The ice cream sundae started out as a treat available in ice cream parlors and consisting of a bowl or glass of ice cream with a topping. As people began making their own ice cream sundaes at home, the idea of the ice cream sundae bar evolved. While the term "ice cream bar" generally refers to ice cream that has been frozen around a stick to create an individual, transportable serving, an ice cream sundae bar is akin to a salad bar, except with a variety of ice cream flavors, toppings and sauces. In the kitchen or outdoors, it has all the ingredients needed for assembling ice cream sundaes at home. It is particularly popular as a dessert option for parties and other gatherings, because it tends to offer enough variety to satisfy a range of tastes.
Ice cream is the star of an ice cream sundae bar. The bar can offer as many ice cream flavors as desired. Old standbys such as vanilla and chocolate are commonly found on an ice cream sundae bar. To accommodate guests who are watching their weight or have other health considerations, fat-free flavors, sorbet and frozen yogurt can be added to the ice cream selection. If the sundae bar requires a lot of ice cream, it may be more economical to buy it directly from an ice cream company rather than a grocery.
Common topping for ice cream sundaes include nuts, sprinkles and fruit, such as cherries, pineapple chunks and strawberries. Imaginative toppings such as granola and breakfast cereal further the variety. Candies such as chocolate and peanut butter baking chips, marshmallows, gummy worms and crushed toffee bars also appeal to sundae enthusiasts.
Caramel, chocolate, butterscotch and fruit-flavored syrups often are part of sundaes. Such sauces may be easier to manage if one uses squeeze bottles designed for picnic condiments, though bowls with small serving ladles also are common. A fondue pot, again with a small ladle, can be useful for serving heated sauces.
Depending on the age of the guests, the containers one needs to assemble the ice cream sundaes can be paper, plastic or glass. For young children, plastic and paper containers are safer. Waffle cone cups can be useful in outfitting a sundae bar that needs little cleanup, because guests eat the container along with the sundae.
The traditional ice cream parlor sundae often was served in a glass dish similar in shape to a vase with a slender base that widened to a fluted top. It comfortably held the ice cream and sauces with little threat of melting ice cream overflowing the sides of the container. Sundae glasses remain available for purchase in the early 21st century, though one also can use a variety of glasses or bowls when assembling a sundae. Taller glasses may require special long-handled spoons if diners are to reach the ice cream in the bottom.
One also needs ice cream scoops and plenty of napkins on an ice cream sundae bar. Keeping the ice cream cold requires a supply of ice. When one places the ice cream containers in ice-filled buckets, the logistics of a self-service ice cream sundae bar can be easier to manage. One should arrange the sundae bar in a way that promotes a smooth a flow of traffic at the serving station.