How To Cover an Outdoor Eating Area - Pergola, Lean-to or Canopy?

The following outdoor eating area suggestions will give you food for thought no matter what the weather and have you immediately planning how you can build your own covered dining area!

So, what is the first step in deciding how to build your outdoor eating area cover? Well, creating a plan alongside your budget is the first step in guaranteeing your outdoor eating area is a success.

Whether you are hosting a one-off party or looking to add value to your property there are many options to explore and consider. The main benefit of installing a covered outside dining area is it allows you to use the space for more months of the year, rather than just the summertime.

The top five things to consider when designing your outdoor eating area are:

  1. The Style of Your Home
  2. Your Budget
  3. Your Fit out Requirements (e.g. Does it need to include space for a table or corner for a fireplace?)
  4. Size and Scale
  5. Where the sun faces at which time of day

The following six outdoor covered dining area ideas will give you excellent inspiration and will most definitely up your outdoor dining game to impress your guests. No matter the type of cover you choose, it is easy to create your perfect dining area with comfy outdoor garden furniture and warm lights and décor for a homely atmosphere.

Wanting a quick answer? Click to skip to the best covered outdoor dining area options based on budget summary.

Temporary Polythene Cover

When it comes to an outdoor eating area a temporary polyene cover is a low-cost option. It goes without saying you get what you pay for and for that reason it is very unlikely to last longer than one or two events.

This option can look a bit unprofessional depending on the occasion and doesn't have that wow factor that people expect from an outdoor eating area but there aren’t many cheaper options for creating a rain cover!

Depending on what you plan to use your outdoor space for, it can be a good option to add a polythene rain cover to protect any food and drink you may serve and save your guests from any unexpected rain showers!

A polythene sheet cover is a quick and easy-to-install outdoor shelter option if you are looking for a temporary fix. For a medium or long-term installation then it is worth considering the more durable options.

Lightweight Gazebo

Garden Gazebos are a great option that allow you to create a temporary outdoor eating area on a relatively low budget and can be installed quickly. They are perfect for hosting gatherings, dinner parties, or simply as a pop-up shelter for a hot tub or BBQ.

Lightweight gazebos are designed to be fairly easy to install with most having a click-together or pop-up design; it is worth pointing out that getting another person to help put a gazebo up and down can help a lot! They are low maintenance and fairly simple to look after. Cleaning a gazebo is done by using a garden hose or detergent. One disadvantage of a lightweight gazebo is that stains can be hard to remove and they are increasingly hard to keep clean the older they are.

Gazebos for gardens are perfect for moving around to suit the layout of your garden. When setting it up it's always a good idea to avoid placing close to any plants and trees. A lightweight gazebo should never be left up for any longer than necessary as they are very vulnerable to wind and storm damage.

Gazebos for gardens do look fantastic and can add a good impression to any social occasion especially when you have a low budget; a good short-term option.

Garden Pergola

One of the most common roof builds is a wooden pergola roof structure as it is cost-efficient to create and requires basic DIY skills to install. This is especially the case when installing with corrugated roofing sheets.

Popular pergola uses include hot tub pergola roofs, patio pergola roofs, and decking pergola roofs.

Timber pergolas have a variety of purposes, whether you're looking to create an intimate and classy outdoor dining area for family and guests to enjoy or create a stunning feature for climbing plants there are multiple styles you can use.

One of the benefits of building a garden pergola is it can be bought as a kit. There are two main pergola styles you can choose from: either a freestanding or lean-to pergola. A lean-to pergola is used where your dining area is against the side of your house and the roof can be built off the wall or “leant” against the wall. A free-standing structure is simply quite open on all sides and can be built anywhere in your garden.

Timber Pergola kits  don't come with a roof however can be easily fitted with a Clear Polycarbonate sheet roof to give a similar open-air dining experience but protection from the rain! Choosing to create a garden pergola with a roof means no matter what the weather you can enjoy hosting family gatherings or simply enjoying a drink next to the fire pit. Plus you don't have to pack everything up due to an unexpected weather change!

A garden pergola with a roof can last 15 plus years making them a great long-lasting option for any budget! A Pergola provides great cost-effectiveness and will save you money by outliving many of the other lightweight and temporary options.

You can easily add a waterproof roof on top of any style of pergola you choose. Clear roof options such as Multiwall Polycarbonate, Solid Clear Polycarbonate, or Corrugated sheets are most popular due to the transparent plastic providing you protection from weather elements, rain, heat, and wind, without compromising on the brightness and outdoor feel!

Two other plastic roof tint options to consider are:

Opal Pergola Roof – Opal is a milky white tint polycarbonate sheet which reduces heat build-up and creates a nice cool glow and bright overall appearance. A great option for a modern, clean or minimalist style.

Bronze Pergola Roof – Bronze is a grey with a slight brown tinted sheet which provide shading from glare and a popular aesthetic appearance. Being a darker colour, choosing Bronze tint Axiome® will increase heat absorption creating a warmer inside temperature when located in areas of direct sunlight.

In summary, pergolas are not only an affordable addition to your garden but are easy to install and stylish.

