One of the most memorable summer afternoon parties I’ve attended included a DIY cocktail bar with a muddle station. There were homemade simple syrups, berries and herbs to add flavor to the liquor of our choice. We muddled, tested and tasted until the sun went down perfecting our personalized cocktails.
These days with two kids, I’m more likely to be found at the food table at a party trying to see what my picky eaters will eat. That’s why I’m a fan of parties with a DYI station. Dairy-free? No problem. Don’t eat meat? We’ve got you covered. From top-your-own-pizzas and burger bars to kabob stations to ice cream sundae stands, everyone wins. Guests get to choose what they like and hosts get more time to mingle (and eat, drink, and relax).
Whether you’re hosting a party or simply looking to add some fun to your family meal, try a DYI bar. Here are a few suggestions for inspiration.
Burgers. Make the ultimate burger bar with condiments and party-worthy toppings like caramelized onions, smoky barbecue sauce, kimchi (Korean fermented cabbage), bacon mayonnaise, chipotle mustard, sliced avocado, hot sauce and offer a few different options for cheese. And remember to offer patty options for non-meat eaters too. Take a look at our collection of burger recipes opens in a new tab for inspiration.
Grilled Pizzas. Set up a DIY pizza buffet and grill thin rounds of pizza dough opens in a new tab that guests can top with tomato sauce, sautéed mushrooms, grated Parmigiano Reggiano, pepperoni, crumbled browned sausage, sliced olives, peppers and mozzarella. And give your guests a chance to get in their greens (and reds and yellows) and offer grilled veggies as toppings. Try one of these grilled pizza recipes opens in a new tab.
Bellinis. Hosting a brunch? Treat friends and family to a simple Bellini bar. Chill bottles of Prosecco (or sparkling wine, ginger ale or lemonade) and make purées of summer’s best fruits for flavoring. Try puréed and strained peaches, cherries, blackberries or raspberries.
Fajitas. Grill strips of beef and chicken, onions and red and green peppers. (Money-saving tip: Choose less popular cuts and slice thinly for serving). Good accompaniments to this classic Texas meal include guacamole (try our Superfast Guac opens in a new tab) or sliced avocado, plus a few salsa options including jicama salsa opens in a new tab, and sour cream. And don’t forget the tortillas!
Hot Dogs. I’m not suggesting that you ignore the ketchup, mustard and chopped onions but I am suggesting that toppings such as pickled green beans or okra, wasabi mayonnaise, crushed corn chips, or cotija could make your hot dogs a lot more exciting!
Yogurt Parfaits. Whether for breakfast, dessert or a snack, parfaits opens in a new tab are just the thing for kids’ sleepovers and play dates. The formula is easy: fresh fruit + something crunchy + something creamy, but the possibilities are endless.
Fresh. Pitted cherries, grapes, chopped stone fruit (peaches, nectarines, plums), or cantaloupe
Crunchy. Trail mix, crumbled cookies, toasted coconut, chopped nuts, pumpkin seeds or breakfast cereal
Creamy. Ice cream or yogurt
Bonuses. Swirl in honey, jam, marmalade, maple syrup, chocolate or caramel sauce. Surprise with chopped fresh mint, mini marshmallows, almond or peanut butter or chocolate chips. Garnish with a quarter of a toasted waffle, a vanilla wafer or a long sliver of cinnamon and sugar toast.
Ice Cream Floats. Because the basic recipe is always the same (ice cream + liquid + topping), ice cream floats lend themselves to an assembly-line approach with three simple stations:
Ice Cream. I recommend including a simple classic such as vanilla and a long-standing crowd-pleaser such as mint chocolate chip or cookies and cream. Fruity seasonal ice creams (or gelato!) — peach or strawberry — can be paired with fresh fruit toppings for a winning combination.
Beverages. Set out an assortment of sodas, such as root beer and cream soda. If you want to offer adult beverages, include a pitcher of cold-brewed coffee opens in a new tab or a few bottles of porter or stout.
Toppings. Get wild with whipped cream, pitted cherries, sprinkles, shaved dark chocolate, chocolate chips and toasted coconut flakes. If you’re serving fruity ice cream or soda, you can offer sliced strawberries, diced peaches or berries.
Your turn! What’s your favorite type of summer DYI bar for entertaining or family meals?