Patio dinnerware can be formal or casual, disposable or break resistant, or elaborate. It really depends on what you will be serving and the ambiance that you desire to create.
For a backyard cookout with hamburgers and hot dogs, paper plates might be sufficient; however, you can upgrade the experience by using plastic dinnerware. Plastic food baskets are perfect for casual outside dining and they come in all shapes, sizes and colors. From time to time, you might find them at a department store or a liquidation shop, but you can always find them at restaurant supply stores.
Melamine dinnerware is ideal for patio dining because it is virtually unbreakable. It is good for serving sandwiches, salads or casserole dishes. It does scratch pretty easily so you might want to avoid it if you are serving food items that require cutting. Melamine dishes come in many styles from modern to traditional. Dinnerware sets often come with acrylic tumblers that are just right for dining outdoors which can make them a bargain.
If you are serving something bolder, like steaks, having dinnerware that will hold up to cutting becomes a necessity. If you don't want to expose your stoneware or china to chips and breaks, you might want to look into camping dinnerware. Enamel dinnerware is tough and versatile. Coleman is by no doubt the leader of camping dinnerware; however, it is possible to find enamelware with patterns if you're game to look for it.
Patio dinnerware is generally associated with cookouts, but a patio can be turned into a formal dining place with just a few touches. Formal patio dining can be created by dressing the place up a bit and using fine china. Another alternative is to use plastic catering dinnerware that is disposable, but looks like formal tableware. It lends to the formal experience without subjecting expensive dishes to breakage.
For a romantic dining experience on the patio, a few decorations and accessories can set the atmosphere. Of course topping the patio furniture with a tablecloth makes sense. You can add dim lighting using Christmas lights or go traditional with a candlelight centerpiece. Soft music will help set the mood and formal dinnerware, such as fine china and champagne flutes, is a must.