A birthday party used to mean cake and ice cream. Now, the dessert table is the norm among party-loving moms. Feeling stumped about how to plan a dessert table? Or maybe you’ve tried to style one and it didn’t look quite right? Styling a dessert table does take some practice… so I’m going to show you how! Welcome to The Party Teacher’s 101 series: How to Style a Dessert Table!


Part 1: Choose Your Menu

Start with your child’s favorite treats, and from there try to balance the flavors and types of desserts. (You don’t want all chocolate or all cake-like items.)

Here’s the mix of menu items that always works for me:

  • Cake
  • Ice cream (scoop this ahead of time into wax-lined candy cups and freeze)
  • Cake pops (different flavor from cake)
  • Frosted cookies
  • Assortment of candy
  • One or two store bought treats, like frosted brownie bites

When you combine purchased treats with homemade sweets, you take the pressure off yourself. Don’t feel like you have to do it all!

How Much Should You Buy?

You don’t need anything more than my list for a dessert table that looks full, but doesn’t go overboard. You’ll want 3 to 4 bite-sized desserts plus cake for each guest. You’ll also typically buy desserts by the dozen. If you will have more than 12 guests, don’t feel like you need one of each item for each guest. (Not everyone will even want one of each dessert.)

Here are some other ideas for dessert table treats:

  • Candy dipped marshmallows
  • Soft candy kabobs
  • Good-old chocolate chip cookies (or your family’s favorite)
  • Girl Scout cookies (why not? you know you have to buy them anyway)
  • Macarons
  • Macaroon (that’s not a typo; they are two different things)
  • Push-up pops (usually a cake or brownie layered with icing)
  • Hand pies or mini pies
  • Popcorn
  • S’mores
  • Molded chocolates
  • Layered bars
  • Jell-o layers
  • Merangines
  • Chocolate covered pretzels
  • Candied apples
  • Rice Krispies Treats
  • Donut holes
  • Trifle
  • Pudding
  • Petit Fours

Style Tip: Color

The easiest way to coordinate your treats is to stick to your party colors. The photos in this post are from my Nancy Drew Mystery Party, and our party colors were taken from the spines of vintage Nancy Drew books — yellow, black, and white. Keeping our treats in that color family makes it easy to create a cohesive look. (But check out the “red herrings” — my own little mystery joke and totally worth the pop of red.)

Budget Tip: Embellish a Plain Cake

Believe it or not, you can save money on the cake. Pinterest is full of amazing cakes, but you can bake or buy a plain, buttercream-frosted cake and dress it up. For more impact, use three layers of cake all in the same size, or create a two-tier cake with two layers for each tier. Add a fondant topper, bunting or a large party circle, and your cake will be darling on a budget. (For my mystery cake, I fan-folded pages of a Nancy Drew book and topped it with a party circle.)

 Part 2: Arrange Your Treats

So once you’ve chosen your menu, it’s time to decide how to set your dessert table. I’ll talk more about that in Part 2: Arrange Your Treats — the next 101 post.

Are you looking to up your party game?

My Dessert Table 101: Planning and Shopping Checklist is up for grabs. When you sign up for the checklist using the form below, I’ll make sure you also get news about The Party Classroom — a place where you can learn even more about how to party and get my personal advice for your next bash.

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