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There are TWO dessert tables: the one in your mind, and the one in reality. They don’t always match. And there’s a really good reason for that: the way you arranged your treats just isn’t working. Maybe everything is too spaced out. Or maybe the arrangement lacks balance. Or, maybe you’ve over-styled and now it’s just a hot mess.

In Part 1 of our series, we learned how to choose a dessert table menu. Today in Part 2, we’ll talk about how to arrange food on the dessert table so it looks just right.

Today’s photos are from my twins’ 9th birthday party, which had a Country Music Awards Show theme. We went for rustic glam, and of course the treats had to match.

I made a two-tier (four-layer) cake. We added two kinds of frosted cookies, frosted brownie bites, five kinds of candy (in our party colors, of course), and microphone cake pops. The decorations were all about burlap, the black of a record album, lace, and pops of gold.


Part 2: Arrange Your Treats

The easiest way to arrange a dessert table is symmetrically. Put the cake in the back center of your table and elevate it so it is the tallest item. From there, arrange trays, apothecary jars, etc. on either side of the cake. Put taller items in the back, and flat trays in the front.

Just don’t make everything flat. It’s so ho-hum. Vertical equals interest.

Ideas for adding height:

  • Cake stands (they can hold anything — not just cake)
  • Tiered stands
  • Boxes or styrofoam blocks, wrapped in fabric or paper
  • Suitcases
  • Rustic crates
  • Wood boxes
  • Stack of books

And, remember: the treats you choose also can give you height: cake pops, rock candy, push-up pops … any treat with a vertical element can add height.

Just starting to collect serving pieces? Stick with white and glass because they work with everything. For this party, I broke my “white rule” and used thrift store “silver” trays spray painted gold and a “gold” cake stand from Home Goods. (If you paint a serving piece, it won’t be food safe, so be sure to line it with scrapbooking paper.)


Asymmetrical arrangements are great, too, but perhaps harder to achieve. You start with the (raised) cake off to one side or the other, and still need to achieve balance, but not in a mirrored fashion. Instead, put another tall item opposite the cake. Work in from your two tall items. You’ll get a more eclectic look, which gives you a wonderful opportunity to work in non-food items. (See my budget tip below!)

Before your party, sketch out your dream arrangement. Better yet, test it out with your actual serving pieces. If you don’t have access to the table you’ll use, tape out its dimensions on your floor and test your layout that way. (And remember: your dessert table doesn’t have to be just one table. I used three at this party: two round bar-height tables and one four-foot folding table.)

One of the mistakes I see moms making is to have too few items on the table with too much space between them. If you want a small dessert offering, then downsize your table so it doesn’t look stark.

Budget Tip: Fill-in With Decor

I also like to include a few non-food items on any dessert table. One or two of the following can help fill-in awkward spaces:

  • Food labels
  • Invitation or menu in a frame
  • Objects related to your theme (For my St. Patrick’s Day party, I used rubber snakes and “blarney” stones.)
  • Flowers
  • Bottle water or soda bottles – wrapped with a cute label of course
  • Party favors

This will help you save on custom-made desserts (because you have taken up the space in another way). Just make sure you don’t add so many extras that you wind up with a cluttered look.

So here’s my caution: remember the Coco Channel rule to get fully dressed and then take off one accessory. You don’t want to overdo-it on the fill-in decor. Add too much and you’re in hot-mess territory. Style your table, then step back. Take it all in. Check to see if the placement of items feels balanced instead of haphazard. Maybe something needs to be scooted over. (This is why you want to complete your set-up the night before the party — obviously without food — so you have the time to scrutinize your table.)


Part 3: Embellish the Table

Half the fun of the dessert table is dressing it up. Once you choose your menu, serving pieces and arrangement, you can have fun with tablecloths, runners, banners and buntings.

I’ll talk more about Step 3: Embellish the Table and my favorite, never-fail styling options in our next 101 post.

Ready to learn all there is about birthday parties?

Be sure to grab my Dessert Table 101: Planning and Shopping Checklist. When you sign up for the checklist using the form below, you’ll also get the scoop about The Party Classroom — a great community of moms who are turning their party planning daydreams into reality.

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