Setting up Bistro Lights: The Ultimate Guide

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Nothing quite beats cafe-style bistro lights when it comes to improving the ambiance of any outdoor space. During the evening, the soft overhead glow visually transforms a plain patio into the place where all of your friends will want to be. Outdoor bistro lights aren’t difficult to set up, especially if you have trees or a fence line to hang them from. If not, it’s still easy; it just takes a little extra time and supplies.

Here’s your ultimate guide to hanging cafe-style bistro lights over your patio, deck, garden, balcony, or wherever you want!

Related: Make Your Deck or Patio Look New Again With Pressure Washing!

What You Need to Set up Bistro Lights

Here’s what you’ll need to set up your backyard bistro lights:

Tools and Materials

  • String lights made for the outdoors
  • An outdoor extension cord
  • Tape measure
  • Painting tape or a pencil
  • Metal hooks and eyes
  • Drill
  • Ladder

For Bistro Lights Over a Large Area

  • A string light suspension kit (find one that includes the wire cables and suspension hardware)
  • Wire cutters

For a Yard Without Trees or Other Supports

  • Thin-wall metal poles or wooden posts (you can usually find 10-foot ones at your local home improvement store)
  • Hammer
  • Screws and/or nails
  • Weighted buckets
  • Rebar stakes (only if you’re using metal poles)
  • Cable ties

Don’t have the time or simply want to avoid the hassle of setting up your bistro lights? Get in touch with our Shine of Westlake and Shine of Highland Park locations. We have all the equipment needed to light up your backyard or patio restaurant!

Before You Start Hanging Bistro Lights

Here’s a short checklist to look over before you get to hanging your bistro lights:

  1. Decide where you’re going to hang them. First, you’ll need to figure out where you want to hang your outdoor bistro lights and find a power source. If there’s not an outlet nearby, make sure to get an extension cord rated for outdoor use.
  2. Measure for length. Before you purchase your cafe-style lights, you’ll want to use a tape measure and get an estimate of how many lights you’ll need. Make sure to account for any designs that won’t be straight across, like crisscrosses or zigzags. It doesn’t have to be an exact measurement — just enough to give you a sense of the length of bistro lights you’ll need to use.
  3. Gather the materials. When purchasing and gathering the materials you’ll need for your project, we recommend that you use commercial-grade lights that are rated for outdoor use. They’ll be more durable and are waterproof so you can safely keep your lights up all year round.

When buying commercial-grade bistro lights, they usually sell the cords and bulbs separately. For long strands of cafe-style lights, you’ll want a thicker gauge cord (around 14 gauge). LED bulbs are long-lasting, energy-efficient, and work great as outdoor lights.

Related: Don’t Forget to Show the Rest of Your Patio Some Love!

How to Hang Bistro Lights

Bistro lights hung on a patio

Now the fun part; let’s get hanging!

  1. Find where you’ll need mounting support. You’ll want to lay out your bistro lights in your chosen configuration and either use painting tape or a pencil to mark where you’ll need to support the lights. Trees, pergolas, fences, porch roofs, and your house’s eaves are perfect supports that are already in place — if they fit your design. If you can use existing supports, great! If not, let’s look at how to hang them.
  2. Install mounting hardware, a light suspension kit, or both. You can mount your bistro lights in one of two ways: on their own or with a sturdy wire from a light suspension kit. The wire isn’t necessary, but it provides additional support and helps maintain tension over large expanses.
  3. With wires. If you decide to hang your bistro lights with a wire, you’ll want to purchase a wire hanging kit that includes cable wire and suspension hardware. After that, you’ll just have to follow the instructions that came with your kit.
  4. Without wires. If you’d rather not bother with a wire for your bistro lights, you can use cup hooks and screw them into a wall, fence, or tree trunk to use as a mount for them.
  5. Hang your lights! Once your wire or cup hooks are ready, it’s time to put the bistro lights up! First, you should plug in the lights and put your first bulb up — this is to make sure that the spacing is correct. If it looks good, unplug the lights and hang the rest of the strings. Work your way across your backyard, following the patterns you decided on earlier. Once you’re finished, plug them in and enjoy the view!

Hanging Bistro Lights Without Trees

If you don’t have structures in the right spots for your lighting, you can still make it work. Here’s how:

  • Along your fence: if your fence isn’t high enough for your lights, you can attach wooden posts along your fence line equipped with cup hooks to increase the height of your bistro lights. You can screw (or nail) the wooden posts right into your fence’s existing posts.
  • On your deck or patio: if there are no natural supports in your yard you can use to hang your bistro lights, there’s a relatively easy solution. You can put posts into weighted buckets or planters and attach a hook to the top. This works just like the fence posts, but you can put them anywhere in your yard or on your patio!
  • On your lawn: if your bistro lights are going to go over your lawn, or anywhere else you can put a stake in the ground, you can use electrical metal tubing poles and secure them into the ground with rebar stakes. An effective and inexpensive way to hang lights from these poles is by using cable ties.
  • On your covered patio: hanging bistro lights is easy if you have a covered patio (like a pergola). All you have to do is attach some cup hooks along the cover every three feet or so and hang your lights in whatever pattern you desire!
Bistro lights hung on a pergola

You probably know about Shine’s window cleaning services, but did you know that we offer holiday lighting solutions too? Make your next holiday or special event unforgettable with lighting designs from Shine of Dallas and Shine of Austin Texas!

Related: How to Prepare Your Home for Holiday Lighting

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