Summertime is the perfect time for a party and what could be more fun than an ice cream social? Here are some ideas to make your next gathering a hit! From decorations to desserts, we’ve got you covered. Let the good times roll!!
When hot summer days come and the kids are out of school we are all looking for fun things to do. These old-fashioned ice cream social ideas are very simple and everyone will have a great time when planning and throwing the ice cream social.
During the month of June, my husband and I traveled to Missouri to visit our friends Mel, Dan, and family on the farm. It just happened to be hay season so we helped them bring in the hay at night and to celebrate, the next day, Mel and I created an old-fashioned ice cream social event.
We searched the farm, close to the house, for a picturesque spot to set up a small buffet, table, bench, and chairs. The perfect area just happened to be right near a beautiful tree filled with bees. But far enough away that we didn't bother each other.
Now that the furniture is in place I will walk you through each step of decorating an ice cream social along with beautiful ideas. It is truly simple and Mel has all the delicious ice cream recipes on her site if you want to go all-out homemade.
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What is an Ice Cream Social?
Ice cream socials have a history in North America that dates back to the 18th century. The first ice cream social recorded was in 1744 in Maryland when the governor served ice cream for a dinner party. In 1802, Thomas Jefferson hosted an ice cream social at the White House.
As ice cream became more readily available in the 1800s, ice cream socials were often held by organizations such as churches and schools. In the 1860s, “ice cream gardens” became popular in society, and churches often fashioned events after them. With the availability and popularity of ice cream today, ice cream socials are very popular throughout the country.
Fun fact! The largest ice cream social in the world was held on January 30, 2019 in Italy.
Ice Cream Social Ideas
Now let's get this party started by planning your ice cream social decor. First, think about your furniture. You can use any outdoor furniture you already have or use folding chairs and tables. But if you have extra help and strong muscles place pretty furniture from inside your home outside. We decided on vintage, old-fashioned furniture.
Now let's start with a supply list.
Gather all your supplies ahead of time and place them in baskets. You might find your baskets useful for decorations, too.
- Baskets (french market basket and rectangle basket with handles)
- Enamel milk pitcher or vase for flowers
- Fresh flower (we picked Queen Anne's lace and Timothy from the field but store-bought flowers are amazing too. Here is a post on the best places to buy flowers.)
- Ice cream sundae glasses (this is an old set that belonged to my mom but here is a similar set)
- Table runner
- Wooden bowl for napkins (I used an antique Munising bowl but any wooden bowl will work)
- Wooden spoons
- Glass straw holder for milkshakes if you serve them
- Straws (we used red and white paper straws)
- Glass jar for ice cream cones
- Ice cream cones
- Marble cutting board
- Chalkboard sign
- Quilt for tablecloth
- White linen runner
- White 2 x 10 painted white with chalk paint
- Wooden dough bowl
- Toppings (Oreos, sprinkles, marshmallows)
- Sauces (caramel, hot fudge or chocolate sauce, and berries)
- Ice cream (homemade ice cream or store bought)
- Ice cream scooper
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Now that we have all the supplies and all the furniture is in place, let's start setting up the buffet with goodies. Here is a step-by-step guide.
Ice Cream Social Buffet
When planning the buffet table, think of placing the food in order by what they put on first and then next. In other words place the glasses, napkins, and spoons on one end and then the ice cream and topping next. Our buffet was pretty small so to keep it simple I placed the dry toppings on the table.
First, place your runner on the buffet and then the vase or enamel milk pitcher in one corner. And then the wooden bowl filled with napkins, wooden spoons and straws.
This will make grabbing all the utensils easy and fresh flowers will look so pretty on the buffet.
We were fortune that Mel's farm is full of flowers out in the fields. It was so pretty!! So we snipped fresh flowers for the milk pitcher. The basket was an easy way to transport our flowers.
But you can use artificial flowers or fresh flowers from the grocery store. Do what is simple for you and don't stress about this part. It would also be pretty just having the milk pitcher and no flowers.
Next on the buffet are the ice cream sundae glasses or whatever you plan to hold the ice cream.
If you plan for each person to serve their own ice cream, you can place the ice cream after your glasses, but we had one person serve the ice cream.
Because of that, we didn't place the cream on the buffet. Instead, the ice cream churn sat on the basket on the ground.