Timber Lean-To

A timber lean-to canopy is a single pitch roof that is connected to the wall of an existing building. The best thing about a lean-to roof is it can be designed to suit the space you have alongside your house. You can use them for a variety of purposes such as adding a simple cover for your cooking area, as a carport or even as a full lean-to extension adding additional space to your home.

It's very easy to build a wooden lean-to with timber uprights and timber rafters so they can be constructed with basic DIY tools and skills. A great home DIY project for DIYers with a range of experience. It is a very popular roof structure and considered a very cost-effective alternative compared to other options such as a traditional build solid roof.

When building a timber lean-to there are three popular roof options:

Depending on which glazing option you choose there are different glazing bar options. In general, glazing bars for installing a plastic roof on lean-tos are either PVC or Aluminium.

PVC Glazing bars are the ideal joining strips for fixing Multiwall Polycarbonate Sheets with a simple snap fix and a low cost. For a longer lifespan use aluminium glazing bars which are more durable and robust. A proper aluminium glazing bar can last 20 years plus, providing a leak-proof long-lasting roof glazing solution for your lean-to canopy for many years!

If you opt for glass then ensure you use a glazing bar for glass: either a rafter-supported glass glazing bar or a self-support glass glazing bar. Solid glazing sheets are a recommended glass alternative when building a lean-to as they are a lot easier to handle so are worth considering – read our Plastic versus Glass blog for a more detailed comparison!

You will also need to consider a flooring option underneath your pergola; they are most commonly built over decking and outdoor ceramic tiles. It is worth investing in a durable decking option like aluminium decking to ensure the floor lasts as long as your roof.

A lean-to canopy is perfect for modern homes and looks great for an outdoor dining area. A medium budget project with a great lifespan.

Terence P Essex Lean To Review Image

Traditional Solid Build Roof

If you’re looking for a wow factor and to add real style to your home by creating a seamless link from indoor to outdoor dining area then a traditional roof could be a good option. Adding this to your home creates a gorgeous garden opening which can easily be done by adding bi-fold or patio doors.

The main disadvantage of a solid build roof is the restriction of light so it is recommended to build your solid brick extension with roof lights or clear vision panels. Increasingly installers opt for creating half of their roof with clear sheeting or the ridge line in glazing as it brightens up the interior and can look very classy.

Compared to other outdoor dining area options it takes a long time to build a traditional tiled roof. Another factor to bear in mind is that the cost of roof tiles far outweighs the cost of any other option. Although this is by far the most expensive way to cover an outside dining area it has one of the longest lifespans.

Overall, a traditional solid roof is a high budget option but with roof lights and vision panels can provide a great dining area that will give great durability.

Glass Roof Canopy

A glass roof canopy is created using an aluminium canopy system and glass panels. Considering all options a glass canopy provides the lightest outdoor living space, creating a bright airy space with a quality feel, meaning it is often considered the ultimate option.

The disadvantage of a glass roof canopy is the glass as it is hard to handle, install and creates a safety risk. Don’t be put off by this as modern solid glazing sheets are a safe glass alternative.

With polycarbonate sheeting, like Axgard, being 200 times stronger than glass it is safer and easier to install. No need to compromise on that ‘glass look’ with a quality clear sheet. Don’t settle for a cheap plastic alternative as lower grades are often brittle and non-UV protected so have limited a lifespan.

When building a glass canopy ensure you use glazing bars that are suited to glass. Glass glazing bars should always be aluminium. Glazing bars for glass have been designed specifically for use with glass or solid glazing sheets and be bought with a rafter or self-supporting design. Self-supporting glazing bars for glass are designed to combine exceptional strength ratios with an excellent and aesthetically pleasing finish to remove the need for timber rafters which can weather quicker.

The aluminium pergola option is popular for modern houses for its clean and quality look which suits a more minimal style. It is considered medium budget project. Additionally, an aluminium pergola has a huge range of colour options to add a wow factor to your property!

Conclusion - How to cover an outdoor dining area?

In conclusion, there are advantages and disadvantages to each covered outdoor eating area, however, considering all aspects it ultimately comes down to the following two main factors:

  • Your Budget
  • Size and Scale
  • The Roof Lifespan you want

A basic timber lean is the most cost-effective option so is ideal if you are wanting to create your perfect outdoor living space on a small budget. The downside of a wooden pergola roof is that the expected lifespan can be less, depending on the grade of timber used, so the next best option is an aluminium lean-to.

Committing to a full solid extension can be very time-consuming and expensive. If you can afford an aluminium canopy with solid sheets then that’s the ultimate choice and will give your guests the wow factor when enjoying your outdoor eating area.

Adding any of these outside dining areas to your home can add significant value to your house (up to 5%) so not only will they provide great use but pay back when it comes to moving on.

The best covered outdoor dining area options based on budget:

High Budget – Glass/Solid Glazing Roof Aluminium Canopy
Medium Budget – Garden Pergola
Low Budget – Timber Lean-to
Very Low Budget/ Temporary Solution – Lightweight pop-up gazebo

Have a question about creating a covered eating area?

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