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Dessert Table Ideas

By an Award-Winning Professional Party Planner

Easy Dessert table decorating ideas for a birthday party, wedding, or baby shower

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Easy Dessert Table Ideas

If you're fed up trying to recreate all those immaculately styled dessert tables you see on Pinterest (and wondering why yours turn out more like a 3rd grade arts & crafts project!), then check out my tips and suggestions below. These dessert table ideas for birthday parties, weddings, or baby showers, can easily be recreated at home and there's something for every type of budget.

Remember, you can also apply these decorating tips to a general buffet table, food station, or drinks bar—you don't need to have a dedicated candy bar/dessert table.

On this page, We'll look at different ideas for the main component; the backdrop, along with tips and suggestions for how best to construct, support, display, or hang this. Then, on the continuing pages, we'll look more closely at the actual food styling and presentation.

art deco great gatsby dessert table

Fabric Backdrops

For a quick and easy 'ready to go out of the box' solution, these lightweight printed tapestries can easily be hung behind a dessert / buffet table to create a personalized backdrop. They come in 5 different sizes, but for a backdrop you probably want the large or extra large (shown below). All the designs can be customized with your choice of text and font. Check out the full range here or click on any of the photos below for that particular design then use the "personalize" option.

40th birthday tapestry backdrop gold sequins
40th birthday tapestry backdrop teal and gold
40th birthday tapestry backdrop wood effect
40th birthday tapestry backdrop floral design

with some of these tapestries, the design looks best when you add something to blend the hard edges. For example, you could recreate this Kate Spade inspired backdrop, below left, by using this striped tapestry available here, with paper flowers (available here) added around the edges. Alternatively, add some foliage or balloons as in the examples below.

Kate Spade inspired backdrop
Photo: Oosile
stiped backdrop tapestry
once upon a dream balloon backdrop
Photo: Megan Wallach

I particularly like this gold sequin design (also available in silver) for milestone birthdays and it comes in a range of different colors. Check them out here.

black and gold sequin 40th birthday backdrop
white and gold sequin 40th birthday backdrop
navy and gold sequin 40th birthday backdrop
blush pink and gold sequin 40th birthday backdrop
burgundy and gold sequin 40th birthday backdrop
purple and gold sequin 40th birthday backdrop
teal and gold sequin 40th birthday backdrop

The great thing about this backdrop design is that there's a range of matching party supplies available, such as the ones below (available in assorted colors), including party invitations, plates, cups, napkins, bottle labels, favor boxes, guest books, thank you tags, and more. Check out all the options here.

40th birthday gold sequin invitation
40th birthday gold sequin party plates
40th birthday gold sequin party cups
40th birthday gold sequin napkins
40th birthday gold sequin wine labels
40th birthday gold sequin favor boxes
40th birthday gold sequin guest book
40th birthday gold sequin thank you tags

Printed Backdrops

Another easy option is to opt for a printed vinyl backdrop, which can be personalized with your choice of text, Check out this site for lots of different designs suitable for milestone birthday parties, weddings, kids birthdays, or baby showers.

milestone 50th birthday dessert table
kids birthday dessert table
diner themed dessert table

Giant Balloons

These helium-filled 36" giant balloons can be used to create a stylish dessert table backdrop when anchored down with balloon weights, like in the example below left by Amy Atlas. However, rather than arrange them in a row as she has, I think they look better when arranged in a cluster at varying heights as in the photo below center. Just remember to consider the background behind the balloons. Ideally you want to arrange them in front of a plain wall or a large uncluttered window/french doors. You can pick up clear confetti-filled giant balloons here, or colored ones here.

36 inch giant balloon dessert table backdrop
36 inch giant glitter filled balloons
36 inch giant balloons

regular balloons

You can also use regular ones to create more of a 'wall of balloons' style backdrop by using different length strings when anchoring them (see photo below right). If it's a younger kids party, it's fine to use multicolored balloons. However, for a more sophisticated look you can create a nice ombre effect by arranging these in three rows with the darkest at the bottom and the lightest at the top, as in the photo below left. Alterantively, a single color can also look chic, and I quite like it when they're arranged loosely 'en-masse' running the entire length of the dessert table and flanking it at each end (see photo below center for a similar effect). These look best when you use pearlized balloons such as these.

balloon letters / numbers

Get creative with these giant number and letter balloons to spell out names, years, words, or phrases to create a simple backdrop for dessert tables, buffet tables, and bars. Again, you need to consider your background carefully, a plain wall works best to ensure the words can be easily read. I also like the way they've created a background of other smaller ballons in the photo below right—although you might want to do these in a different color to really make the main word stand out.

