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Ultimate DIY Ice Cream Sundae Bar Ideas

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There’s just something about an ice cream sundae bar that gets everyone excited, especially for parties and entertaining. Ice cream is such a great treat by itself, but adding toppings and sauces makes it even better.

And the true joys lay in all of the possibilities. Setting one up doesn’t have to be difficult, making this a simple idea for feeding party guests.

Metal serving tray filled with ice cream sauces and toppings with scoops and canisters of ice cream in the background.

Additionally, a good sundae bar can suit multiple functions. I’ve used them for an impromptu movie night by going with a really simple layout. Or go a little bigger and stick to fun, colorful options to do an ice cream sundae bar for a holiday or birthday party. 

On the other hand, creating a nice, fancy spread is perfectly appropriate for a swankier event as well. There’s no rule stating that one can’t have an ice cream sundae bar for adults. In truth, it’s hard to find a group of people that don’t like ice cream. 

Why Create an Ice Cream Sundae Bar

We all know it’s less work to just put out a couple toppings and a bottle of chocolate syrup and call it a day. But a well-made ice cream buffet has some definite plusses.

First of all, it’s fun. Building the perfect bowl is a really good time, and helps build anticipation for the eating of said perfect sundae. Additionally, ice cream dessert bars can be easily personalized. 

If it’s for a kids’ party, add fun toppings like gummy worms or Nerds candy. For coffee lovers, gravitate toward chocolates, vanillas, and coffee flavors. The sky is the limit.

But all this variety can be daunting. For a little guidance on ice cream sundae bar ideas, just keep reading.

A tray filled with bowls of ice cream toppings and sugar cones and waffle bowls.

Suggested Ice Cream Toppings and Sauces

A good ice cream bar should feature a quality ice cream, of course. But it’s also about the toppings so providing a variety of toppings is essential for a quality sundae party.

Our favorite ice cream bar toppings:

  • sliced fresh fruit – like bananas, peaches and berries
  • maraschino cherries – grab the ones with stems for a fun vibe
  • chocolate chips – you can use milk, semi or dark depending on your preference
  • small candies like mini M&M’s, Reese’s Pieces and gummy bears
  • chopped candy bars – Snickers, peanut butter cups, 3 Musketeers and Hershey bars work great
  • mini cookies – like Oreos or chocolate chip (or crush full-sized cookies)
  • chopped cookie dough chunks – be sure to use an egg-free version like my edible cookie dough bites or this fun Grinch cookie dough for Christmas parties
  • brownie squares – I like to cut these in small 1×1 squares for easy serving
  • rainbow sprinkles
  • mini marshmallows
  • whipped cream – I like to use the aerosol cans of whipped cream because they are convenient but homemade is good, too
Metal serving tray filled with ice cream sauces and toppings.

Traditional sundae sauces:

  • chocolate sauce – can be found near the ice cream aisle
  • hot fudge – Richardson brand is my fave and it’s readily available
  • strawberry – you can use chopped, fresh berries or a prepared sauce
  • caramel sauce – I like to pair this with hot fudge (it’s soooo good!)
  • Magic Shell sauce – no one can resist this crispy chocolatey coating
  • marshmallow fluff – also known as marshmallow cream

Of course, there are loads more options that will work out great. Variety is the key here, and the best sundae creation stations embrace that. And making sure there are plenty of choices will increase the odds that your guests will be happy.

Sundae glasses filled with ice cream and surrounded by cones, candles and sprinkles.

A Variety of Ice Cream Flavors

And, as previously mentioned, there is the other side of the coin – the all important ice cream. The upside to offering different flavors of ice cream is you will have more chances to please your guests and diners.

Ideally, it should be good enough to eat on its own, but still complement the various toppings without overpowering them. And if you select classic flavors like vanilla, chocolate or strawberry, the toppings can do all the heavy lifting. These flavors focus on keeping things simple and you can even narrow it down to a single flavor if needed.

I’ve compiled a collection of homemade flavors that will please a wide range of palates. And they’re all no churn ice cream recipes, just to make life a little easier. Be sure to check them out for some tasty options.

Two metal buckets filled with waffle cones and ice cream scoops.

Ice Cream Party Tips

Now that you’ve decided on toppings, sauces, and ice cream, the next step is setting up the build your own sundae bar. Don’t just throw everything onto a tray and call it a day.

These fun ideas will help make a really stellar sundae creation station ​into a reality. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be complicated, but it’s still a good idea to take some care when laying it out.

First of all, prep everything ahead of time. Gather the topping, sauces, bowls, ice cream scoops, and spoons. Set up the sundae station by adding the individual toppings to small bowls. Sauces can stay in their jars with a spoon or transferred to bowls.

A waffle bowl filled with scoops of ice cream and surrounded by bowls of sundae toppings.

You’ll want to add the ice cream to the table at the last minute. If you’re serving multiple flavors of ice cream, be sure to have a separate ice cream scoop for each kind. 

If the ice cream bar is being served right after setup, then it’s good to go. But if it’s really hot outside, or if the bar needs to be set up somewhat ahead of time, fill the area where the ice cream bowls will be placed with ice.

You may want to consider a “chilling station” to keep the ice cream cold if it’s warm outside. A large serving bowl or casserole dish will work for that. Place the ice cream in the bowl, fill with ice and sprinkle the ice with salt. This lowers the freezing point of ice, which allows it to stay colder overall. And it will keep the ice cream from melting as quickly.

Another great option for serving the sundaes, and that will save some cleanup, is to use waffle bowls instead of regular dishes. Waffle bowls are edible, plus they add another fun flavor to the mix. It’s also a good idea to have some cake and sugar cones available, but guests will need bowls to take full advantage of all the toppings.

Four photo collage of different party settings.

When to Serve and Ice Cream Sundae Bar

An ice cream bar is the perfect choice for a variety of occasions, bringing fun and a touch of nostalgia to any event. It’s a natural option for children’s birthday parties, baby showers, summer BBQs, or family gatherings where guests can indulge in customizing their own sweet creations.

And don’t forget holidays! This would be a fun addition to a Halloween party for teens or an economical choice for a graduation party. Almost any celebration can be made more enjoyable with the addition of an ice cream dessert bar.

Metal tray filled with ice cream sauces and toppings with canisters of ice cream in the background.

End Your Ice Cream Sundae Bar on a Sweet Note

An ice cream buffet is a fantastic setup for any sort of party or gathering. It caters to everybody, no matter how much or how little they like to “do up” their ice cream. Adding in a homemade ice cream will level up the DIY experience, and lets you choose flavors that will go well together. Now, sit back and enjoy your favorite ice cream sundae.

Ice cream sauces and toppings in a metal tray with canisters of ice cream in the background with text overlay.

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