How to Set Up a DIY Hot Chocolate Bar for Cozy Party Vibes

published Oct 31, 2023
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hot chocolate in mugs on table
Credit: Photo: Andrew Bui; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

As we say goodbye to the warmth of summer and the crisp, fresh days of fall, it’s time to look forward to the things we love about the chillier winter months. One of our faves? Hot chocolate, of course! This season, gather up your crew and invite them inside for a gathering that’s anchored by a fantastic hot chocolate bar. Trust us — it’s a super simple but wow-worthy way to impress your guests of all ages. (Pssst — we can’t get enough of Aldi’s new hot cocoa bombs. Yum!). 

Whether you’re a post-Halloween holiday connoisseur or you’d prefer to wait until December to get cozy, we’ve included all the info (and inspo!) you’ll need to create your very own hot chocolate bar, complete with an array of tasty toppings, whether you’re throwing a Christmas party or having a special family dessert night. That way, each of your guests can create their very own sweet concoction. 

How to Set Up a Hot Chocolate Bar

The first thing you’ll need in order to set up a hot chocolate bar is a place to do it. This, of course, will depend on the size and layout of your home, the furniture you have at your disposal, and which area of your home is most conducive to this type of gathering. 

You’ll ideally want to choose an open space with plenty of room for your guests to access the hot chocolate bar. Your “bar” can be anything from a long buffet-style hutch to a circular table; what matters most is that there’s room for the hot chocolate and all the fixings. (If your space is on the smaller side, you can create different hot cocoa bar shifts for the different ingredients.)

Once you’ve got your space identified, you’ll need to figure out how you’ll keep your hot chocolate warm. The easiest way is to make it in a slow cooker, but you can also keep it on the stove and simply have your hot chocolate bar contain everything except the actual hot chocolate. 

Finally, you’ll need containers for all of your toppings and fixings. If you want something flashier than coffee mugs, you can opt to go rustic with mason jars, use sundae cups for a sweet flair, or keep it elegant with modern dessert cups

Credit: Lauren Volo

What You’ll Need for a Hot Chocolate Bar

Now that you’ve identified where and how you’ll set up your hot chocolate bar, you can add a splash of personality by including some decorative touches, along with useful items to make the evening run more smoothly. Here are some things you might need:

Hot Chocolate Bar Recipes

Now, for the main event. The hot chocolate will be the foundation of your hot chocolate bar, so you’ll want to make it as tasty as possible. Whether you choose to have one type of hot chocolate or several, we’ve included some of our favorite recipes for inspiration.

  • Plain hot chocolate: Always a crowd-favorite, and a great base for toppings, plain hot chocolate is creamy and delicious. This velvety recipe comes together easily right on the stove.
  • Mexican hot chocolate: Less sweet and more spicy; yes, please! Mexican hot chocolate typically has less sugar than traditional hot chocolate, instead incorporating spices like chili powder and cinnamon for a hint of heat.
  • Hot chocolate bombs: Drop these babies into a mug of warm milk for an instant surprising treat both kids and adults will love.
  • Nutella hot chocolate: There’s a reason they fight over this stuff in France. Add a dollop of this fan-favorite to add a nutty, creamy taste to your hot chocolate. (Just be sure to check with your guests first to ensure no one has a nut allergy.)
  • Instant hot chocolate: Looking to pull off a no-stress winter gathering? Opt for instant hot chocolate to make things super simple. This tub of Swiss Miss ensures there’s enough for seconds. 
  • White hot chocolate: Not only is white hot chocolate delicious, but it’s a beautiful backdrop for homemade whipped cream and marshmallows. 
Credit: Mara Weinraub

Hot Chocolate Bar Toppings

Speaking of homemade whipped cream! Once you’ve got your hot chocolate game secured, elevate it to the next level by adding a variety of tasty toppings to your hot chocolate bar. Here are some ideas that have a little something for everyone:

Other Desserts for Your Hot Chocolate Bar

Don’t forget the treats! If you’d like to serve goodies alongside your hot chocolate bar, you’ve got lots of options. You could simply put out some store-bought items, like a tray of cookies and brownies or a fruit platter, or you could ask your guests to each bring an item to share. But if you’re really looking to level up your hosting, you can whip up a few of your own favorite cold-weather treats using these recipes: 

Have you ever tried making a hot chocolate bar at your holiday party? How did it go?