Freestanding Backdrop Boards

This 8ft x 8ft photo booth backdrop board (below left) is a handy and cost-effective structure to use for creating dessert table backdrops. It comes with it's own leg supports to make it freestanding, and it's the type of thing you can use again and again. You can paint it or attach different finishes to it, such as balloons, tissues poms, or any of the following decoration ideas below.

Check it out here.

photo booth backdrop board
photo booth backdrop board with balloons
photo booth backdrop board with tissue poms


One option is to cover the backdrop board with chalkboard contact paper or chalkboard paint, both available here. Use it to create simply hand-drawn backdrops, such as this New York skyline, or for a milestone birthday party scribble personal messages, greetings, and fun facts around photos of the birthday boy or girl from different stages of their life.

milestone 40th birthday chalkboard dessert table backdrop
Photo: No Biggie
new york skyline chalkboard dessert table backdrop
Photo: Cake Ink

You could also use a chalkboard backdrop in a more practical way to identify different food items on a buffet / dessert table, like in the photo below left. Alternatively, pick a meaningful quote or song lyric, or just write the persons name(s) and date in a decorative way. There's a great tutorial here for how to write nicely on a chalkboard using a homemade stencil.

paper flowers

These paper flowers can be applied to the backdrop board above to create an elegant dessert table for a wedding or milestone birthday. You can pick up different colors and sizes here. Or check out this supplier, which has some less expensive options.

These paper flowers aren't that cheap so, depending on your budget, you might not be able to cover an entire backdrop board. However, you can get arrangements like the ones below here, measuring 4ft wide by 2ft tall, which would allow you to create a nice display if arranged centrally on the wall behind the dessert table—or spread them out more loosely as if they are creeping over the wall like ivy.

paper flowers
paper flowers

Another way to use the paper flowers is in conjunction with another decorative background and just have them creeping around the edges, such as in the photos below. They work particularly well with the chalkboard background and text, or you can create a patterned backdrop, such as the one below left, by cover the backdrop board with decorative contact paper—see here for lots of different designs.

If you're on a tighter budget, you can create something similar using these tissue paper flowers (below left), available here. I think these would work best if you use just one color of flower, or perhaps 80% one color and then 20% of another just as an accent color, a bit like in the white and gold paper flower arrangement above. Other brighter colors, like the ones below right, are available here, or for pastel ones see here.

artificial Boxwood Topiary

Another covering you can apply to the backdrop board is this artificial boxwood topiary hedging. It comes in sections and looks great with a few other decorative elements added on top, such as flowers, mirrors, framed photographs, lettering, garland banners, or even the letter balloons mentioned previously.

artificial boxwood topiary hedging backdrop
artificial boxwood topiary hedging wall
artificial boxwood topiary hedging wedding backdrop
Photo: Ruffled

3d Letter Backdrops

Sometimes it's enough to just use large 3D letters, applied to a simple textured or patterned backdrop, for your buffet / dessert table decor. You can use this to spell out the birthday boy / girl's name or year of birth, but I think these are often less obvious when used to spell out simple words and phrases, such as celebrate, cheers, 50 and Fabulous, or oh what fun!

You can get 3D letters made in lots of different finishes, such as glitter-covered, metal effect, or even planters to create floral letters. See here for these.

gitter letters
metal letters
planter floral letters

Alternatively, you can also get these calligraphy stlyle name signs, which work well on many different backgrounds, or if you have a larger budget then these marquee light letters would make for a very dramatic dessert table backdrop. Both are available here.

calligraphy name signs
calligraphy name signs
marquee light letter signs


3D letters, whether glitter covered, metal, balloons, or calligraphy name signs, also work well when combined with balloon backdrops—either as a solid wall or just corner arrangements.

More Balloon Ideas

Other ways to use balloons include sticking them to a backdrop board in a grid shape to give a more defined 'wall of balloons', as per the photo below left. This is a great look for an adult birthday party and would also work well with just one color of balloon. Alternatively, you can apply these adhesive vinyl letters to balloons to spell out anything you like, see below center. Finally, if you want a tight balloon wall finish, as in the photo below right, pick up some of these plastic grids, available here, which you just insert regular balloons into before hanging on a wall / backdrop board.

