10 Creative Food Bar Setups That'll Thrill Guests (and Give Hosts More Time to Enjoy the Party)

From waffle bars to prosecco bars, these interactive party food setups will help you step up your holiday menu.

An interactive food bar will be a win-win-win for your holiday party. You'll have a fun activity that gets guests involved, a way to flex your menu so it'll accommodate everyone (including your vegan niece and your pickiest friend), and you'll reduce your prep time—just a little chopping and a few bowls, and you can have your holiday menu out and displayed.

Before you finalize your party menu, consider some of these food bar setups to make your celebration a little more festive.

01 of 10

Hot Drink Bar

Give your guests the warmest welcome with a hot drink bar. Have thermal carafes or slow cookers simmering hot cider, hot chocolate, and mulled wine, then go ahead and add fixings to let grownups and kids create their own unique drinks.

Note: This can get very creative, so it might be fun to have a contest for the craziest concoctions.

What to stock:

  • apple cider
  • hot chocolate
  • mulled wine
  • cinnamon (sticks and ground)
  • garnish fruit (cherries, berries, and apple slices)
  • spirits (bourbon, rum, whiskey, cognac)
  • liqueurs (Irish cream, cinnamon, coffee, orange, raspberry)
  • whipped cream
  • peppermint sticks/crushed peppermint
  • cinnamon candies
  • caramel syrup
  • chocolate syrup
  • chocolate shavings/curls
  • chili powder
  • marshmallows
  • crushed malted candy
  • star anise
  • sprinkles
  • edible glitter

Simple upgrade: Add baked good accompaniments like pirouette cookies, gingerbread, and apple cider doughnuts.

RELATED: Hot Chocolate Charcuterie Boards Are Our New Favorite Thing

02 of 10

Nacho Bar

Nachos are the perfect snack food, and can be layered with as many different ingredients as you'd like.

To make sure the cheese is nice and melty, have your favorite cheese sauce simmering in a crockpot that people can spoon over the chips.

(You can also use pans with sterno beneath it to keep the cheese, meat, and other fixings hot.)

What to stock:

  • tortilla chips
  • melted cheese sauce
  • refried beans
  • meat options (think brisket, pulled pork, spicy chicken, or taco meat)
  • salsa (go with various temperatures!)
  • guacamole or diced avocado
  • sliced black olives
  • scallions
  • diced tomatoes
  • more shredded cheese
  • sour cream
  • cilantro
  • pickled jalapeño

Simple upgrade: Want to crisp up the chips and cheese for your nacho base? Create individual plates of chips with cheese, and bake them in the oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, until the cheese is hot and bubbly.

03 of 10

Eggnog Bar

'Tis the season for eggnog! But why not let your guests doctor it up just to their liking, with both spirits and sweets.

What to stock:

  • eggnog (homemade is even better!)
  • rum
  • bourbon
  • whiskey
  • brandy
  • nutmeg
  • cinnamon (sticks and ground)
  • whipped cream
  • caramel syrup

Simple upgrades: Rim your eggnog glasses with crushed gingersnap cookies, cinnamon sugar, or crushed red-hot candies. You can also offer some fun eggnog-themed desserts, like eggnog-cherry fudge or eggnog cupcakes.

RELATED: 7 Festive Cocktails That Start With Store-Bought Eggnog

04 of 10

Holiday Brunch Waffle Bar

Have a Belgian waffle iron? You have everything you need for a stellar holiday brunch. Make enough waffles for your crowd, and display them with an array of toppings.

What to stock:

  • maple and fruit syrups
  • chopped fruit (berries, bananas, apples, and pears are all great)
  • Nutella and/or peanut butter
  • fruit jams or pie filling
  • chopped candy or nuts
  • ice cream
  • whipped cream

Simple Upgrades: Offer different flavors of waffles, such as pumpkin, chocolate, pecan or red velvet (perfect for Christmas!).

