Party Design Basics – Designing Dessert Tables

I’m excited to address dessert tables in this edition of my year-long Party Design Basics series. Dessert tables have become THE party staple and focal point thanks to leaders in design like Amy Atlas and Sweets Indeed.

You can hardly see a styled party today without an elaborate sweets display, but for the purpose of this blog and ‘realistic’ home entertaining & celebrations, I’m going to cover some basic design principles that are a bit more ‘achievable’.  Using some of my own tables as examples, I’ll cover simple tips to keep in mind when designing yours.

{click on photo to see its original post}

  • Keep the Food Selection Realistic – It’s no secret that I believe in using 1 or 2 designer desserts, and then rounding out with more commercial items. In fact, a basic formula to keep in mind is 1-2 specialty items {like cakes, cupcakes, cookies, etc.} + 1-3 homemade items or dressed up grocery items + 2-3 candies to fill out the table. This should be more than enough to satisfy your guests sweet tooth. In the table above, we have a fabulous designer cake that is the star of the table. The cake was vanilla flavored so we added chocolate brownie pops in our supporting role, and filled in with color coordinated candies.
  • Variety is the Spice of Life – Serving a variety of flavors is a good idea unless of course you are specifically doing a “chocolate” party or other flavor-themed party. I also like to choose different textures to serve. Good choices are Cakes + Parfaits + Bars + Something Crunchy – these would make a wonderful assortment, and a taste to satisfy all palates. In the table below, I went with a chocolate theme but added different textures with the creamy bonbon truffles, soft cakesters & brownies, chocolate cups filled with Bailey’s or eggnog, and crunchy pirouettes with milk shots.

  • Height is Essential – When setting up your table, the main thing is to go for balance, and to keep the eyes moving – much like interior decorating. I usually begin designing from the center and work outward, OR from the 2 ends and work inward. From there you can add varying rows and levels to fill in the blank space. Please don’t set everything flat on the table! Use bowls turned upside down, or boxes to put plates on to add height. In the table above, I added height with decorative items like flowers placed on candlesticks & apothecary jars filled with ornaments, and a tray placed on top of votive candle holders {turned upside down}. The tall cake stand adds one more level also.
  • Space Management – One of the mistakes I see a lot of is people spreading all the dishes out to take up the available table space. Instead, bring it all closer together so it looks more deliberate, and it actually looks more abundant. If your table is too large and you don’t have enough food, add flowers or sculptural/home decor pieces to the presentation, or designate one end of the table for the desserts and the other end for something else like a guest book, photo display, or favors. The table below was done very simply on a long buffet but everything is brought close together so it looks unified. If I had spread everything out to take up the entire length, the impact would be lost. The backdrop here also helps define the dessert space and the hanging flowers are visually connected to the food.

  • Sleek & Symmetrical vs. Eclectic & Asymmetrical – One of the most fun, and sometimes trickiest parts of creating a dessert table is deciding how and where to place everything. Do you want to create symmetry with one side mirrored on the other, or do you like to have a unique look on each side? If you choose a symmetrical look it tends to be a bit more sleek & modern, and the thing to remember is to keep the vessels, the levels, and the colors uniform on both sides. This usually means your center point is the focal point and should be pretty special. Symmetry is used in the table above by separating the dessert item and displaying it on both side – so easy!
  • Choosing an asymmetrical look allows you to be a bit more free and creative since you don’t have to be so precise. It also lets you create a focal point on either side, and bring in eclectic decor to add to the overall look. If you prefer to go with this approach, remember to create balance by adding something to the backdrop or opposite side, that is similar in height to the other side. I used an asymmetrical design in the table below. Nothing ‘matches’ but everything ties in together through color and style, and the height of the shutter balances the height of the mini chair.

