Posted by Dan O'Malley in Home Design

Wanting to take advantage of this summer heat by hosting your friends and family outdoors? Say no more! We’re here to give you some tips, tricks, and inspiration for al fresco dining at home!

Outdoor Dining Table Options

The base of your perfect outdoor dining setup is going to be your table.

The most popular options will of course be fold-out tables and picnic tables. Both options are functional, easy, and can be customized for your event.

A fold-out table will most likely be easier to transport, set up and break down, and clean; however, you may need to work some extra magic to make it look beautiful and cohesive with the rest of your outdoor space.

A picnic table will require less design work, as it already has its own character with the wooden top and legs. However, if you don’t already own a picnic table, it may be difficult to transport one to your space.

Pro Tip: Identifying a theme or color scheme you want to stick with for your event will make your table search much easier. Outdoor BBQs are perfect for a picnic table. More formal meals with place settings and a tablecloth are perfect for a fold-out table.

Alternative: Consider using a traditional indoor table for your al fresco dining. An old wooden table will add character and sentimental value to your outdoor event.

Dining Linens for Al Fresco Entertaining

Linens are the best place to start when designing your table space.

If you’re sticking to a color scheme, choose linens that fall within the color wheel of that theme. Different shades of the same color will bring cohesive character to the table.

You could use one big tablecloth or multiple, smaller pieces of linen to cover the table.

Pro Tip: Mix and match different textures of linens to bring dimension and warmth to the table.

Alternative: Opt for one large table runner for a cleaner, more streamlined look.

Colorful Al Fresco Dining Setup

Plates, Glassware, and Utensils for Al Fresco Dining

The next layer to your table setup is comprised of your plates, glassware, and eating utensils.

If your event is more casual, you may opt for crystal-look plastic or shatterproof glass plates.

For a more elevated dining space, you may choose to use stoneware plates and bowls—a durable and beautiful alternative to your regular indoor plates and bowls.

Glassware can we as simple or as ornate as you want it to be! If you want your glasses to fade into the rest of the space, consider using clear glass or plastic drinkware. If you want your glassware to be a focal point, consider using brightly colored glasses or even textured glasses.

Utensils are often forgotten about when planning the perfect table setting. Consider using matte black utensils for a more modern vibe.

Classic stainless steel utensils will match almost any table setting and will typically be easier to place as most homes have at least one set on-hand (just make sure they don’t get thrown out with the trash after the meal!).

Pro Tip: Use a combination of different sized plates, bowls, and glassware to create more depth.

Alternative: You can always rely on paper plates and plastic cups and utensils for quick and easy cleanup!

Menu Choices for Outdoor Dinner Parties

Arguably the most important part of eating al fresco is the food! Consider the weather, age group of your guests, and whether you want a family-style setup or a single-plate setup.

If it’s a bit cooler outside, you may opt for having part of the meal be a warm soup or hot appetizer.

If you’re having kiddos over, consider having a variety of finger foods and foods without too many complex flavors. Family-style meals are great for large groups and call for easy cleanup. And don’t forget dessert!

Pro Tip: Incorporate seasonal flavors and spices based on the time of year your dinner party is taking place to create the most memorable outdoor event.

Alternative: A failsafe way to ensure the food will match your vibe and taste great is to hire a caterer. It’ll take the task of cooking off your hands and leave you with more time for decorating, setup, and mingling!

Al Fresco Snacks

Centerpieces That Can Withstand Outside Elements

An optional component to the perfect al fresco dining set up is table centerpieces.

Flowers make for a great centerpiece; they add color, texture, and fragrance to the table.

Another great centerpiece idea is candles. You can incorporate different scents, sizes, and candle holders to completely customize the look of your centerpiece.

Pro Tip: If you’re opting for flowers or candles, use seasonal choices to amplify the ambiance of your dining setup.

Alternative: Photos are a great alternative for centerpieces. If your dinner al fresco is for a birthday, consider using photos with the birthday girl/boy!

We hope these tips and tricks have given you the inspiration you need to make your perfect al fresco dining setup!

Take advantage of the beautiful weather, quality time with family and friends, and relax into your perfectly designed outdoor space.

We’d love to see your at home outdoor dining tables! Share your al fresco pictures on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter and tag us @mihomes!


Dan O'Malley
Dan O'Malley


Dan O’Malley is the Vice President of Product Development for M/I Homes.With over 30 years of expertise in residential architecture and design, Dan has been overseeing the product needs of the company's 16 divisions located throughout the Midwest, Southeast, Nashville and Texas for the past 12 years. Before joining M/I Homes, he was a partner in the Chicago office of BSB Design, a national residential architectural firm, for 14 years. Dan is an expert in all aspects of single-family and multifamily design and has received several awards for his successful projects. He is also a popular speaker at various industry events, including the International Builder’s Show, Midwest Builder’s Show, and Multi-Housing World.

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