If you don’t already know about a Toppings Bar, it is basically one main item and then a bunch of toppings served buffet style. The main item could be burgers, macaroni and cheese, baked potato, chili, tacos, pasta, waffles, or even pancakes. In my catering days, I would only do a Toppings Bar if it was requested. In my experience, unless everyone invited to the party already knows each other, some guests can get uncomfortable. It can feel awkward standing in line next to someone you don’t know waiting for the toppings you want. I’ve seen some people so nervous that they don’t get any toppings and head back to the seating area with just the plain main item on their plates. This is something to think about if you decide to host a Toppings Bar party.
Here are a few other tips to keep in mind:
Keep a good flow
Just like when you go to a buffet restaurant, a good flow is important to avoid chaos. It should be clear where the guests should start and where they should end. Be sure the first things they grab are a plate (maybe a napkin too) and the main item. I like putting the utensils last because guests are less likely to drop them on their way to sit down to eat.
Label your toppings
Not every topping has to be labeled. Some items are obvious like iceberg lettuce or cheese. But, if something is spicy, contains nuts, etc., it needs to be labeled. This stops the question, “What’s in this?” and keeps the line flowing, allowing you more time to mingle with your guests.
Hot food hot and cold food cold
Regardless of how long you expect your party to last, it’s always a good idea to keep the food at the right temperature. I often will put bowls on ice or in the freezer to serve the cold toppings in. For hot food, having food warmers or the items in crockpots is helpful. I’ll also turn my oven on low heat, placing my hot items in there, and then taking them out in portions as needed.
Having back-ups of toppings is a good idea but you don’t need to put them all out at once. I’m usually the last to eat if I’m hosting a party so if I see something running low, I can quickly swap it out with a different topping. The “no duplicates” rule also prevents from having four pans of half eaten beans or other duplicated toppings left over. This over duplication has happened to me. My family helped me finish off all those beans for days!
Prepare for mess and be mindful of kids/dogs
Messes happen and things fall on the table and floor. You can’t prevent this but you can avoid some mess by putting a tablecloth down, and having plenty of napkins available. It is also helpful to place the correct -sized serving spoon with each item. There’s nothing like having too small a spoon and watching people try to dig it out of the dish or just avoid that topping altogether. If younger kids are coming over, make sure there are not any cords they could trip over and that the food is pushed back far enough on the table so it doesn’t fall on their heads. For the dog lovers, make sure the food is high enough so dogs can’t grab anything or lick a spoon when no one is looking. My dog niece and dog nephews are notorious for this!
What I love the most about Toppings Bar parties is watching what people create for themselves. As a Chef, part of my job is to present food on a plate in a way that looks professional and appetizing. At these Toppings Bar parties, I get to be the one watching my guests’ faces light up as they prepare their appetizing concoctions.
Be sure to comment below and let me know your favorite Toppings Bar items or some party tips you have learned along the way.
Peace and Blessings 😊