Decorative Paper

Another easy way to create a desssert table backdrop is to simply cover the freestanding backdrop board with contact paper or inexpensive peel & stick wallpaper. This is a really cost effective option and there are lots of different finishes available, include various wood and brick effect, strips and patterns, and photographic / scenic views. I particularly like the picture frame design, below right, which would work really well for a milestone birthday if you filled each frame with a photo of the birthday boy or girl from different stages of their life. Check out the full range here.

wood contact paper dessert table
brick contact paper
striped contact paper
striped contact paper

Support Frame

These inexpensive photographic backdrop support frames are also a great option to create lightweight dessert table backdrops and you can pick them up here quite cheaply. The great thing about this support frames is that you can use it again and again to create different backgrounds for buffet / dessert tables—or use it for photos at your party! Just remember to blend the edges / legs by covering with balloons, tissue poms, swags of fabric etc.

photographic backdrop frame
photo backdrops
streamer backdrops
Photo: Love My Dress

Fabric Strips

Cut fabric into strips (or use ribbon) and hang them from the support frame to create a fabric backdrop for your dessert table. Avoid a hard candystrip effect by using several different colors, or if only using two colors, as in the photo below center, don't alternate the colors, instead hang them in an irregular order. Check out this site where you can buy color co-ordinated fabric strips such as the ones shown below right.

Fabric Curtains

Alternatively, you can just hang fabric curtain style from a support frame. I particularly like these glitter fabrics which work well for dessert tables—especially for adult birthday parties. Check them out here. Remember that a little glitter fabric goes a long way, so combine it with a solid color tablecover to avoid it looking tacky.

metallic curtains

Check out this tutorial by Jenni at I Spy DIY for how to layer 3 different colored metallic foil curtains and cut them into a chevron pattern. It's a great way to make a simple backdrop a bit more special. Alternatively, you can create a more textured effect by applying rows of metallic fringe on a roll to a backdrop board, below right.

Check them out here.

metallic foil curtains
metallic foil curtains
gold fringe backdrop

Bead / Paper Curtains

Acrylic bead curtains are an easy way to create an elegant backdrop for a dessert table, or you can buy individual strands / beads on a roll and hang them yourself from the support frame. Get them here.

Similarly, there are lots of paper flower garlands available here, including these unusual ombre paper circles which give a more layered look. Again, remember to think about the background behind bead / paper flowers. These look best against a solid color wall / fabric. If the background behind is too busy, they will be hard to see and you'll loose the overall effect.

Paper Cranes

These paper crane garland decorations would also make a lovely dessert table backdrop—especially for a wedding or baby shower. Check them out here.

Wax Paper Cones

Similarly, these more abstract wax paper cones are often used for fashion and photography backdrops and look quite stylish. Check them out here.

Tissue Garlands

A more budget-friendly option is to hang these leaf tissue garlands vertically from the support frame. Be sure to use at least 3 different colors, rather than 2, to avoid that hard candystrip effect. Check them out here.

leaf tissue garlands
leaf tissue garlands
leaf tissue garlands

Photographic Backdrops

Photographic backdrops are a great way to create a more theatrical scene or add a sense of depth to your dessert table. When choosing an image, remember that the bottom third will probably be eclipsed by your dessert table so you need to choose one where the important parts are in the top two thirds. For example, the dessert table would probably only obscure some of the steps in the Cinderella-style image below left, so this would work well. Whereas, in the graffitti image, below center, the bottom 'LOVE' would probably drop behind the dessert table. If you do find an image like this, where some of the bottom would be obscured, check whether there is any spare space at the top of the image that you could happily lose. If so, you could roll it up a little at the top to make the bottom part of the image more visible.

Another thing to make sure you check is the size. Some photobackdrops are quite small, so they won't provide enough coverage to act as a backdrop for a dessert table. Depending on the length of your table, you probably want something in the region of 8ft x 8ft or larger. Also, these backdrops work best when you blend the hard edges with fabric, props, or other decorations—so the image doesn't just stop at the sides—as in the photo below right.

Check out a large range here, or some others (including the Cinderella image below left) are available here.

cinderella princess photographic backdrop
graffitti love photographic backdrop
woodland forest photographic backdrop

Fabric Backdrops

I came across these photos of a 60th birthday party, below left, where they'd created a lovely 'Through the Years' style backdrop using photos of the birthday girl at different stages in her life. These photo collage-style tapestries, below right, would make creating something similar really easy—as you can see in the mock up I created below 'Celebrating Eighty'. You can customize the tapestry with your own text and colors—and even remove the bottom row of images if you want to position a buffet / dessert table in front (although I would keep all the photos and just hang it higher). There are other photo collage tapestries available that you could also customize, such as this 'Story of Us' example, below right. Check out all the options here.

