A Stylists Tips & Tricks for Setting a Beautiful Outdoor Dinner Table

Alfresco dining is one of my favorite things about summer. Whether you’re hosting friends and family or enjoying a quiet dinner a deux, taking time to set a pretty table is well worth a little extra effort.

Today I’ve invited my friend, interior designer and stylist Alli Bentz of TCB Style, to share her tips and tricks for setting a beautiful outdoor dinner table … without a lot of fuss.

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Woman standing on patio behind outdoor dining table set with green and white decor.

Snowberry doesn’t have a formal dining room, so most of our entertaining happens during the summer months when we can be outside. A couple of week ago I shared our green and white summer patio and that color palette carries over to our outdoor dining area. This year I want to set our table using things I already own and minimize new purchases. We’ll talk about the bamboo flatware I’m coveting later.

Outdoor table setting in green and white.

One thing I did buy is a set of cordless lamps. Cordless lamps are having a moment and they’re a fun alternative to candles. I also bought cute lamp shades that drop over the top of the lamps to zhush them up. I ordered two sets  … a raffia duo (also available in wicker) and a water hyacinth duo (available in wicker too). It’s impossible to decide between them and I’m keeping both.

After setting the foundation for my table, I called my friend Alli. She’s been helping me with several projects this year like putting finishing touches on our kitchen and primary bedroom and completing a couple of rooms where I’ve been stuck. She also came to the rescue to help me style rooms for professional photography (which is quite different than styling rooms for real life). I thought it would be a fun to invite Alli over and get her ideas for elevating my table setting with things I (mostly) already have. And addressing my biggest frustration, how to deal with the umbrella pole. Of course she had lots of great ideas as well as a few tips and tricks for hosting a dinner party and I’m excited to share them with you today.

Two women standing behind pretty outdoor table set for summer.

Outdoor Table Setting Tips & Tricks with TCB Style ~

Tablescape ~ choose a theme, color palette or simple concept and ‘shop your home’ for those items. Chances are you already have a great tablecloth, set of napkins (or multiple sets to mix and match), flatware, drinking glasses, and vases that will create a beautifully styled table. If you’re missing any of these components, keep reading.

Table Setting Essentials ~ tablecloth, placemats, napkins, plates (love melamine for alfresco dining!), drinking glasses, and flatware (not necessary, but I love a bamboo set!), lighting and vessels.

Green and white outdoor table setting.


Food Serving ~ serve the meal buffet style either indoors (to avoid pests), or set up an outdoor buffet areas nearby. An outdoor buffet can also service as a beverage station. Guests can serve themselves and return as needed, but the dining table remains free of excessive serving platters, bowls, and pitchers that are difficult to find a spot to set down. By doing this, you ensure that the lighting and florals are the table focal points and your dining space is not overly cluttered.

Drink Serving ~ batch drinks served in a pitcher is a great option. I love placing a pitcher on a tray alongside cocktail napkins or coasters, so that it can move along with the guests as the night goes on. It can start at the food and beverage table (along with a water pitcher or dispenser), and move to a fire pit area or other location throughout the evening.

Lighting & Florals ~ I love outdoor, cordless lamps for offering a soft glow without the hassle of candles. They are functional and add an elevated touch without feeling too formal. Something about them seems much nicer than flameless candles on a table. For florals, I love mixing small bud vases and two or three larger vessels depending on the size of your table. Adding a small bud vase to each place setting is a lovely touch and can serve as a placecard too. For florals, the key is to keep the floral arrangements low so that guests can see over them and enjoy unobstructed conversation. Trader Joe’s is my favorite source for a wide variety of affordable flowers and stems. They stock what’s in season, so your table will always look seasonally appropriate. Go first thing in the morning! I like to make sure that the flowers I choose are all in the same color palette or family. I usually look for one ‘thriller’ as the focal point. This should be something that is unique in its shape, color, or texture. Some of my go-tos are ranunculus (the butterfly variety is a fave!), peonies, hyacinth, French tulips, stock, and hydrangeas. Once the main flower is selected, I walk around and look for a filler that is a smaller floral in the same color tone or complementary color. I’m usually drawn to sea lavender, small aster, chamomile, or Veronica. Last, I usually add one more filler in the form of greenery. I love how adding in green stems like eucalyptus and magnolia leaves gives the floral arrangement a natural, collected look. If you find yourself in a floral department that is lacking, white hydrangeas and silver leaf eucalyptus won’t let you down.

Outdoor pacesetting with small vase of flowers on top of plate and napkin.

More Table Tips from TCB Style ~

Vessels = Versatility. Vases or cachepots that can hold floral arrangements or candles are great investments and they do double duty. You can use matching or mismatched vessels and alternate what’s inside along the length of the table. You can collect several in similar styles or colors and varying sizes. Anything goes.

Keep it neutral and natural. I’ve learned that if you stick to natural woven materials like jute, rattan, raffia and bamboo your options for mixing and matching are endless. Neutrals pair beautifully with any color palette or pattern and add a lovely contrast to a basic white tablescape.

Be extra and a little trendy. Tabletop lamps seem to be everywhere at the moment. They’re a trend that serves a purpose. I love that they add ambient lighting without the need to light a match or the hassle of candles, and they instantly create a vibe reminiscent of a sidewalk cafe or moody restaurant. Have fun with lamp colors and accessories like shades to mix it up. Likewise, if you’re like me and have always eyed bamboo flatware, it’s okay to give in and get a set! We live in a world where most trendy items are available at various price points so the world is your oyster.

Ignore the umbrella pole. I know, it’s right smack in the middle of the table but it serves a purpose so embrace it. It keeps your guests from squinting during daylight hours and offers a nice cover in the evenings. It’s okay that it’s there. I promise you that the eye will be drawn to the pretty elements on your table, like lamps, candles, florals and, of course, lively conversation. You may need to cut your tablecloth in the center and that’s also okay. Even if you need to use the tablecloth later, without the pole, you’ll likely have something in the center of the table that covers it.

Summer patio table set for dinner with umbrella in center.

My takeaways ~

  • Keep it simple and don’t overthink.
  • Use what you already have and mix and match.
  • Embrace imperfection … like that darned umbrella pole.

Woman standing behind outdoor dinner table.


A few my own ‘effortless’ entertaining tips ~

Create a basic table setting and use as your base all season. I’m not an effortless hostess so I’m all about anything that makes entertaining easy and low stress. Instead of reinventing the wheel for each summer dinner, I create a basic setting and stick with it throughout the season. Yes, I change things up with flowers, or napkin colors … little things. But the basic table stays the same which leaves me more time to stress over the menu and what I’m going to wear.

Deter pests. When food comes out so do bugs. A couple of summers ago we were plagued with Yellowjackets. We tried every trick in the book (on the internet) to deter them. Turns out the most effective method is very simple … place a hot dog on a skewer and lay it over a shallow dish filled with warm, soapy water. Obviously this needs to be placed out of sight … and it works! Bug repellent table fans are also effective, but they’re not pretty and require lots of open space around them. They can be useful on an outdoor buffet table and come in different colors and heights. Screened food domes are also an option for outdoor buffets. I prefer to keep my food service buffet inside and avoid this issue altogether.


Extra table seating. A folding banquet table is one of the smartest purchases for entertaining. Indoors and out. Our outdoor table seats 6-8. For larger groups the 8′ folding banquet table can accommodate another 8-10. More than that, and it’s time to rent tables or pivot to a cocktail and heavy hors d’oeuvre situation. I have a fitted white drape for the table and place a tablecloth or runner over that.

Rentals. If you’re having a larger group and don’t have enough of something, mix and match as Alli suggests. Also, don’t hesitate to rent the items you need. Table linens, dishes, flatware, glassware … anything and everything table related is easy to rent and doesn’t need to be expensive. If it’s not an overly large gathering, pick up and return the items yourself to avoid delivery fees. This is a fun way to experiment with different colors and themes without making a big investment in pieces you may not use again.

