5 Tips for Planning the Perfect Outside Dining Space


The dining terrace is without question the most important part of any garden.  It is the link between the artificial environment of the house and the biological environment of the garden. You start and finish your journey round the garden and its the area on which most outside activity takes place.

If the terrace doesn’t work the rest of the garden won’t either!

1) Position

Keep the dining area close to where the food is prepared. You don’t want to have to walk miles with plates and cutlery let alone freshly prepared food.  So for this reason, it is most likely going to be next to the house.  However in is some warmer climates I have built “summer kitchens” which are away from the main home, usually next to the swimming pool or tennis court.  These are fully fitted outside kitchens complete with fridge stove and can be undercover with an adjoining dining area.

Electrolux-outdoor-kitchen2  Electrolux-outdoor-kitchen3

2) Scale

Scale is vital in all design but even more so when it come to the dinning area.  the first thing you have to remember is that outside furniture is usually significantly larger, therefore you will need a much larger outdoor space than you would if you were planning the same space indoors.   The other major area of importance is circulation space.  i.e. the area around the perimeter of the table for people to move, serve food or pull their chairs out when leaving the table. Unlike interior spaces where people are prepared to squeeze behind chairs to enter or exit, outside you need at least 1m (3ft) behind the chairs to comfortable accommodate pedestrian flow.


3) Material & Detail

For obvious reasons any surfacing material needs to be hard wearing if the  dining space is to be a permanent fixture. Stone, and concrete, make perfect paving materials while decking works well provided it is sufficiently supported by large enough joints to avoid any bounce.  Because you and your guests will spend so much time in this one position, if budgets and site permit, you can also spend more time and money here on paving detailing,  as it will be more likely to be appreciated.

The exception to the rule is the temporary dining area, which may only be used once then moved.  These are placed on lawns or under trees for their view or their romantic atmosphere


4) Aspect

There is something quite special about eating next to water, be it a swimming pool, pond or even the Ocean, water adds a magical quality to the dining space.  The only proviso would be to double the circulation space to 2m (6ft) as sitting to close to water can give guests an uncomfortable feel.

If you can’t provide water then planting is the next best thing.  Surround the dining area with soft planting that provides a cocooning feel without blocking the views.  Grasses and translucent perennial planting is perfect for this as it created just enough screening without feeling claustrophobic.


5) Privacy & Screening

In urban areas, privacy when eating can be difficult to achieve.  In these circumstances an overhead arbour or pergola comes into its own.  Not only do they provide screening, but also create a human scale to the outside space, so important in making people feel comfortable. 

The Arbour doesn’t have to be very heavy to give the subliminal feeling of a roof, but at the same time can control light quality (depending on the choice of climber) and provide shade, as fewer of us now enjoy eating, unprotected from the damaging effects of the sun.


Duncan Heather is Director and principal of the Oxford college of Garden Design which runs an Online diploma course and 4 week online short courses in all aspects of gardening