05 of 10

Candy Apple Bar

Perfect for a late fall/early winter party, a candy apple bar starts with a healthy apple—then doctors it up with a whole bunch of (probably) less healthy ingredients.

What to stock:

  • apples on popsicle sticks or skewers
  • caramel sauce
  • Nutella
  • honey
  • melted dark chocolate
  • mini marshmallows
  • graham cracker crumbs
  • toffee bits
  • chopped nuts
  • mini M&Ms
  • shredded coconut
  • granola
  • mini chocolate chips
  • cookie crumbs
  • sprinkles

Simple upgrades: Don't think the kids (or grownups) will down a whole apple? Offer apple slices for easier dipping—just don't forget to dip the slices in salt water or lemon water to keep them from browning.

06 of 10

Ice Cream Treat Bar

There's no shame in serving the summertime classic any time of year. But don't stop with sundaes—provide all the fixings, so guests can make ice cream sandwiches or even mix in the goodies to create their own ice cream flavors.

What to stock:

  • ice cream (several flavors)
  • cookies (larger format, in several different flavors—think chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal, ginger, and lemon)
  • hot fudge sauce
  • caramel sauce
  • marshmallow fluff
  • maraschino cherries
  • chopped nuts
  • crushed Oreos
  • sprinkles
  • mini chocolate chips
  • whipped cream
  • bananas
  • toffee bits

Simple upgrade: Buy (or make!) waffle bowls for serving up sundaes.

07 of 10

Prosecco Bar

It's the holiday season—and raising a glass of bubbly is practically required. Fortunately, sparkling wine is the basis of several tasty drinks, so set up this bar as an easy way to level up your party drinks.

Note: For younger guests or those who don't drink alcohol, consider offering sparkling water or seltzer to mix with the juices.

What to stock:

  • sparkling wine
  • seltzer or sparkling water
  • a variety of juices: cranberry, pomegranate, orange, peach, pineapple, and strawberry
  • garnish fruit (orange slices, raspberries, strawberry slices, pineapple wedges)
  • fresh herbs (basil, mint, and rosemary)

Simple upgrade: Offer an array of liqueurs to craft more potent cocktails—such as elderflower liqueur, Chambord, creme de violette, cognac, and Grand Marnier.

08 of 10

Mac and Cheese Bar

This one is easy—and oh, so decadent. Combine a few trays of the ultimate comfort food—mac and cheese—with a few favorite mix ins, and voila! Instant party.

What to stock:

  • mac and cheese
  • shredded barbecue chicken
  • brisket
  • chorizo sausage
  • crumbled bacon
  • steamed broccoli
  • roasted tomatoes
  • peas
  • roasted mushrooms
  • chives
  • basil
  • rosemary
  • parmesan cheese
  • pesto sauce
  • garlic breadcrumbs
  • hot sauce

Simple upgrade: Go for some luxe ingredients—think lobster or crab.

09 of 10

Cheesecake Bar

This sweet bar is super simple to set up—take slices or squares of cheesecake and add allow them to top them as they please.

What to stock:

  • cheesecake slices or squares
  • hot fudge
  • caramel sauce
  • sliced strawberries
  • chopped pretzels
  • peanut butter sauce
  • cherry or apple pie filling
  • pineapple sauce
  • chopped pecans
  • crushed Oreos
  • blueberries

Simple upgrade: Add some flavored cheesecakes like pumpkin cheesecake or lemon cheesecake.

10 of 10

Taco Bar

This is the classic interactive bar—it lets guests easily mix and match ingredients to make exactly what they'd like.

What to stock:

  • hard-shell and soft tortillas
  • taco meat options (spicy beef, shredded chicken, pulled pork)
  • black beans
  • shredded cheese
  • cotija cheese
  • salsa (both traditional and mango)
  • sour cream
  • guacamole
  • shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes
  • cilantro
  • green onions

Simple upgrade: Serve chili as well—you can use many of the same ingredients to upgrade the chili.

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