdoor dining area. "It used to belong to a friend, and I lusted after it for years before I bought it from her," designer Hendershot says.

The table has been such a hit with friends that he now takes orders to build similar models on-site in his area (they're too heavy to ship). The benches are weathered pine.

Candles and glasses in mixed styles and shades of green and amber look right at home in the casual garden. Miniature bottles of olive oil at each place setting double as placecard holders and gifts for guests.

Henderson's garden plan

Tuscan dining: The plan

An outdoor dining area and a conversation area make up Hendershot's casual, Tuscan-style patio.

There's also an outdoor bed, where Hendershot sleeps on balmy summer nights. A rock wall separates the living areas from a lower patio.

To give the garden understated elegance at night, Hendershot installed only a couple of landscape lights ― one at the base of the pepper tree, the other at the base of an oak.

They're directed up into the tree canopies, bathing the shapely branches in soft light. Candles and Moroccan lanterns provide the rest of the night lighting.

Dinner on the deck

Thomas J. Story

Dinner on the deck

Bob and Cary Woll's seaside-inspired backyard in Los Osos, California, is as inviting for two as it is for a crowd; the Wolls have entertained as many as two dozen guests, comfortably, on the deck.

Benches of ipe wood wrap around most of the deck (also made of ipe), providing generous seating.

Garden plants ― Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Silver Sheen', and Acacia cognata ― require little in the way of watering and upkeep. A tiny succulent in a square pot serves as a simple table centerpiece.

Concrete side table

Thomas J. Story

Create an outdoor bar

Outdoor chefs need a place to put their tools, and  bartenders must have a bar. The concrete side table beneath the pergola provides room for both while also functioning as a serving counter or buffet table.

Two square cabinets on casters, tucked underneath provide storage. They can also be rolled into action as serving tables or additional seating.

Concrete firepit

Thomas J. Story

Warming firepit

A raised concrete trough filled with recycled glass keeps the dining deck warm on cool nights.

When not in use, the gas firepit can be covered with a slab of ipe wood, which converts it into a coffee table.

Beach dining plan


Dinner on the deck: The plan

The plan shows how the kitchen courtyard, food counter, dining area, and seating work together to create a perfect party space.

Tips from these outdoor dining rooms:

Built-in countertops in or near the dining area are handy, but if you don't have them, portable carts or side tables will do the job well.

Situate your dinner table under a large tree, patio overhang, vine-covered arbor, pergola, or colorful market umbrella.

Use your garden to inspire tableware and decorating choices.

Ahead: More great ideas for dining outside

Dining Outdoors

Steven Gunther

Dramatic desert dining

For this project, landscape architect Steve Martino tried something new ― aluminum flashing.

He wove it through rebar uprights like a ribbon, creating a glamorous shimmering privacy wall near the outdoor dining area.

More:  See the rest of this dramatic desert garden

Hillside hideaway for dining

Christina Schmidhofer

Hillside dining hideaway

Problem: How do you create an outdoor dining area in a tight backyard against a steep uphill slope?

Solution: You dig it out. Armed with pick and shovel, interior designer Linda Applewhite and her husband, Marshall Miller, excavated a 15- by 20-foot semicircular area out of the hillside.

More:  How they did it

San Francisco Idea House

Thomas J. Story

Eco outdoor dining

A wall of blue tile from Heath Ceramics sets the mood for this San Francisco garden dining area, making the backyard feel more like a room.

More:  Eco design goes glam in San Francisco

Connecting inside to outside

Grey Crawford

Patio kitchen

Architect Colin Sarjeant opened up this house and connected it to a new outdoor dining space carved out of the front yard. It's where everyone wants to go.

See the kitchen before and after

Dream backyard

Norm Plate

Dream backyard

First-time homeowners Jordan and Leanne Rubin ― having only the scantiest experience in construction, design, and gardening ― decided to convert part of a parking pad into a courtyard for summer dining and entertaining.

More:  Build your dream backyard

Flying colors

Norm Plate

Flying colors

Colorful fabrics give this gazebo drama ― especially when lit from within.

