Most guests end up in the kitchen anyway, so why not move the party outside and enjoy the view? Whether you're remodeling to take advantage of the latest outdoor appliances or designing new construction, planning ahead yields the best results.
Think it through. Spend time in the space where you intend to add your new cooking and serving area. Are you going to have sand in your burgers if you don't build a windbreak? Do you need a sunshade over the dining area? Even more importantly, think about where utility lines need to go. Are there obstructions, such as a pool deck, to negotiate? You probably don't want to add patio destruction and rebuilding costs to the budget.
Invest in proven quality. Choose products designed for the outdoors. Marine-quality equipment will weather round-the-clock salt air, punishing sun, and, in some climates, radical temperature changes.
Consider the climate. Location has a lot to do with how you plan and outfit your outdoor kitchen. That beautiful outdoor fireplace you've been eyeing in a catalog may be useless in a tropical location. In colder climates, you'll need to winterize water lines just as you do with pipes leading into the house. Installing lines that are difficult to get to will complicate that process later. In subtropical zones, it helps to have some sort of roof over at least part of the dining area. And in all climates, cover grill tops and refrigerators to shelter them when they're not in use.
Make the floor furniture-ready. When designing your outdoor room, you'll want smooth and even floors so chairs and tables will be balanced. Consider solid surfaces or carefully joined tile rather than garden stones, which look great but work best in places without furniture.
For some great ideas, pick up a copy of Amanda Lecky's Outdoor Kitchens: Designs for Outdoor Kitchens, Bars, and Dining Areas (Quarry Books, 2005). The photographs alone will get you dreaming, and the design tips are straightforward and practical. Those of us who love looking at new gear will appreciate the products section in the back of the book.