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.

We talked about adding non-food items to your dessert table in Step 2: Arrange Your Treats, because extras like a framed party invitation can help fill out your table. But of course table decor can go beyond fillers. So let’s talk about my favorite, never-fail styling options in Part 3 of  The Party Teacher’s 101 series: How to Style a Dessert Table!

Did you miss Parts 1 and 2 of the series? Let’s correct that right now:

The photos in this post are from my Night Owl Sleepover Party. I hosted this bash for my girls and four of their friends and it was the longest night of my life, but an awful lot of fun.

A few things to notice about this dessert table that I’ve talked about in Parts 1 and 2:

  • Simple cake + fondant topper = low cost, high impact.
  • Elevate the cake: unfinished wood craft box + acrylic paint, ribbon and printables.
  • Semi-DIY: I turned bakery cupcakes into owls.
  • Don’t try to do it all: The owl cookies are beyond my skill set, so I purchased them.
  • Filler: The table includes food tents, popcorn bags and beverages.
  • Serving pieces: I used white and added some fun with doll beds used to display treats.

Here’s what else you see on this dessert table that are hallmarks of almost every table I style: a table runner. In this case, the navy blue backdrop fabric flows onto the table itself to form a table runner. The “table runner” is trimmed in jumbo pink rick rack that I simply stapled onto the raw edge of my fabric. It’s little touches like this that make your table look finished.

If you have a great table surface, or one that can’t be hurt, or one that perfectly fits your theme, don’t cover it up. I used a painted antique sideboard as-is for my Shabby Chic Easter Party dessert table. But most of the time, I want to add a protective surface to my table. I also want to use the color or pattern of fabric to extend my theme.

No fail styling tip #1: Fabric

A couple yards of fabric can be your dessert table’s best friend. Try a craft store like JoAnn’s or an online resource like Fabric.com. Drape the fabric like a tablecloth, or fold it in thirds to form a table runner. (You don’t have to sew the runner.) And remember: your runner can lay across your table long-ways or down the center from front to back.

I typically choose a solid color or a 2-color-only pattern (like a gingham or chevron) for table coverings. I want the table covering to add to — but not distract from — the treats. Is this a “rule” you can break? Of course. If you’re having a Lily Pultizer party, go for the busy pattern, but simplify to one-color serving pieces. Once you understand the purpose of the rules you can always break them — just don’t break them all in one party!

If you want the full coverage of a tablecloth, check my Dessert Table 101: Planning and Shopping Checklist for shopping recommendations. (You can get the checklist at the bottom of this post.)

Love the fitted ruffled tablecloths you’ve seen in parties like my Gardening Party? They are pricey (and with good reason). But if they are budget-busters for you, try this: put a clean white sheet over your table, long-ways. Top that with a ruffled shower curtain, laid front-to-back. You’ll get the look for less.

No fail styling tip #2: Printables

It’s time to put your printables to use. I usually hang my “Happy Birthday” banner from the tablecloth on the front of the table or from the backdrop (as I did at this party).

Printing the banner letters so that each one is roughly 5″x7″ gives you the most flexibility. Often, you’ll need to hang your banner in two parts: “Happy” on the top row and “Birthday” on the bottom.

Just punch holes in the corner of each banner letter, string it on 3/8″ grosgrain ribbon, allow 18″ to 25″ inches of ribbon on each end for tying, and tie a bow on either end. If you are hanging the banner from the front of your tablecloth, position one bow where you want it, then go under your tablecloth. Use a safety pin to pin the banner to the tablecloth from the backside of the tablecloth so the pin doesn’t show.

No fail styling tip #3: Buntings and Garlands

Buntings come in many forms and I love them all. Narrowing down which type of bunting I want to use on the dessert table is regularly one of the hardest decisions I have to make! You can find bunting styles including:

You can pin any of these options to your table in the same way I described pinning a printable banner.

No fail styling tip #4: Add Height

Height = drama. If there is a natural way to add height to your dessert table, I say go for it. The height will visually connect that table to your backdrop. At the night owl party, I used white tree branches from a floral wholesaler. The branches are secured in white vases with dried black beans. Then, I just added printable owls with pink clothesline clips. The result is owls in “trees” against a starry night backdrop.

Halloween party? Branches add great creepy-factor. I used one large branch from my backyard to overhang my Zombie Princess dessert table. But I could see branches working wonderfully for camping, fairy or fishing parties, too.

Here are some other ideas I’ve used for adding height to a dessert table:

  • Balloons (the classics are classics for a reason)
  • Newel posts
  • Meagaphones
  • Tissue pom balls with tassels
  • Foam tombstones
  • Candles in tall candlesticks (unlit, of course)


Part 4: Add a Backdrop

In Part 4, I’ll pull all this advice together and bring you my best tips about styling a dessert table backdrop. Make sure you don’t miss that post by signing up for the checklist below. I’ll add you to the Dessert Tables 101 mailing list.

Have you got party questions?

I’d love to answer them! When you receive my Dessert Table 101: Planning and Shopping Checklist I’ll also let you know about The Party Classroom. You’ll have access to my personal advice and guidance PLUS my Birthday Party 101 eBook — yours free.

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