Saris form the walls; canvas panels cover the top. The light feature is of steel tubing with fiberglass cones over 20-watt bulbs.

More:  How to create a magical outdoor dining room


Make use of natural cooling

Karyn R. Millet

Naturally cool

When the house gets too warm in summer, homeowners Gabe Gelbart and Paul Rhoadzhagen simply move outdoors to one of the several small open-air rooms they've created to expand their living space.

This alfresco dining area is just outside the kitchen; lit by the sun and cooled by the breeze, it consumes zero energy.

More:  How to easily create an eco-friendly landscape


Thomas J. Story   

Mediterranean patio

A cast limestone fountain with an antique finish adds a Mediterranean-inspired accent to this narrow front patio in Sacramento, Calif. The wall blocks the sight and sound of street traffic nearby.

More:  A narrow front patio becomes a handsome dining area

One smart house

Thomas J. Story

Smart outdoor dining

This Idea House wraps around a pool courtyard and climbs a hill to capture beautiful hill views.

Herbs and vegetables mix with ornamental plants in the front yard.

The two-story veranda off the master suite was inspired by a similar feature at playwright Eugene O'Neill's Tao House in nearby Danville, Calif.

More:  One smart house

Party umbrella

James Carrier

Party umbrella

Dress up a few lanterns with ribbon, add some sunny fabric, and your plain canvas umbrella is ready to party.

The decorations aren't permanent, so you can change the colors anytime you wish.

Get the how-to

Social backyard

Thomas J. Story

Social backyard

At 1,800 square feet, Chris and Eric Fenmore's home in Corona del Mar, California, can feel a little snug. So Chris designed a backyard that lets her move the party outdoors.

"Cooking and dining out here are pure pleasures," she says. "I feel like I’m in an elegant campground."

4. Take advantage of unused spaces

Thomas J. Story

Reinvented space

The Green family use their driveway as a second kitchen and dining room. There’s a barbecue, a sideboard, and a dining table and chairs.


Lisa Romerein

Cabana-style dining

To connect the building to the pool and provide a shelter for meals, the architect designed a shade trellis. "Before, it got brutally hot," homeowner Peter Maunu says. "Now we use the area a lot for dining or hanging out." 

More:  Cool Cabana Style

Flagstone furnishings

Steven A. Gunther

Flagstone furnishings

This custom-built dining table is right at home in this Southwestern courtyard.

The table is made from the same flagstone as the slender serving counter tucked against the wall.

East of Eden landscape

Thomas J. Story

Rustic dining room

This open-air dining room features reclaimed redwood siding salvaged from an abandoned water tower that once served a local stage coach station on California's central coast.

More:  Fabulous barn style by Monterey Bay

Floating Paradise

Thomas J. Story

Floating Paradise

A sunken dining area on Julie Higgs and Dave Stickler's Oregon houseboat is warm weather central. The table is a salvaged glass door atop ceramic planters.

The lushly planted deck often serves as settings for outdoor feasts replete with pitchers of Tahitian rum cocktails and platters of prawns. It all has the feel of a permanent vacation.

Enchanted gardens: Mission magic

Steven Gunther

Mission magic

The earthy oranges and Pacific blue tones of the San Jose tile plaque on the wall are repeated in paint, table surface, and flower colors. The painting by Nancy Kintisch was waterproofed for outdoors.

More:  See the rest of this magical garden 

Rear garden with sculptural table

Thomas J. Story

Art patio

In their rear garden, lined with olive trees, Jeff Reed and Jennifer Madden enjoy an alfresco meal at a sculptural table they created.

More:  See this artful house

Old-World kitchen garden

Steven Gunther

Old-World kitchen garden

Dining and gardening combine in this elegant potager, where herbs and vegetables grow near the table.

More:  See how this garden works 

Video: How to set an elegant outdoor table

Watch: How to set an elegant outdoor party table 

Go ahead ― bring your best stemware, china, and candles outside for an elegant garden dinner.

Video:  Sunset style editor Miranda Jones shows how

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