Good vibes. A good play list is everything. We have a Sonos system throughout the house and patio and I search for playlists by music genres. Yacht Rock’s been my go-to for several summers and if it ain’t broke. In addition to good music, good (flattering) lighting is so important. Cafe lights strung overhead and lanterns scattered about are magical additions to lamps or candles on the table. Nothing ruins a good vibe like being to cold so if it gets chilly in the evening toss throw blankets over the backs of guest chairs and around our patio seating.


And Rule No. 1 – My number one rule for getting a dinner or party off to a great start is to get a drink into guests hands ASAP upon arrival. It can be as simple as a tray of bubbles ready to go at the door.  Or, as Allie suggests, pitchers (or dispensers) of serve-yourself batch cocktails. And of course have plenty of water – flat and sparkling – on hand.

Outdoor patio table setting with umbrella overhead.

Table Sources ~

I set my table with this block print tablecloth, and yes I cut a hole in the center to accommodate the umbrella. I used these jute placemats and my everyday Aspen dinner plates. Melamine plates are wonderful for outdoor dining, but I don’t have a set. I like these from Ballard Designs. I only have four light green napkins, this set in seafood is very close, so I mixed and matched with a darker green at the table ends. My short tumblers are from Elise Green, you can find similar here and here. Of course, I added my favorite Heartland wine goblets to the table before dinner. Don’t hesitate to mix things up with glassware … wine glasses as water glasses, water glasses as wine glasses, etc. I borrowed Alli’s set of faux-bamboo flatware that she found at Marshalls, you can find the same set here, here and here. Zafferano is the gold standard in cordless table lamps, but I purchased this less expensive set (sold in a pair) on Amazon topped with these raffia shades. My woven, wrapped vases were a gift, these are similar.

Shop my table ~


Bamboo flatware is on my wish-list this year. There are so many options at varying price points. Bamboo is on trend right now, but really, isn’t it timeless? Perhaps investing in a good set has merit. Here are a few that I’m eyeing … Serena & Lily, also offered in a darker bamboo which I kind of like.  William Sonoma’s lighter, natural set is beautiful too. Bunny Williams at Ballard Design’s is a gorgeous bamboo tortoise and the price is very good right now. Tuckernuck sells this Juliska set, it’s pricey but stunning. Juliska’s individual pieces can be found on Replacements, Ltd.


Close up of green and white outdoor table setting.


Additional Sources ~

  • Teak dining table, chairs and umbrella from Terra Outdoor Living.
  • Boxwood planters from Giannini Garden Ornaments.
  • I may not be an effortless entertainer, but I can look like one in my organic cotton gauze caftan.


Divider graphic.

So there you have it, tips and tricks for a beautiful outdoor table setting from TCB Style.

Outdoor Dining tips & tricks pin collage.

For more design and styling ideas, follow Alli on Instagram and visit her at TCB Style & Design.

Today’s beautiful images by Jessica Brydson Photography.

If you’d like to receive my posts as soon as they’re published, sign up here and they’ll be delivered straight to your inbox. That includes Weekend Meanderings on Saturday’s and posts like this one a couple of times a month.

Cheers from Snowberry!

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  • I really enjoyed this post. Having moved from Southern California to Texas, eating alfresco is way more difficult. Where the bugs think nothing of having you for dinner. But this post brought back great memories of many dinner parties we held. Thank you.

    • Oh my gosh, Jayne … bugs are the worst and it’s hard to avoid them. Southern California is the best climate for outdoor dining … and year round! Happy summer to you! xo

  • I really enjoyed reading this post. I love to entertain and am planning several dinners this month. Thank you for giving us permission to cut that hole in the table cloth! I have been searching for some affordable porcelain dinnerware and hadn’t thought of Crate & Barrel. Your ideas and selections are always appreciated!

