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How to set up an ice cream bar

If you want to take the plunge and wow your guests with an ice cream bar, you’ll need to follow a few steps to make sure everything goes off without a hitch.

ice cream buffet

Be ready for messes

Let’s face it – ice cream melts, and when it does, it’s messy! Protect your table by laying out a tablecloth before you set up. For super-easy cleanup, choose plastic. You’ll be able to just fold it up and toss it in the trash, along with all of the drips and spills.

Keep it cold

It doesn’t take ice cream long to melt, especially if you’re set up under the hot summer sun. Keep your ice cream in solid form a little longer by storing it on ice. Use a large plastic or metal tub or bin filled with ice to keep things cold. Set each individual carton of ice cream back in the ice when not in use. Keep an eye on the ice, making sure it gets replaced when needed. If there’s no one waiting on the ice cream, shove the container deep down into the ice to keep it even cooler.

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Place a bowl of warm water next to the ice tubs so your guests can warm the scoops for easy dipping.

Offer a mix

There’s nothing wrong with being a little “vanilla,” but some people enjoy a more variety when it comes to their desserts. Offer vanilla as well as chocolate and strawberry. Consider offering frozen yogurt for anyone counting calories and sorbet for guests that need to avoid milk.

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Top it off

It’s not a sundae without the toppings, so break out the good stuff for your ice cream bar. Set out a bunch of bowls, either mixed or matched, and fill them with anything that might be tasty on top of ice cream. Here are some suggestions for great offerings for your ice cream bar:


  • Chocolate syrup
  • Hot fudge
  • Caramel
  • Marshmallow
  • Strawberry
  • Sprinkles
  • Bananas
  • Cherries
  • Strawberries
  • Whipped cream
  • Sprinkles
  • Nuts
  • Crushed candy bars
  • Crushed cookies
  • Nuts
  • Crumbled brownies
  • Chocolate chips

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If you’re feeding a crowd (or maybe even if you’re not!), use plastic bowls and spoons to make cleanup easier. Make sure to set out lots of napkins and maybe even some wet wipes for super-sticky fingers.

Quick Tip

Not everyone wants her ice cream in a bowl. Consider serving waffle bowls and ice cream cones, as well as regular bowls.

More ideas with ice cream

Chocolate dipped ice cream cones
Making the perfect milkshake

3 Homemade ice cream recipes

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