How Sweet It Is: Building the Candy Buffet of Your Dreams

So — you’ve caught the candy buffet bug.You’re not alone. More and more brides want to see a tower of sweets at their reception.

Motives differ: some like how buffets allow guests to hunt and pick according to their personal sweet tooth.

Others like the fairytale flavor. Candyland, Babes in Toyland, Willy Wonka: some of our earliest dreams of abbondanza involve forests where gumdrops hang from trees, chocolate runs in rivers and pillars are peppermint sticks.

But just as with Hansel and Gretel, there’s a catch to the candy buffet. Namely? Pulling off a successful one involves a touch of magic.

And if that makes you nervous, rest assured you have company. Because a candy buffet isn’t free. Like any other “wow” aspect of a wedding, it’s part of your overall investment. And while the waitstaff might pass the hors d’oeuvres and the venue lay out the linens, you could be on your own when it’s time to design the candy buffet.

But not to worry: here are some tips from the pros for translating that bountiful delight in your head into a mouth-watering reality at your wedding.

The Secret to Sweetness

Scan all those photos of candy buffets throughout the web, and you’ll quickly spot two things.

One, buffets are monstrously popular. And two, while some are a feast for the eyes, others seem to fall short of the heights their planners must have hoped for.

So what’s the secret?

Here’s number one: buying enough candy. Sounds simplistic, but it’s key.

Seducing the Eye

“The first thing I tell brides — you really can’t do candy as a hard commodity. It’s more a decoration,” says Jon Prince, president of online candy giant

“I talk to hundreds of brides. They’ll say, ‘I’m having 200 guests, and I want to give each guest 3 ounces, so I guess I need about 37 pounds of candy.’ Sounds reasonable, and 3 ounces might be enough to actually satisfy your guests, but visually? It won’t be enough to make a presence.”

Prince suggests that instead of seeing candy by the numbers, brides take an aesthetic approach. “You choose the flowers because they’re beautiful,” he says. “The candy buffet should be too.”

And unlike flowers, Prince adds, candy serves double duty as an edible item. “Still, you have to budget the candy buffet into your wedding expenses. It doesn’t work well as an afterthought.”

An Aesthetic Equation

But what about the wedding planners who suggest buying a pound of candy per person?

Prince says buffets work best when you plan by the eye, not the numbers.

“To make it look gorgeous, I’d start with the table, not the guest count. I’d take five to 10 types of candy, and buy 15 to 20 pounds each, whether you actually need that much or not.”

He adds, “When it comes to candy, the more the merrier. If you have a large table overflowing with candy, you have presence. The biggest disappointment I hear is that the candy buffet didn’t look substantial.”

Like a Kid in a Candy Store? Here’s What to Buy

Okay, so now you have a handle on those numbers. But between the heaping bins at upscale food markets and the galaxies of candy choices online, which temptations do you choose?

There aren’t any hard-and-fast rules, says Prince.

…like everything else in weddings, candy buffets are getting more & more personalized.

But are there any trends afoot? Any rush for a particular kind of candy?

Not really, he says. Instead, it’s the season’s colors and personal themes that are driving brides’ choices.

Andy Wignall of The Rock People  agreed “you can always get a candy buffet compiling everyone’s favorite’s but people aren’t interested in taste nowadays, they are interested in theming and nothing stands out like personalized sweets.”

The Theme’s the Thing

To illustrate, Prince describes an all-white Miami wedding where the couple set up 20 to 30 pounds each of white candies, placing the unwrapped varieties in jars, martini glasses and other interesting containers, and piling custom-wrapped mint rolls in front. “It looked fantastic,” he says.

Then there was the bride with an Emilio Pucci theme, who ordered her candy in a stylish palette of brown, pink and green.

Mark Kingsdorf of The Queen of Hearts Wedding Consultants concurs: it’s the themes that shape candy buffets. “And like everything else in weddings, candy buffets are getting more and more personalized, with more and more variations.

Retro Revivals

“Of course, ‘Everything old is new again,’” he adds. “So you see things like retro candy buffets. At one wedding we did the candy bracelets and necklaces on the elastic cords; the little waxed bottles filled by sugar water.

“There are very few themes you can’t do with candy. Beach weddings are fun, with all those boardwalk choices: saltwater taffy, caramel apples, fudge, peanut brittle.”

Amplifying Your Style

“I like to focus,” explains Prince, “but the focus can be anything. Candies you personally like, or a theme, or a texture. If you’re having an all-white wedding, you’ll want an all-white candy buffet. If you’re having a destination wedding in an exotic location, you could choose dramatic, Caribbean types: Island Punch Jelly Belly beans.

“In the end, you want ‘presence.’ Mies van de Rohe once said ‘Less is more,’ but he definitely wasn’t talking about candy buffets.”

Fashion a Feast for the Eye

You’re set. You’ve narrowed down your choices… and you’ve got the goods. Now how do you add those visual touches that turn your buffet from “aww” to “jaw-dropping”?

…to make the look pop, raise some of your containers on a rack … or a milk crate.

Regal Crystal

For starters: choose cool containers. “One of the more striking displays I’ve seen put the candy in William Yeoward and Baccarat,” says Prince.

“Basically — and this is a good idea — the couple matched their candy containers to their floral vases.”

Affordable Alternatives

Don’t have quite that much fine crystal waiting in the wings? Here’s a budget-friendly alternative from Kingsdorf. “Find some interesting containers: different shapes, different heights. Personally, I’ve used a dozen different containers from Ikea, and the most expensive one was about $10.”

He adds that clear containers are best, to show off the contents, and that container mouths should be wide enough for the scoops.

Pro Planners’ Tricks for Better Buffets

“To make the whole look pop, raise some of those containers on the table.” Kingsdorf explains an old catering trick is to take a catering rack or a milk crate — “the kind that restaurants and supermarkets get their milk delivered in” — turn it upside down on the table, and cover with a cloth.

“A nice bunching fabric gives you spill and texture. Put some of your containers on top of that.”

The final touch? A floral arrangement. Or more cheaply, some complementary pillar candles in your wedding colors.

Don’t Forget the Take-Away

Kingsdorf adds that your most personal touch could be the candy bags. “At one of the weddings I did recently, the couple went to a dollar store and got a bunch of takeout containers in red, one of their colors. “They personalized each container with a little sticker, which was inexpensive and very cute. Anyone could do the same thing: use a tag or little rubber stamp, or stickers.

“Just find a way to add that custom touch.”

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (for Candy)

candy by color

So why are candy buffets so sizzling hot these days, anyway?

Simple: they’re a huge hit with guests. “Favors can be a tough choice,” points out Kingsdorf. “Depending on your guests, you might find yourself picking up a ton of personalized CDs or bottle stoppers at the end of the night. But when it’s edible, people eat it … or take it home. I think a lot of brides are cueing into that.”

Prince adds, “It’s just a trend people are enjoying right now.

“But when you really dig down,” he muses, “it’s not about the product at all. It’s about nostalgia.

“In a lot of weddings, two people are taking a major step toward adulthood. The candy buffet lets them connect back to any fond memories they have of childhood.

“Candy is powerfully reminiscent,” he concludes