When I was working with an event planner, I remember the first time I saw a candy bar instead of the traditional pre-made wedding favor. The wedding was a winter-white wonderland theme with sweet, white candies piled inside of clear apothecary jars of different shapes and sizes. Cellophane bags and clear candy scoops and tongs were provided for guests to select the candies they wanted and build their own favor bags. To me, it was the perfect blend of pretty and whimsical, and I knew when it came time for my wedding that I would want the same for my favors!

Years later, imagine my surprise and dismay when I read in wedding magazines that candy bars are sooo yesterday for favors. What?! A quick interview of my friends and family found that most of them had not even heard of a candy bar (“You mean like a chocolate bar with a custom wrapper?”) much less participated in so many that they were bored of them. Since then I have seen many entertaining sites and party planning gurus that use candy bars or dessert tables at their own parties.

Lesson 1: Live by your own rules, not by what the media tells you is old news.

Although the early incarnation of candy bars was quite literal and meant serving different kinds of candy, it has evolved into so much more. The more popular sweet versions I’ve seen are ice cream sundae bars, cupcake bars, candy apple bars, cereal bar, and even sweet and salty mixes like popcorn bars and trail mix bars. Depending on affordability, I’d like to see some parties where the host moves outside of the box even more. How about a Lego bar, crayon bar, or sticker bar for a child’s birthday party? A crafting party could have a button bar, a ribbon bar, or a scrap-booking paper bar. If you can buy in bulk and in variety, the sky is the limit.

Lesson 2: Let creativity be your guide.

The basic idea and appeal of these kinds of DIY bars is that you are offering a variety of options for favors, making it more appealing to your guests, and allowing your guests to pick and choose what they like best. What can be more fun than building your own favor instead of being stuck with another trinket you don’t want or won’t use? Favors are only worth it if they are memorable and guests enjoy them. Otherwise, you are wasting your time, effort, and money.

When you are planning your bar, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Match it to your theme and your audience. A sweets bar would not be appropriate for a diet support group’s holiday shindig. It would be appropriate for a wedding or birthday party. A toy bar might not fight an adult’s milestone birthday… well, on second thought, that would depend on the type of toys and whether alcohol was served. Ahem. Perhaps a bread and cheese bar would be better for the adult party.
  • Unify your variety with a common denominator. If you’re doing a food bar like the aforementioned cupcake, cereal, or popcorn bar, you already have this in the bag. The same would go for toy bars or craft bars using the same item. For bars that have a larger scope, like candy or crafting supplies, pick items of the same color family, style, or size. This will make the overall bar look more coordinated and planned instead of a hodge-podge mess thrown together at the last minute.
  • Consider practicality. While it would be fun to have an ice cream sundae bar at a summer picnic, it won’t be much fun if it’s so hot that all the ice cream melts in the first five minutes. In this scenario, you would want to take extra precautions like keep the ice cream in coolers even during the serving, have a tent over the ice cream area, etc.
  • Don’t forget the accessories! Be creative with the containers you use to display your items, like clear jars, galvanized bins, porcelain bowls – anything that can hold the items while still making them visible and easily accessible. The same goes for what your guests take the favors away in: bags, boxes, and even mugs or bowls wrapped in cellophane. NOTE: If you’re displaying food, make sure your containers are “food safe” or it’s a no-go.
  • Keep it affordable. Sure, there are some great items that would make fun bars, but if the end result is a huge chunk out of your bank account, is it worth it? Items you can buy in bulk are typically the best option cost-wise, but always compare prices and break it down to how much you estimate the cost per person will be. Less than $5 per person is a good deal. $10 per person is a little pricey and you might want to substitute some of the more expensive items with generic, smaller, or inexpensive options. $15 per person only works if your guest list is in the single digits.

Lesson 3: Favor bars are work, but they can be worth it!

On a final note, food bars certainly don’t have to be reserved for favors. If you’re on a budget, consider a sweets bar instead of cake and ice cream or a snack bar to supplement your hors d’oeuvres. All the same guidelines above still apply, so make sure it really is saving you money by comparing those prices, people!

I hope you found this helpful, and please let me know of any successes or challenges you have had with favor bars! Oh, and here was my own candy bar at my wedding: