Outdoor dining suits the Australian summer perfectly. Whether it’s brunch listening to birdsong or firing up the barbie for a fry-up at night, it’s part of our cultural consciousness to take a meal under the sky.
Outdoor dining works just as well for a tiny suburban backyard or a sprawling country pasture with a little bit of work. And with our weather, you can do it all year round with the right equipment.
A good outdoor dining space needs a few basic structural things to work: good lighting, protection from the elements, and a reason to be outside. All of these sound simple enough, but there’s hidden complexity to them, especially the latter.
From the French ‘reason for being’. A dining area placed outdoors has to have a reason to exist, rather than just being there for the sake of it. Simply put, you have to evoke some kind of atmosphere, feeling, or just have a stunning design in order to justify swapping the indoors for the outdoors. Ask yourself the following questions:
Think about the primary reason you’re going to be eating outside. Are you going to be using this place to spend time with family? Are you building a place to entertain dinner-guests? Is it a solitary retreat where you can get away from it all? All of these things will influence how you construct your outdoor dining area.
Are you searching for a small, intimate space to talk to people, or are you trying to get the people out into nature to enjoy their surroundings while they eat?
Am I creating this as an extension to the home, or is it a completely separate area?
Am I going to be doing the cooking outside, or ferrying food from the kitchen outdoors?
Lighting is for mood and ambiance as well as practicality. If you’re expecting to use your new dining space to entertain or host dinner parties, you might want to invest some time into thinking how to best create a magical atmosphere with lighting.
Contrast the picture above and below. The above picture uses overhead lighting combined with illumination against the feature wall, and topped off with some strategically placed lighting in the garden bed to illustrate the focal points of the area.
Conversely, the bottom picture plays with the natural colours of the area to give off a more party-like ambiance. The dining area is lit by three separate things: the blue of the pool is distorted into a contrasting light and dark which reflects onto the dining area, the flowerbed immediately next to it has a bright white light, which is filtered through the greenery to become yellow, and finally there are overhead lights to provide basic illumination.
One alternative you can try, if you’re interested in a more cozy environment, is to skip the lights entirely and light your meal with candles. Just make sure it’s not too windy before you start.
Both examples use lighting in drastically different ways, but the aim is the same: create an atmosphere and provoke an emotional response.
Furniture and coverings
Consider trialling out natural materials such as stone or wood for your furnishings. Done right, they look elegant as well as fitting, and are also extremely weather resistant.
You’ll need some kind of coverage in case of rain, but also remember to provide some kind of shelter for your food and drinks in case of rain. The last thing you want is a dinner party ruined due to a gust of wind and some wine on a dress.
Consider a rounded table. Intimacy is the name of the game here, and a less formal sitting area might just call for a less formal seating arrangement. In that same vein, who says you need conventional chairs? Experiment a little with what suits your household; it’s your dining area, after all.
Metallic surfaces suit a barbie styled area, but they can be very hot in the sun. Remember to choose your material types according to the environment! Stone, for example, is very cooling in hot months, while metal can be hot to the touch.
Remember to leave room for any additional cooking things you want to keep outside! Installing a barbeque pit can completely change the way a backyard sausage sizzle functions, and space for a small fridge can save you interrupting your relaxation time to go back inside for another cold one.
If you’re living anywhere where it gets a little chilly in winter months, consider installing outdoor heating – a simple standing burner or patio heater will do. The former is more efficient while the latter provides a shade of ambience to the space as well.