Through the Years photo backdrop
Through the Years photo collage tapestry backdrop
The Story of Us photo collage tapestry backdrop


Another budget-friendly option is to use paper streamers to create a dessert table backdrop. You can hang them or twist them, but personally I like the way they've layered them at different heights in the image below center left. Alternatively, you can do something similar with paper chains.

If you don't want to invest in cheap photographic backdrop frame, another way to hang lightweight decorations such as these is to hang a 48" dowel using these Command damage-free hooks. They're adhesive and remove easily so are great for temporary party decorations. If you want a greater width, just use 2 dowels and create the streamer backdrop in two sections.

command damage free hooks
command damage free hooks
dowel with damage free hooks

Paper Lanterns

Paper lanterns, when hung in a central cluster over a table, as in the photo below left, make a very dramatic statement. If you hang them lower than normal, against a solid color wall, you almost don't need a dessert table backdrop as they become the main decorative feature. Alternatively, just combine them with a simple fabric or contact paper backdrop, as in the example below right. See here for the best range of decorative lanterns.

red paper lanterns decorations
paper lanterns ceiling display
accordian paper lanterns

To hang the lanterns, use these Command damage-free party ceiling hooks. They apply with an adhesive strips and remove easily without damage so are perfect for hanging party decorations. You can also pop these inexpensive battery powered LED lights inside the lanterns to give a lovely warm glowing effect (as in the example above center). Check them out here.

commmand party ceiling hooks
LED paper lantern lights

Alternatively, you could arrange the lanterns in longer thin rows, running the length of your dessert table, as per the photos below (which are hung with the Command party ceiling hooks, although I would recommend using some sort of invisible thread). Again, I would suggest letting these hang down lower than normal and filling the gap between the bottom of the lanterns and the top of the dessert table foods with some sort of signage/banner, such as the calligraphy name signs or glitter letters mentioned previously. Arrange these components so there isn't too much empty space between them—a bit like in the photo below right, if we assume the dessert table foods are just a few inches below the Congrats banner. Snug, not windy.

paper lanterns dessert table decorations
paper lanterns dessert table decorations

A Few of My Favorite Things

I came across this party, below left, by Kelly at Talk of the House, and another, below center left, by Tammy at Maghily's - Party in Style where they'd both created a dessert table for their grandparent's birthday consisting of 'a few of their favorite things'. I think this is a great idea for any age birthday and ties in nicely with the idea of celebrating the person rather than just their age. If you want to do something similar you can get a number of printable signs that read "These are a few of my favorite things", such as the ones below, available here. Then just use these chalkboard food signs, available here, to label each item on the dessert / buffet table.

a few of my favorite things buffet table
a few of my favorite things dessert table
a few of my favorite things printable sign
a few of my favorite things printable sign

Photo Cake Toppers

I love these photo cupcake toppers! They look so cool when identical cupcakes are arrange en-masse on a dessert table. Alternatively, use several different photos of the birthday boy/girl, as per the example below center. Again, it's a simple little touch but is guaranteed to make guests smile. Check them out here.

40th birthday party photo cupcake toppers
40th birthday party photo cupcake toppers
40th birthday party photo cupcake toppers
40th birthday party photo cupcake toppers full length body

Custom cookie cutters

What better way to make it personal than with these custom face cookie cutters made from a photo of the birthday boy or girl! As well as baking a batch of cookies, you could also use them on sandwiches, cheese slices, or fruits such as watermelon. Alternatively, pop them into celophane bags and give them out as party favors. Check them out here.

custom face cookie cutters
custom face cookie cutters

Alternatively, if you're not one for baking you can buy these cartoon-style cookies made from a photo of the birthday boy / girl. Check them out here.

custom cartoon face portrait cookies
custom cartoon face portrait cookies
custom cartoon face portrait cookies
custom cartoon face portrait cookies

Retro Candy

For a 40th birthday party, a fun addition to the dessert / buffet table would be retro candy from the birthday boy or girl's childhood. You can buy either a selection box for a particular decade or individual candies. If you're choosing a decades pack, remember to think about what year they would have been around 8-10 years old. For example, if they were born in 1978, you're probably better off getting a 1980's selection box as they'll have more memories of those candies than of ones where they were only 2 years old. Check out the full range here. Update: Some alternative options now available here too.

Alternatively, you can have these printable candy bar wrappers made here using a photo of the birthday boy / girl and just attach them to regular bars.

retro candy milestone birthday party
retro candy milestone birthday party
personalized 40th birthday party candy bar wrappers

Custom Photo M&M's

These custom photo M&M's would make a fun addition to a dessert table. They're available as 2, 5, and 10lb bags or as smaller favor packs. I think they'd make a great talking point to include a bowl of these on a buffet / dessert table. Check them out here.

custom photo M&M's
custom photo M&M's
custom photo M&M's
custom photo M&M's

Cake Toppers

These silhouette style cake toppers are a great way to personalize a 40th birthday cake. There are lots of different styles and designs available, including ones that incorporate the birthday boy / girls's name with their favorite sports or hobbies, or you can go for a more funny photo-based topper. See the full range here. Alternatively, I love these hand-sculpted cartoon figure style toppers (below far right), that are made from a photo of the birthday boy / girl, surrounded by things that represent their lives. Check out other examples here.

personalized cake toppers for adults
May the 40th Be With You cake topper
40th birthday photo face cake topper
40th birthday cartoon figure cake topper

Alternatively, you can easily create a beautiful photo cake like the ones below by using these custom edible picture icing sheets which you can then apply to any cake. As before, use lots of different pictures of the birthday boy /girl throughout their life. Check out the icing sheets here.

milestone birthday photo birthday cake
Photo: Cake Decor
milestone birthday aged to perfection photo birthday cake
Photo: Style at Life
custom edible picture icing sheets

Through the Years Plates

These custom photo collage paper plates are a great way to create really personal 'Through the Years' style party supplies by uploading photos of the birthday boy or girl at different stages of their life. They're also far more special than the regular store-bought 40th birthday party supplies emblazoned with 4-0. There are a number of different designs available, depending on how many photos you want to include, and you can just use the 'Personalize' to change colors, fonts, and text. Check out all the options here.

Through the Years photo collage paper plates
Through the Years photo collage paper plates
Through the Years photo collage paper plates
Through the Years photo collage paper plates

Premium Disposable Tableware

If you prefer something less themed, this range of elegant disposable tableware looks stunning. They make several different collections, so I've identified the designs used underneath each picture below incase you want to recreate the exact look. Check them out here. Update: You can also find these here now too.

pink & navy disposable tableware
Erika collection: pink & navy large plates with navy speckle small plates
black striped & white marble disposable tableware
Noir collection: black striped large plates with white marble small plates
purple watercolor & pink striped disposable tableware
Amethyst collection: light purple watercolor plates with pink striped small plates
peach blush striped and white marble disposable tableware
Goddess collection: peach blush striped plates with white marble small plates
green watercolor & pink striped disposable tableware
Manhattan collection: dark green watercolor plates with pale pink striped small plates
white striped & marble disposable tableware
Blanc collection: white striped plates with white striped & marble small plates

Premium Disposable Tableware

If you're laying on a buffet or catering to large numbers, you can get some pretty good premium plastic cutlery in either gold, silver, or rose gold, available here, or even with a glitter finish, available here. Similarly, they also have matching premium plastic plates, such as the ones pictured below, available here. Update: Check out this supplier too as they often have better prices.

gold premium plastic tableware
silver premium plastic tableware
rose gold premium plastic tableware
rose gold glitter premium plastic cutlery

Napkin Wraps

An easy way to style the dinner or buffet table for a 40th birthday celebration is to use these personalized napkin wraps, below left available here, or these glittery 40 napkin holders that come in a range of different colors, available here. Alternatively, you could continue the 'Through the Years' theme by wrapping cutlery in napkins and fixing them in place with these stickers printed using old photos of the birthday boy or girl as a kid—they're only 5¢ each—available here.

milestone birthday napkin rings
40th birthday napkin rings
custom photo sticker
napkin stickers

Food Styling & Presentation

Now that we've looked at options for the dessert table backdrop, head over to my other page of buffet table ideas for food styling and presentation tips.

buffet table food display
dessert table food display
buffet table food presentation
buffet table food presentation

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Many thanks


dessert table ideas

About Matt James

Matt James is a professional event planner and owner of event agency Left Field Productions, which has produced events for Elton John, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kevin Spacey, Stella McCartney, David LaChapelle, John Waters, and Elvis Costello & Diana Krall. Left Field Productions has won 30 event industry awards for excellence including Production Company of the Year. Matt is the author of the book Become an Event Planner: Secrets for Getting Hired from Employers, Recruiters, and Event Professionals.

matt james