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Ambiance Al Fresco: 8 Tips to Set the Perfect Mood in Your Outdoor Dining Space

If there’s one thing diners love, it’s a pleasant outdoor dining experience — especially in the summertime. Of course, it’s up to restaurant owners to create the ultimate al fresco ambiance to appease patrons. 

However, setting the right mood takes some effort. You want your restaurant’s patio area to fit the day’s vibe, from bustling luncheons during the work week to cozy dinners under the stars.

Regardless of the season, restaurateurs can ensure outdoor dining is an option, even when the temperature drops. These eight tips can help you create an outdoor dining space that has customers returning for more.

String Lights

Fewer outdoor dining features are as cozy and romantic as string lights. Hanging string lights across your patio area adds just enough lighting for customers to read the menu, see each other and eat their meals comfortably.

If you put the lights on a dimmer, you can further control how harsh they are on the eyes. For instance, you should opt for a softer glow that fits the mood you’re trying to portray.

Outdoor Heating Elements

According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2021 State of the Restaurant Industry report, diners are willing to sit outside with temperatures as low as 60.5° Fahrenheit before moving indoors. Yet, depending on your restaurant’s location, you might offer year-round outdoor seating with heating elements.

An outdoor space heater, fireplace or firetop table could allow customers to brave cooler temperatures. Some restaurants have also been able to assemble individual domes for private outdoor dining. Most pods can fit between two and 10 people, include heating mechanisms for chilly nights, and are made from transparent glass or plastic for guests to still look out at their surroundings.

Comfortable Seating

Patio furniture can be uncomfortable compared to tables and chairs inside the restaurant. Fortunately, you can add plush pillows and seat cushions to outdoor dining spaces. You can even soften up a bench with cushions.

Ensuring customers are comfortable sitting outside for each course is essential to the overall dining experience. Some meals last about an hour — a long time to sit on anything but soft seating.

Greenery and Flower Boxes

Decorate your restaurant’s patio dining area with plants and flowers. Plants can offer privacy from other tables or passersby on the street with the right arrangement. You can also integrate color into the space with lush flower boxes.

One idea may be to include fresh herbs for the chefs to use in cooking and mixing drinks. An assortment of spices is perfect for making aromatic pestos for various dishes. Some are also natural bug repellents — many insects dislike basil, rosemary and lemon balm — and will infuse the outdoor dining area space with a beautiful, clean fragrance.


Few things are worse than having to swat flying insects while trying to eat. Unfortunately, water that sits for seven days is the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. Controlling puddles is essential, and proper drainage and hardscaping can help.

You can hide unsightly drain mechanisms with gravel covering or integrate aesthetically pleasing drainage systems into any patio. Some look like water features or are hidden underground channels. Hardscaped outdoor seating areas also offer greater floor stability for guests to walk on, such as planks with slight crevices to allow water to flow freely.

Intimate Arbor

A pergola or arbor delivers an intimate dining experience for every meal. You might even hang your string lighting from the structure. Whereas warming features will heat the space if the weather turns chilly, an arbor can keep customers cool during the midday heat.

Consider including a natural roof using ivy and other climbing plants to protect guests from the beating sun or a slight drizzle. Although these outdoor structures still allow for open-air dining, they can create greater comfort and set the perfect mood for a romantic evening.

Colorful Dinnerware

Dining al fresco allows for something more laid back than indoor dining. As such, consider serving customers’ meals and drinks on other dinnerware than what you use inside the establishment.

Select something patterned and colorful for your outdoor diners, ensuring a fun and casual mood. Unique dinnerware could also create two distinct dining spaces for different experiences, depending on what patrons want.

Organized Layout

Like indoor seating, you should focus on a safe seating arrangement that makes sense for the space. Walking outside could be more dangerous if the ground is uneven. You also want to avoid overcrowding the patio to squeeze in as many tables as possible.

Only include as many tables as possible before it’s too challenging to move around, meaning you should create a clear path for patrons to get in and out of the outdoor dining area without injury. Some separation between tables is also nice to ensure privacy among diners.

Customers Enjoy a Beautiful Outdoor Dining Experience

Creating a stunning and cozy outdoor atmosphere for diners should be every restaurateur’s top priority. Whether you’re looking to improve temperature control or set the mood with lighting features, there are numerous ways to appeal to customers with the perfect al fresco experience.

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