Final Tips:

  • Don’t go overboard with food.  Just because it looks gorgeous in photos & blogs doesn’t mean you & your guests will eat it all.
  • Add variety to your food selection with different flavors & textures.
  • Keep the eye moving with height, levels, and rows. 
  • Keep your display tight.  Too much table showing looks unfinished.
  • Add interest to the display with decorative items like flowers, seasonal items, and home decor pieces.
  • Get creative with how you display food.  Incorporate unusual or unexpected pieces like old kitchen scales, vintage soda crates, garden vessels, etc.  Always keep things food safe by lining them if necessary.

I’m hoping these tips will help you create a pretty dessert table step by step.  And remember, you don’t just have to serve sweets like this - appetizer parties and brunch also looks fantastic when displayed this way!

 

For more inspiration, follow me on Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook. Cheers!

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
About Chris

Chris Nease is a party stylist and home entertaining expert with over 15 years of experience. In addition to her work as founding editor of Celebrations At Home, Chris is an editorial stylist and contributor to Homes.com, Marie Callender's, and SheKnows. Most recently her work has been published in Woman's World, Yum Food & Fun for Kids, and Cottages & Bungalows.

Comments

  1. These are great tips! Thank you for putting this together and making it easy and achievable for the average person to do on a realistic budget! I just shared with my facebook fans :)

  2. Great post!!! I’m a beginner Dessert Tablist (is that a word!?) And this post is super helpful! Love all your tables!!

  3. Super fabulous tips!! good job Chris!! Always something to learn :)

  4. Hi Chris,
    Although a graphic designer for many years, I’m a relatively new Dessert Tablist (as Lauren says!). This is a GREAT post…love it! I’ve realized that adding height makes a huge difference. I struggle with getting great shots of my tables on the day of my event. Do you set up your tables in advance and have them photographed or do you photograph them on the actual day of the event? I think a lot of the shots on the blogs are gorgeous but just don’t seem realistic. For example, a set up outdoors in beautiful meadow or park. Um, wind, sun, melting? lol. I strive to keep it simple so this really appealed to me. I love the set ups in the post, especially the one with the brown background and beads. Thanks for great tips!

    • Thanks Leslie,
      I always make time to take photos, even if it’s for a client. I let them know it’s part of my business ahead of time – they understand it’s used for marketing/portfolio so they’re very cooperative.

  5. Great post!!! Very usefull tips!!! Thank you for sharing it! I’m also a brand new tablist and need all advise you can give!!

  6. Such a great and helpful post! Thanks for posting something that is useful for the everyday mom. I just shared it on my blog~ http://skyblueseed.blogspot.com/2012/02/ryans-first-birthday-full-post.html

  7. Love this post!! Thanks for sharing!! :)

  8. What amazing tips! Love how you explained so many little details to such a beautiful project.

  9. Excellent articlel Chris! One thing I like to do when designing my tables is to do a rough sketch mock up. It helps me to put it all into perspective and make changes without jostling around my desserts. :)

  10. annette redican says:

    Just wanted to say what a great post! I have been viewing many of the dessert tables I see with skepticism…Not because they aren’t visually stunning…they are…but because many are almost more decorative than edible. Huge jars of hard candy, massive containers of colored marshmallows, gum balls in the correct colors. All these items are visually appealing but hardly economical or very practical….I go to a lot of events and I’ve yet to see anyone chowing down on fistfuls of marshmallows…. hence I love your admonishment not to go overboard with food…a potentially expensive and wasteful course. Great tips for a wonderful looking, awe-inspiring table without wasteful, over-the-top elements!

  11. FestivePartyGirl says:

    I did my first dessert table last spring for my daughter’s First Communion party. It was so much fun designing it and coming up with all of the goodies. My mom is a fabulous baker so she made some of our favorite cookies which we paired with cupcakes and bright, colorful candy. It turned out great!

    I love the tip about moving stuff closer together to make it look more deliberate. I think I tried to use up all of my table space when I could’ve bought less by moving things closer to the center.

  12. Great tips – thanks! I think I always feel like I need to use my table space and then I wish I had more food but I don’t want too much that it’s wasted. Moving it all together is a great idea … I can’t wait to try this at our next shindig.

