I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love eating outdoors. Whether it’s on a picnic, at the campsite, or just on the patio of my own backyard it’s so nice to eat in the sunshine. But since you’re outside, having the best outdoor dinnerware makes the experience that much better.
Best Outdoor Dinnerware
While you can use your regular dishes outside, it’s probably not a good idea. Outdoor dinnerware is made to withstand bumps and chips. It’s usually made of materials that can’t be easily broken, which is good when you’re outside.
Typically, outdoor dining areas aren’t very glass-friendly. For example, my patio table is made out of metal – and most people I know either have metal or glass. Sometimes you can eat a wooden picnic table, but they’re not commonly in people’s backyards.
The other problem that comes up when eating outside is that you’re not always right outside your house. If you have to transport your dishes to another location you want something that isn’t going to break on the way there.
What is Outdoor Dinnerware Made From?
You can actually get this stuff in quite a variety of materials now. First of all, there’s the classic disposable dishes that can be made from styrofoam, plastic, bamboo, paper, and other natural or recyclable materials.
The most common material for reusable dishes is melamine or acrylic. They’re a hard plastic that often looks pretty similar to ceramic dishes. You can’t put this type of plastic in the microwave, but usually it’s dishwasher safe.
Finally, there are unbreakable dishes made from other materials like bamboo, wheat straw, and different types of plastics like polypropylene (the type of plastic commonly used in Tupperware).
Best for Easy Clean Up – Disposable Plastic Dinnerware
Although it’s not the most environmentally friendly option, plastic disposable dinnerware is super convenient when you’re entertaining a large group. It’s less expensive than buying enough dishes for everyone, and clean up happens in minutes, not hours.
Personally, if I’m hosting an outdoor dinner party or brunch I want to have high quality dishes – even if they’re disposable. For that kind of event I’d choose plastic, like this set, over paper dishes. And styrofoam is never a good idea, even if they’re cheap.
- Enough to create full place settings for 30 people including cutlery and napkins
- Inexpensive to serve a large group
- Easy to clean up
- Not reusable
- Negative environmental impact
- Disposable dishes aren’t quite as sturdy as reusable ones
Best Compostable Outdoor Dishes – Wheat Straw Dinnerware
Wheat straw is a relatively new invention that creates a type of plastic out of natural wheat straw fibres. The result is something that’s super durable, hard to break, and both dishwasher and freezer safe.
What I really like about wheat straw dishes is how nice they look. If you want a more casual or trendy outdoor dinnerware table setting this set works great. Plus it’s available in multiple colours to choose from.
When it’s life is done, you can actually compost it in your home compost. It takes about 3-6 months to break down, rather than up to 1000 years for typical plastics.
- Compostable and environmentally friendly
- Wheat straw dishes are nice looking and have a neat texture
- Come in a variety of colour options
- Designs are very plain
- Relatively costly compared to other plastics
- Set doesn’t include extras, like cups
Best For the Environment – Bamboo Fiber Reusable Dinnerware Set
Bamboo is a great, lightweight, highly renewable material that’s getting used more and more nowadays. To create this dinnerware set, they use natural materials like bamboo fibre, wood fiber, and corn powder. They’re coated in resin for durability, but are still BPA free.
I like that they aren’t just a bit more eco-friendly than other materials, they also look super trendy. Plus being made from bamboo means they’re not going to break as easily as glass or ceramic.
- Made from natural materials
- Good for hot or cold foods
- Set includes cups, large and small plates, and bowls
- Bamboo fibre materials tend to be more fragile than plastic
- Not the most affordable option
- You still have some unnatural materials in the production because solid bamboo isn’t durable enough for dishes on its own
Best for Camping – Classic Enamelware
These enamelware dishes are going to be good anywhere you’re eating outside, but you can’t argue with them being the classic choice for the campsite. They’re made of metal so you don’t have to worry about them breaking or scuffing during transportation.
Enamelware is good for hot and cold foods, and can be put in the dishwasher. It’s not microwave safe (since it’s metal), but that shouldn’t be an issue when eating outside anyway.
The white set is actually really pretty if you’re going for a vintage style or farmhouse theme with your outdoor dining.
- Very sturdy and virtually indestructible
- Classic design/look
- Complete set is perfect for all kinds of outdoor eating, especially camping
- Less formal than other outdoor dinnerware
- Plates are odd sizes (large platters are bigger than a standard dinner plate so there’s no small side plates)
- Mugs instead of cups, which may not be ideal depending on what kind of outdoor dining you’re doing
Best Overall Outdoor Dinnerware – Melamine Outdoor Dinnerware Set
Melamine is great because it’s super durable and available in so many different styles, shapes, and sizes. It’s been around for over 100 years, but became more popular in the 60s and 70s because of how break-resistant it is.
Most of the time, melamine dishes bounce when dropped. You really have to work at it to get one to crack! That probably explains why you can still find vintage melamine dishes (I have a set that was given to me!) at yard sales and auctions.
What I really like about modern melamine, though, is you can find so many nice designs on the dishes. You don’t need to settle for something boring for your outdoor servingware!
- Very durable; break resistant, doesn’t fade, and lasts a long time
- Available in a large variety of styles, colours, and designs to fit your needs
- Dishwasher safe
- This set doesn’t include drinkware, so you’ll have to get that separately
- Can scratch if you use a sharp knife on it
- Melamine dishes can’t got in the microwave
Best for Kids – Plastic Dinnerware set
While melamine is quite nice and hard to break, kids still manage to crack it sometimes. Especially when eating (or drinking) outside. For younger kids or the more rambunctious kind, straight up plastic dinnerware is still the best.
This set has everything kids need and is in child-friendly sizes, perfect for your backyard, a camping trip, or setting the kids table up at a BBQ. Plastic tends to be very durable and has a bit of give to it so there’s less chances of it cracking when dropped.
- Super durable, which is great for kids
- Kid friendly sizes on the dishes
- Comes with everything you need – plus it’s a big set!
- Small dishes aren’t the right size for older kids or adults
- Cups are pretty small so they’ll need to be refilled often
- Plastic plates can scratch up if you use a sharp knife on them
Best Outdoor Dinnerware – Final Thoughts
Choosing the best outdoor dinnerware is going to depend on what your budget and needs are.
There are options that serve a large crowd like the disposable set, environmentally friendly options like the compostable dishes and the bamboo set, your classic enamelware camping dishes, and of course plastic and melamine dinnerware sets for kids and adults.
My preference is the enamel dishes, mainly because of how well they balance durability with style. I own a set that looks like stoneware so convincing people feel the need to tap them to make sure they’re plastic!
They work great on metal or glass surfaces, so you don’t need to worry about anything cracking or chipping while eating a meal outside. You can usually find melamine serving dishes, bowls, and glasses to create a whole outdoor table setting, too!
Melamine dishes are really good for your everyday outdoor dining. If eating on the patio is your thing, I definitely recommend picking up a set or two. After dinner clean up is still easy; most are dishwasher safe.
If you have kids, though, I’d recommend still supervising them with melamine dishes or grabbing a plastic set. Although they are durable, melamine is a hard plastic that can still shatter, especially if dropped on hard surfaces like concrete.
Of course, all the best outdoor dinnerware on this list are going to work great outside. Each of these materials is designed to be more durable than ceramic, and most are easy to clean too.