1) Ice Cream: Obviously you're going to need ice cream. The first thing you're going to want to ask yourself: are you making it, buying it, or ordering it? There's no shame or preferred answer here, you just need to be honest with the amount of time you have to dedicate to the gathering. Because folks can get chocolate or vanilla at their corner market, it's fun to have a few outrageous or seasonal flavors in addition to the standards. I would say 4-5 flavors is a great start, with chocolate, vanilla, coffee, and a couple more interesting selections preferable. If you love making homemade ice cream, you could plan this out for a week or two and freeze enough batches to go around. If store-bought ice cream suits you just fine, go wild with some of your favorite flavors!
But wait: how much to buy? Epicurious recommends that you count on each person eating at least three half-cup (4 ounce) scoops, which would add up to about 1 1/2 cups per person (12 ounces). Considering this, for:
• 12 people: 1 1/4 gallons (144 ounces, or 9 pints)
• 16 people: 1 1/2 gallons (192 ounces, or 12 pints)
• 20 people: About 2 gallons (240 ounces, or 15 pints)
2) Sundaes or Cones? Another critical decision you're going to have to make is if you want to serve ice cream sundaes (in which case you'll need bowls) or stick to simpler ice cream cones. Or both. I think sundaes are such a fun conversation starter because folks will discuss the toppings you have on hand and compare what they chose -- it's a nice way for your friends that don't know each other to break the ice over the topping table.
3) Toppings: If you go the sundae route, you'll definitely need toppings. A good hot fudge and caramel sauce would be wise. As would a simple butterscotch. You probably want to stock up on jimmies or make your own. And I love having diced fresh fruit, especially this time of year, to add to a bowl of vanilla ice cream. Simple and wonderful. Other popular choices: M & M's, animal crackers, pretzels, granola, crushed oreos, slivered almonds, nutella, and marshmallow fluff.
4) Decorations: Think simple, seasonal and festive here. A bright tablecloth (could even be paper to avoid stains), a strand of pretty paper shapes, and stacks of fun bowls is all you really need here. The best tip, I think, is to keep the decorations manageable and use many things you already have on hand so you don't end up feeling overwhelmed or stressed with small details.
5) Equipment: Considering the logistics isn't nearly as fun as flavors of ice cream, but it must be done. For your party, you'll likely need:
• Large table or Countertop: to lay out your ice cream and fixings.
• Buckets of Ice: to keep your gallons of ice cream cool (especially if this is an outdoor gathering).
• Ice cream Scoops & Bowls: For serving and enjoying!
• Serving Pieces for Toppings and Sauces: You'll want to find some pretty bowls for setting out toppings and sauces.
• Scoops and Spoons: To serve the ice cream and to eat the ice cream. Obviously.
• Glasses or Cups: Ice cream makes people thirsty: guests will likely want a glass of water or iced tea!