  13. I have a party this Saturday and will definitely keep your tips in mind as I’m adding the finishing touches. Thank you for this awesome post Chris!

  14. You guys have made me so happy! Happy in knowing that you found this information to be very useful and helpful! Thank You!

  15. Wow, this post is SUPER! Thank you for all the great info! It makes so much sense the way you described everything. I’ll definitely be using your fab instructions! Please write ~more~ how-to, insider-secret posts like this!!

  16. Hi Chris,

    I loved your post. Im doin my daughters first birthday party, and its a lot of work :)
    Im from Brazil and I just cant find this beautiful plates and ceramic cake stands and platters.
    Ill visit San Diego next month, so I could use some help to buy online and bring home ;’)

    Thanks

  17. Chris. I am speechless. Your article is well written, truthful, 100% generous. So self giving, telling us these precious secrets you have learned through hard work and years of practicing. I am even a little bit worried on how you are somehow risking being bothered by people who want everything for free on the internet and how these kind of people can never be satisfied. As for the tips, they were really helpful, the kind of thing one says “why haven’t I thought of it before?” or “my goodness, it makes to much sense”. When I read your description and I see your pictures, everything becomes cristal clear. Your didatics is awesome. You write very well, in a beautiful English and by reading your article I could picture you as an excellent teacher. Congratulations and thank you! I wish a wonderful year and the best success for you. Beatriz

  18. Chris,

    Thank you for these great tips. It’s good to have a reminder! I love these examples and will use in my displays.

    Thank you!

    Karis Walker

  19. Great tips for designing a desert table. perfect for any party.

  20. Heather Harper says:

    A few months ago I searched the web for this info. Nothing! Thank you so much, all of these table displays are beautiful!

  21. the diet solution says:

    Wow that was strange. I just wrote an really long comment
    but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over
    again. Regardless, just wanted to say superb blog!

  22. Thank you so much for the great tips! I can see myself using every one of these in my next party table design. Thank you for making it easy to understand and providing the summary at the end. Greatly appreciated!

  23. Love this post! This may seem like a fairly simple question and it may have already been asked as well. When setting up a dessert table for a client, do you stay on site? It’s probably not necessary to stay around to serve cake pops and gum balls so do you just come back after the event to collect the dishes and props? Or is it normal to include the cost of those items in the price? I’m fairly new to the dessert table concept and I’d love to incorporate it so any advice would be awesome! Thank you! Keep up the good work.

  24. Great tips! I also wanted to add that while going overboard with food is risky (and easy!), it is probably still a safer mistake than going ‘underboard’! I am sure I’m not the only person who feels deeply and meaningfully insulted if my host puts out a paltry spread…!

Trackbacks

  1. Party Design Basics ? Designing Dessert Tables ? Celebrations at … | etysiloki says:

    […] Source: http://celebrationsathomeblog.com/2012/02/party-design-basics-designing-dessert-tables.html […]

  2. […] I was struck by this lovely display from celebrationsathomeblog.com… […]

  3. […] style a table that wasn’t extremely symmetrical! I found this great post from Chris Nease at Celebrations at Home outlining some basics to creating dessert tables and was inspired by Chris’ advice for […]

  4. […] owl invitations are so cute that I used them in the decor on both the luncheon table and the dessert table.   Other owl details are added in food and display ideas using our orange & green color […]

  5. […] to add something chocolate to the dessert mix {as I’ve explained about adding a variety of flavors & textures in sweets tables here} and had the “unique” idea of chocolate lava cakes in a jar. Turns out the idea […]

  6. […] I’ve said before, it’s best to add variety to the desserts you offer. Here I have designer cookies, mini pies, a show-stopping trifle, and chocolate lava […]

  7. […] of months ago when searching tips for creating a beautiful dessert table – you can see her creative tutorial here – and I was amazed at all of her fabulous ideas! Not only will you find planning inspiration […]

Speak Your Mind

*