40 Ideas for Build Your Own {Food} Bars

40 Ideas for Build Your Own {Food} Bars - great for party planning!

The other day Mark and I were discussing cupcakes. As in – why did they become such a THING? They’re messy, no matter how you eat them. (Seriously, don’t even tell me about the break it in half and stick the frosting in the middle of your cupcake sandwich method. Still. Messy.)

The only justification I could come up with was that cupcakes are cute. Because they’re little cakes. And little things are cute.

Still, I think it’s time we move past this trendiest of party foods. And onto build your own {food/meal/snack} bars!

Obviously I’m kidding about the cupcakes. (Scroll on down and you’ll see that a Build Your Own Cupcake Bar is first under the dessert category.) But I do love build your own bars for a party!

Build Your Own Bars are an easy, but fun, way to display and serve food to guests. They’re especially suited for parties that aren’t exactly sit-down meals with several courses. You know, fancy dinners? Probably not your best choice then. But for pretty much every other kind of get-together – picnic, BBQ, casual meal, baby shower, reunion, Cinco de Mayo party, New Year’s Eve party, birthday party, any gathering when you invite more people than you have dining room chairs – they’re perfect.

You set up a table, put out all the ingredients for your meal or food item (or beverage), and voila! Your friends and family get a customized meal made with their favorite foods. And it’s fun! And looks cuter than cupcakes! (Especially if you Pinterest it up with Mason jars, burlap and paper straws.)

By the way, Build Your Own Bars are often called party bars or food stations. That’s helpful to know if you want to search for various ideas on Pinterest. But you don’t really have to, because I’ve done all the searching for you. (ALL. The. Searching.) I’ve got 40 of the best party bar slash food station slash build your own bar ideas for you right here!

Build Your Own Lemonade Bar


Build Your Own Oatmeal Bar


Build Your Own Chili Bar

Sandwiches & Meals

Build Your Own Nacho Bar


Build Your Own Salad Bar

Sides & Snacks & Apps

Build Your Own Trail Mix Bar

Desserts & Fruits & Fruity Desserts

What’s your favorite kind of meal (or food) to serve in a build-your-own bar?

23 Comments 40 Ideas for Build Your Own {Food} Bars

  1. Lisa/Syncopated Mama January 23, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    I love having a build your own food bar for parties! The only one I’ve used is a taco bar for a Cinco de Mayo party, but this collection you’ve shared really has me thinking…you could even easily assign different ingredients to guests, since so often they ask what they can bring!

  2. Kristen Strong January 23, 2015 at 9:21 pm

    This is GOLDEN. Thank you, Mary!

  3. Robin Dance January 24, 2015 at 8:00 am

    What a list! Fantastic, Mary!!

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect January 31, 2015 at 4:08 pm

      Thank you, Robin! xoxo

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  5. Angie | Real Life at Home January 25, 2015 at 11:13 pm

    This is probably one of my favorite round ups that I’ve ever seen. I have a sudden urge to have a party now!

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect January 31, 2015 at 4:08 pm

      Oh thanks, Angie! I have been writing it in bits and pieces since November, haha! And yes, I have that partying urge, too!

      1. Britta January 31, 2015 at 5:53 pm

        Mary – wouldn’t it be fun if people would post (or pin) pics of their parties that were inspired by this post (and tag you)?? :)

  6. Britta January 28, 2015 at 10:29 am

    OK! This is one of very my favorite posts in a really long time. I would love the list in a printable too :)

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect January 31, 2015 at 4:00 pm

      Ahhh! So glad I re-read your comment. I totally forgot about the printable!

  7. Susan Godfrey January 29, 2015 at 10:07 am

    There are a LOT of great ideas here! I see a lot of fun parties in my future!

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect January 31, 2015 at 3:58 pm

      Yes, it makes me want to plan a party right now! :)

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  9. Jessie Weaver January 31, 2015 at 10:48 am

    So fun! I had a hot chocolate bar for David’s birthday one year. Totally my favorite thing, ever. I’ve had a pizza bar party, too, and it was such a blast. People love to customize! Especially kids.

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect January 31, 2015 at 3:53 pm

      Oooh, a hot chocolate bar would be perfect for Adrienne’s next birthday (since it’s in January)!

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  11. Danielle June 4, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    Thank you for sharing all of these! Got so many great ideas for an upcoming party!

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  13. Laura July 5, 2015 at 9:28 am

    Love this list! Perfect for my next (casual) dinner party!

  14. Ashli J Price June 22, 2016 at 9:29 am

    What about an Asian style rice and noodle bar? Or an Indian flatbread bar?

  15. laurengracie July 10, 2016 at 6:57 pm

    Oh you can’t forget the mac & cheese bar! With toppings of extra shredded cheese, mushrooms, bacon bits, french fried onions, chicken and/or bbq pork! It’s so magical.

  16. Allisha Bordelon October 18, 2016 at 10:13 pm

    I’ve done a Build Your Own Cheesecake Bar that was a huge hit! I made a big bowl of cheesecake filling, along with chocolate crumbs and Graham cracker crumbs. I had a skew of toppings as well….fruits, nuts, sauces, M&Ms, etc. Gosh, it was good!

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