    • Good morning, Harriet! Permission granted! It was hard the first time I snipped the umbrella pole hole but now I don’t give it a second thought. Hope you find everything you need at Crate & Barrel and happy entertaining! xo

  • Juliet! This is a post to bookmark! So many beautiful tips and ideas to host an outdoor or indoor gathering.
    I think you make everything look effortless!

  • Great tips, Juliet! Your outdoor table and yard is so lovely, and I don’t think I’ve seen the view of the pretty French doors leading to patio before. Yep, I think I will have to take the plunge and cut a hole for my round tablecloth. Now, if I could just eliminate those pesky mosquitoes . Xo

  • Hi Juliet! So many great ideas! Your table looks beautiful! I love the idea of the little rechargeable lamps with the shade covers! I might have to order myself both. And yes, I have been wanting bamboo flatware for years. It is indeed a classic. But the nice stuff is pricey…

    • Molly … maybe you’ll find a reasonably priced set of bamboo flatware on one of your vintage shopping adventures?! I’m always on the lookout. xo

  • Hi Juliet,
    Your table looks beautiful, but again you have the vision exactly what you want the vibe to be. You definitely are the Martha Stewart of Orinda. I told her to move over in the Orinda community. You are in charge.
    Love your million dollar smile at the table. You look so pretty along with everything you created.
    Five star ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️

  • Hi Juliet,
    Hw fun to have TCB style give you tips. What a great post that I need to bookmark and save. So many smart ideas to make outdoor entertaining easier. I did splurge and buy myself the bamboo flatware set before Easter. I bought a set of four and then 2 additional single ones. I have wanted them for years and finally pulled the trigger. I also have the black bamboo from Homegoods that look fine, but won’t last, but works.

    YouR green aesthetic is SO pretty. How great you found the lamp to match! I think I need to order them. I wonder what the difference is between those and the Zafferno ones? I am thinking they might be cute on the kitchen counter or bar at night for ambient lighting.
    Thanks for the inspiration just in time for summer! xo

    • Kim, I think the Zafferno ones come in two heights … and the smaller 12″ could be perfect in the kitchen. I’m not sure the difference with the Zafferno … but the price for one is twice the price of my set of two. Anyway, I’m sure the Z’s are better quality, but mine are just fine and so far working beautifully. Love them! How fun you took the plunge with good bamboo. You’re going to be so happy every time to set the table. I really want to … too! xo

  • I love every detail in your beautiful outdoor table setting! I think I’m going to jump on the cordless lamp trend, too. Great tips in this post!

    • Erin, I’m really loving the lamps as alternatives to candles. We seem to always have a light breeze in the evenings and even when I protect our candles with hurricanes they still blow out. I just have to remind myself to keep the lamps charged. Nothing worse then finding battery is drained before dinner. Ha! xo

  • Wonderful ideas for elegant (and practical) outdoor dining — thank you, Juliet. I love your woven placemats and the LED lamps with woven shades is a great addition.

    Often, I run short of time and barely manage to look presentable after cooking, so your tips are welcome!

  • Great post as always!
    Love the rechargeable table lights, I first ran into the really small lamp Zafferano ones at Evvia in Palo Alto and so far have bought a few different pairs on Amazon, with itty bitty lamps and some that are similar to the ones you have. I’m going to get the wicker lamps to add some texture, great links!
    Also, I’ve cut the hole on some of my tablecloths. For another look I buy two matching runners and run them on either side of the table and they look great, too.
    Going to splurge on the nice bamboo placesettings because I’m a dish + tablescape “hoarder”, I can’t help myself.
    Happy summer!

    • Good for you, Vallette! I’m still hesitating and haven’t pulled the trigger, but I want to. Two runners is a great idea! xo

  • Hi, I’m Juliet … welcome to Make Mine a Spritzer where we talk about all things home décor, classic style and more! I’m so happy you’re here!

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