Some of my favorite things to do when I host (or cater for a friends party) is do a food or dessert bar. The great thing about a food 'bars' is that they are easily put together, they please a crowd, and they look simply adorable, making them one of the most memorable parts of any party!
Here are some tips and steps that will help you create a dessert and/or food bar that your guests are sure to love!
Step 1. Decide whether you want to serve food, desserts, or both.
This decision will primarily be made based on the time of day that you are hosting the party. If you are throwing the party at noon for example, your guests will most likely be expecting lunch. If on the other hand you plan to only serve appetizers or desserts, just be sure your party is not around a general meal time, or you may have very hungry guests! Also, as a general rule of thumb, I always write something about what I plan to serve on the invites, just so there is no confusion.
Step 2. Evaluate your crowd to determine what types of food to prepare.
The next thing I begin to think about when catering or hosting a party is think about your guest list, the season you are hosting the party in, where the party will be (indoors vs. outdoors), and how many people you will be serving.
Some of my Favorite Food Bars Include:
- Pancake or Waffle Bar
- Chili Bar
- Taco Bar
- Salad Bar
- Pizza Bar
- Nacho Bar
- Burger/Sandwich Bar
- Yogurt Parfait Bars
- Trifle Dessert Bar
- Baked Potato Bar
- Coffee Bar
- Ice Cream Sundae Bar
- Caramel Apple Bar
- Popcorn Bar
Step 3. Select a theme and/or colors.
This might not always apply, especially if it is a casual party, but if I know there will be a theme to the party (especially if it is a wedding or baby shower), then I like to start thinking about the colors of the food, napkins, plates, etc. For example, this may help you pick the flavor of cupcake, frosting flavors, or desserts you will make, and of course it will help you think about decorations you may need. The great thing about food bars is that they are often cute enough by themselves, and the food is decoration enough, so I often only plan for a few little decorative accents such as flowers, paper straws, wooden spoons, and possibly linens to drape across the table, which I set the food on.
Step 4. Think about numbers.
Once you know what your menu will look like, you will need to start planning your grocery list. I often do this well in advance, and just as soon as I have a rough head count for the party. I like to be prepared ahead of time, and even get ingredients that might be hard to find ahead of time if possible. I like to safely assume that each guest will have at least one serving of food and/or dessert, and I generally multiply that number by at least two per guest. From there, I determine if anyone will be bringing a dish to the party, and if so, I generally give them a few specific ideas to choose from so it will go with the theme. Once I know about how much food I will need to buy/prepare, I start to write up a rough grocery list.
Step 5. Think about set up and details.
Once you know where your food/dessert bar will be located (any long table will work), and what you will be serving, it is time to plan the set up! This can be really simply done, or a bit more extravagant, based on the look you are going for, and the type of party.
1. Choose Linens or Runner. The type of linen or runner you choose for your bar will vary based on the party, and the great thing is you can either rent them or purchase them for a great deal if you buy some fabric from the craft store, or you could buy one or two basic runners, so that you can keep re-using them, or you could buy a roll of black or brown kraft paper, which I find is easiest, because you can literally roll up the mess and throw it away at the end of the night.
2. Think Levels. If the party is casual, you can skip this step, but if it is for a special occasion, adding elevation/height to your food bar can make it more visually appealing. This can be simply done by using cake plates, boxes, crates, trifle bowls, basic plates, trays, or even a stack of books! The key here is just simply to add different heights to the bar, which allows you to place some things in the back, and some things in the front without things getting lost, and it also makes for great pictures! You can really get creative and mix and match what you have, but if you don't have much to work with, you can always go to a second hand store such as Good Will, or look at an inexpensive store such as Home Goods, TJ Maxx, or even Target or Amazon!
Step 6. Think about ways to save money!
Let's face it, throwing a party can be pretty expensive. When it comes to entertaining or catering, I always try to think about ways I can save money. One great way to do this is by planning ahead. When you plan ahead and know what you are going to buy, this will allow you to look for sales on food (as long as they are items that will stay fresh until your party, or can be frozen), and other items such as paper plates and napkins. Buying things in bulk can also be a great way to get a deal, as long as you know you will be able to use it all. And, last but not least, another way to take a lot of the load off when it comes to entertaining is to have your guests bring a dish. In the case of a food bar, this can be done by creating a list of ingredients that need to be contributed, and letting your guests pick one or two to bring to the party! For example, I recently did this with a taco bar at my house. I made the chicken and beef, and everyone brought one or two of their favorite taco toppings to the party!
Now for Some Inspiration!
Here are a few pictures of a Waffle Bar that I did when hosting a marriage group at my house! It was easy and delicious; And who doesn't love breakfast for dinner!?
More recently I did a Taco Bar:
And here are a few other food bars I have done in the past: