17 Holiday Food And Drink Bars For Easy, Serve-Yourself Hosting

One of the hardest things about holiday entertaining is making sure that all of your guests are happy with the food choices. Accommodating friends and family can be tricky when you have to consider vegans and vegetarians while also ensuring that some gluten-free options or dishes are acceptable for those with allergies and medical issues. Religious practices and weight-loss plans can also dictate what some guests can eat.

Food bars are a brilliant way to take some of the stress out of holiday gatherings. Once you prep all the components, the guests do the work of combining everything to their own tastes. (Plus, there's no need to worry about who likes onions or who's on which diet.) Choose a food theme that suits the event, whether casual or a little more fancy, and let your guests serve themselves. Everyone is sure to enjoy their dish or drink when, technically, they made it themselves.

Baked potato bar

Baked potatoes are a perfect neutral template for guests to top as they choose. You can easily keep potatoes warm by wrapping them in foil just after baking (or keeping them nestled in a slow cooker on the warm setting). Make sure you have the basics: sour cream, butter, chives, crumbled bacon, and cheese (both shredded and cheese sauce). You can expand the offerings with multiple kinds of cheeses, like a spicy pepper jack, or soft spreads like Boursin or herbed cream cheese.

Veggies, like chopped raw onions, olives, broccoli, grilled onions and peppers, pickled jalapenos, and charred corn, are all welcome additions. Hearty toppings like chili and pulled pork make sure folks won't be hungry, and those who don't want a potato can top a bowl of chili instead. You can keep the whole thing simple with Russet potatoes or include some baked sweet potatoes for those with a sweet tooth.

Chili bar

Chili is such a wonderful winter warmer, and it's easy to make two pots if you want to have both a vegetarian and meat version. (For a chili bar, you might consider making vegetarian chili and keeping spiced ground meat separate as a topping.) Keep your chili warm in a slow cooker, stack up some bowls, and let guests help themselves. Popular toppings include shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream, cilantro, and avocado slices.

Keep your chili on the mild side, and let those who like it spicy control the heat level with a selection of hot sauces and slices of jalapeño. Hunks of fresh cornbread and crunchy corn chips pair well with hot chili, but you don't need to provide much more. For adult parties, plenty of cold beer is the perfect companion to a chili bar, or fill an ice bucket with Mexican Coke and Jarritos for non-alcoholic sipping.

Hot chocolate bar

A hot chocolate bar is an easy and much-appreciated way to entertain guests when a big meal isn't expected. It's also fairly simple to set up for informal or unexpected gatherings, as you can keep things on the small side or elaborate as much as you wish. Pre-make a basic cocoa and keep it in a coffee pot or urn, then let guests choose a mug and have fun with their own hot chocolate toppings, such as marshmallows, whipped cream, and sprinkles.

You can provide a selection of edible stirrers, such as Pocky, churros, Pirouette cookies, and candy canes. Chocolate and caramel sauces are dreamy additions for topping whipped cream, and for adults, you might set out some rum, whiskey, or flavored liqueurs. For inclusivity, have a carafe of hot water and some alternate selections, such as sugar-free cocoa and decaffeinated teas. A plate of cookies, donuts, or other dunkable snacks is a fun bonus.

Mac and cheese bar

For gatherings with kids involved, it would be tough to find a bigger crowd-pleaser than macaroni and cheese. You can bust out your best-baked mac and cheese recipe, but younger folks will be plenty happy with the boxed variety, especially when they're allowed to add their own toppings. For the young crowd, set out dishes of kid-friendly toppings like mini sausages, chicken tenders, crushed Cheetos, and extra cheese.

There are plenty of ways to elevate mac and cheese with toppings for a more adult palate. Colorful vegetables like spinach, kale, and roasted red peppers make the bowl look pretty while adding flavor, and for those who like it cheesy, provide selections beyond the typical cheddar, such as feta, gouda, and grated Parmesan. Meat lovers will appreciate meatballs, crumbled bacon, or smoky pulled pork BBQ. For tasty garnishing, green onions, candied jalapenos, salsa, and truffle oil are fun choices for creative mixing and matching.

Bloody Mary bar

A Bloody Mary bar is a fun way to entertain a crowd of drinking adults at brunch time (or even following a restaurant brunch). A bottle of good vodka and tomato juice are the basic ingredients, and the fun comes from letting everyone go crazy with the garnishes. Provide fresh celery stalks, limes, olives, and an assortment of pickled items (regular pickles, pickled okra, pickled tomatoes, pickled onions, etc.) and cocktail skewers. Hot sauces and salt (for rimming glasses) are a must for the finishing touches.

You've probably seen the elaborate Bloody Mary concoctions at some bars, garnished with everything from hamburger sliders to pieces of fried chicken. There's no need to go that crazy, but you might include a few fun choices, such as shrimp skewers and crisp slices of bacon. Fresh dill and basil keep everything looking (and tasting fresh), so make sure to take advantage of the greenery.

Eggnog bar

Holiday eggnog is such a special component of the season, as it's one of the consumable items you don't usually have at any other time of the year. An eggnog bar makes it even more special, and you can set one up as the main part of your event or even set one up on the side for an event with other food and drink. (It's a great way to make use of a bar cart if you have one.)

Homemade eggnog is fantastic, but store-bought is just fine, and you can pour it into a pretty pitcher for serving. No one needs to worry about whether the eggnog has alcohol in it because drinking guests can add their own. (Choose one of the best rums for mixing with eggnog.) Provide cinnamon sticks and candy canes for stirring, a variety of whipped creams, and cinnamon and cocoa powder for dusting.

Oatmeal bar

If you're entertaining a lot of overnight guests, an oatmeal bar is a handy way to feed a crowd in the morning. Oatmeal is especially welcome the day after a big meal, and it's nice and healthy for those who feel they have over-indulged, but those who want to indulge more can still do so with the more luxurious toppings. For Christmas morning, you can even put the oats in the slow cooker the night before so everyone can wake up to a hot breakfast.

For toppings, provide choices of sweetener (white sugar, brown sugar, and at least one sugar substitute), butter, milk (with at least one non-dairy option), and cinnamon as the basics. Selections of fresh fruit and nuts allow for further customization. Don't forget chia seeds and flax for those who want extra fiber. Peanut butter, jellies, jams, and sprinkles will be popular toppings with the kids.

Build-your-own snack mix bar

Everybody has their own favorite components when it comes to snack mixes. Some people go all-in for the rye chips, while some eat around them. Others gravitate toward pretzels, while some are all about cheese-flavored snacks. Putting together a snack mix bar lets everyone assemble the snack mix of their dreams. Keep it nut-free if you have concerns about possible allergies, but go to town with a selection of chips, snack crackers, and pretzels.

You can provide bowls for mixing, but paper bags (small lunch-type bags or popcorn bags) keep things neater for children and are more portable. You can even let them choose their snack mix before an event, and they can tote it along. DIY snack mixes are also a good plan before kids watch a movie; each child can have what they like best. Tip: include a few sweeter items, like caramel popcorn, but steer away from candy, or it will empty faster than the savory items.

Ice cream sundae bar

You might think of ice cream sundaes as a summertime treat, but with the array of limited-edition holiday-themed ice cream flavors, a sundae bar is a great way to get to sample them all. Bundle up, turn on the heat, and let guests make their own sundaes with ice cream you've allowed to soften a bit for easy scooping. Holiday-friendly flavors might include peppermint stick, eggnog, and butter rum, but old favorites like Rocky Road and Cookies and Cream are welcome, too.

Provide toppings such as candies, sprinkles, sliced fruit, cookie crumbs, whipped cream, nuts, and plenty of ice cream sauces (hot fudge, caramel, butterscotch, raspberry, etc.). Fresh bananas allow folks to turn their sundaes into splits if they desire. You can include cones if you're not too worried about neatness, but bowls will ensure your carpet doesn't suffer too much if there are a lot of children to feed.

Mimosa bar

For easy adult entertaining, especially in the daytime, consider a mimosa bar. Mimosas, like Bloody Marys, consists of only two main ingredients but allow for plenty of customization. All you need are champagne, a selection of juices, and a selection of fresh fruit for garnishing. The classic mimosa pairs champagne with orange juice, and while technically, a cocktail made with anything else probably has a different name, no one will complain. (Champagne and cranberry juice, for example, is called a poinsettia.)

Break out your prettiest stemware, plus some pitchers or carafes for the juices. Good mimosa bar selections include fresh orange juice, cranberry juice, pineapple juice, homemade lemonade, mango juice, and pear nectar. Slices or chunks of fruit can include peaches, kiwis, strawberries, or whatever is pretty and in season. Consider popping small berries like blackberries and raspberries in the freezer, and they'll help keep drinks cool while also looking beautiful.

Taco bar

If any of your friends complain about a nacho bar, are they really your friends? Taco bars not only allow for easy customization, but they're a welcome antidote to the same-old holiday food people are used to (and possibly tired of). Simply provide plenty of taco shells and fixings and let the guests do the rest. Everyone knows the basic taco toppings (shredded lettuce, cheese, onions, avocado, sour cream, and the rest), but feel free to get creative so your guests can, too. Break out any of those unusual pantry ingredients you have around, like pickled cactus or black garlic.

Folks who don't want a taco shell can build a burrito bowl with the same components. You can make the bar vegan-friendly by including an alternative to ground meat, such as jackfruit or a meat substitute. Refried beans make a hearty base for vegetarians if you make (or purchase) them without lard.

Pasta bar

Even the biggest foodie snobs like pasta. It's another type of food that allows for endless customization, and it's easy to prepare in large amounts. You can cook one type of pasta (such as spaghetti) or prepare some choices if you want to be more elaborate. (A gluten-free option would be useful, too, such as a chickpea-based pasta.) You can prepare as many sauces as you like, but guests will be happy with a choice between alfredo and a red sauce if you want to keep things more simple. Jarred pesto can provide another easy sauce option.

For additional toppings, let guests assemble their pasta bowls from meatballs, cooked shrimp, grilled chicken, grilled veggies, Parmesan cheese, and chili flakes. While a pasta bowl is a meal in itself, you can always toast up some buttery garlic bread to make it more complete. No one will go home hungry!

Popcorn bar

While all food bars make things easier on the host, a popcorn bar is perhaps the easiest food bar of them all. All you have to do is pop the corn (whether in the microwave or via a popcorn maker), then let your guests add the toppings they like the best. Most of those toppings will come in a shaker, which keeps things nice and neat. (Choose from among the best popcorn seasonings, ranked.) Parmesan cheese, flavored salts, Cajun seasoning, and ranch powder are all popular choices.

Guests can have their popcorn in bowls, or you can provide them with popcorn tubs or bags, just like at the movies. You can also have a selection of movie candy, like M&Ms, Milk Duds, or Butterfinger Bites, for those who like to mix their candy with hot popcorn. A popcorn bar is a great way to provide snacks on family movie nights, game nights, or for casual parties.

Bruschetta bar

For more upscale gatherings, a bruschetta bar is a super way to keep things sophisticated without going into a ton of trouble. Toast slices of crusty bread right before the gathering (French or Italian, or any dense bread you like), and let folks arrange their own toppings. With the right components, bruschetta can look like a work of visual art, so don't be surprised if your guests are sharing their creations on Instagram all evening.

For the best bruschetta bar, make sure there are plenty of spreadable components, such as tapenade, hummus, softened goat cheese, or pesto. For toppings, provide a selection of ingredients with contrasting colors and flavors, like cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, and avocado slices. Salty meats and creamy cheeses are must-haves. Don't forget the finishing touches. Sea salt, chopped nuts, poppy seeds, and fresh herbs make everything look even more delicious while also amping the flavors.

Grits bar

You don't have to be southern to love grits, though southern folks will be extra excited to put together a meal from your holiday grits bar. (You can make it a polenta bar if you think it will resonate better with your guests. Grits are easy to keep warm in a slow cooker, and you can let your guests pile on the accompaniments as they choose. Be sure to have plenty of butter and salt, as those are must-haves for grits.

Cheese is such a popular accompaniment for grits that you might want to make a pot of cheese grits as a base to start with. For toppings, you can't go wrong with grilled shrimp, crumbled bacon, green onions, collard greens, BBQ pork or chicken, corn relish, pimento cheese (or any kind of cheese, to be honest). Make sure that heat lovers have plenty of hot sauce on hand.

Waffle bar

Waffle bars are a good choice for brunch gatherings or as breakfast for overnight guests, especially during the holidays. Waffles can be toasted just before serving and placed on a platter, or you can let folks do their own toasting with toasters on the serving table. You might consider cutting waffles in halves or quarters, which allows guests to try an array of different toppings on each piece of waffle. 

Fresh fruit, whipped cream, butter, and a selection of syrups are popular waffle toppings you should have on hand, but don't forget those who prefer a savory dish. Chicken tenders would be an appreciated addition to a waffle bar for those who like chicken and waffles. Consider adding a spicy hot honey as a topping option. Cheese, bacon, and green onions make great savory waffle toppings, too. If you're up for scrambling some eggs, some of your guests might like making a waffle breakfast sandwich.

Ramen noodle bar

What's more comforting than a bowl of steaming hot ramen? You can share that warm feeling of comfort with your holiday guests with a ramen bar, and it's easier than you think. For maximum efficiency, pre-cook the noodles and portion them out into individual bowls. Guests can then ladle hot broth into their bowls (from a slow cooker or pot) and top their bowls with their chosen toppings.

You can please people with different eating habits by having a pork or chicken broth option and a vegetarian option, such as a miso-based broth. For ramen toppings, let guests choose from items like softboiled eggs, roast pork or chicken, cooked shrimp, steamed fish cakes, green onions, sweet corn, mushrooms, bean sprouts, and seaweed. Guests can select their heat level by adding chili paste, sriracha, or sliced chili peppers. Lime wedges and fresh cilantro are nice options for keeping things light and fresh.