Next, if you are serving ice cream cones, a great way to set them on the buffet is inside a glass jar.
Your Ice Cream Social Buffet is Almost Complete
If you have a marble cutting board, set it on the buffet with ice cream sauces or smaller ice cream bowls. We ended up using the mason jars we placed all the sauces in before we came outside. This is also a great place for whipped cream, fresh fruit, or maraschino cherries.
And don't forget a cute ice cream social sign. It is the little details that make all the difference.
Last, place spoons in or near the sauces and your old-fashioned ice cream buffet is set.
Ice Cream Social Tables and Chairs
If you want to provide seating as we did then add tables and chairs. We brought Mel's beautiful handmade farmhouse table outside and placed my grandma “Ranny's” wedding ring quilt on the top as a tablecloth.
You can use anything on this table. Even go without a tablecloth if you prefer. We thought it would be fun, colorful, and give that old-fashioned look so we went with an old quilt.
After you place a quilt on the table add a white table runner and then a piece of wood painted and distressed with chalk paint.
Layering linens and centerpieces on a dining table is a great way to add character and interest. But again, you don't have to add these things. I mainly used what I had laying around.
Now for a Delicious Centerpiece
Last, place your dough bowl filled with dry toppings on top. Talk about a delicious goodness centerpiece. This ice cream social centerpiece is pretty and useful all wrapped in one. If you don't have enough room on your dining table, you can always set up a separate toppings bar.
I almost forgot. If you have another basket you can set it on the side of the table on the ground with more flowers. We actually used artificial flowers in this basket. These dogwood flowers are so handy. I used them when decorating our mantel for spring.
Again, it is the little details that make your decor so special.
Okay, now everything is set and ready. Now for the fun part! It is time to party and celebrate bringing in the hay.
Ice Cream Social Party Final Thoughts
We had such a good time celebrating. All the party guests got creative making their own sundae. I love this one with an ice cream cone on top. What a fun idea!
Jacob, Mel's son, served all the homemade ice cream and then everyone started creating their ice cream art.
Everyone loved building their own ice cream sundaes with their favorite toppings. It was so much fun! Look how fun this one is with an Oreo, rainbow sprinkles, marshmallows, and a straw. I think this one has all the dry topping on it. LOL!
Even Chuck their dog got in on the fun. He loves ice cream!!
I would say the most important thing is that everyone enjoyed the fun. Especially the little ones. They thought it was a great party.
The best thing is that pretty much everything you will need is set so now you can relax and enjoy the party too. I do have one last thought. Consider adding a galvanized tub beside the buffet with bottled water on ice. It's a great idea if anyone gets thirsty.
You can also add coca-cola in case they want to make a coke float. We had coke floats at our old-fashioned patriotic party.
Homemade Ice Cream Recipes
Now that you have an idea for decorations, it is time for some old-fashioned ice cream recipes. Mel has you covered there with her homemade ice cream recipes. Here are a few of our favorites that will bring smiles when tasted.
She has more ice cream recipes and treats on her site. You're sure to find your favorite ice cream recipe. Go check her out at Adventures of Mel.
Now it is your turn. Are you decorating for an ice cream social? Let me know in the comments and ask any questions.
I hope this post has been helpful, encouraging, and inspirational. This old-fashioned ice cream social is simple but you can change the party theme for other ideas. By the way – National Ice Cream Day is July 17 if you need a reason to organize your own ice cream social!
Friday 14th of October 2022
Hi Linda, Thank you for the tasty and beautiful ideas you shared on your post. Ice cream socials seem to be typically pastel, light and bright, would it be in bad taste to have a Halloween themed ice cream social? I am liking the trend of pastel with black for Halloween. I thought of doing a light pink or pastel orange tablecloth with a black web tablecloth overlay so the color in the bottom peaks through. I thought black disposable bowls and spoons that match the pastel color would lighten the mood. It’s hard to find Halloween napkins with pink so I am leaning toward that sherbet pastel orange color with a simple pumpkin design or plain colored if I can’t find a suitable design. It’s for a high school honor society info meeting on Oct 23. Do you think this theme is too harsh for an ice cream social?
Monday 17th of October 2022
I think this is a fun, creative, and cute idea. I have never thought of a Halloween ice cream social. I say go for it.