This summer, we're going all in on a whole new, old type of get-together — the ice cream social.

When I started entertaining, I was definitively a dinner party girl. Endless planning, researching dishes, plotting tablescapes. I got really good at dinner parties. Over the years I honed my craft, figuring out ways to make it easier on myself, prepping ahead, to keep myself more engaged with my guests and less fussing in the kitchen. I still love to throw a good dinner party.

As I got older, I realized that the connections with people are the most important thing about hosting, and I shifted a lot of my entertaining to a casual "cocktailing with snacks" sort of gatherings. The French tradition of the apéro, a couple of drinks and some light nibbles for an hour to hour and a half, is a delightful thing to adopt for midweek get togethers. I still love to toss some cheese on a plate and open some rosé on a random Tuesday night with pals before everyone goes off to their own dinners.

Ice cream social ice creams
Credit: Carson Downing

But this summer? I am going all-in on a whole new type of get-together. The ice cream social.

You might remember the concept from your childhood, a group of friends, a couple gallons of the creamy stuff, a stack of cones or bowls, toppings if you were feeling fancy. And there is not a single thing wrong with replicating that nostalgic feeling if you are so inclined. However, it is possible to embrace a newer form of ice cream social as a fun and low-key way to entertain.

Why an Ice Cream Social Is the Best Party to Host

Skipping drinks, appetizers, and dinner and heading straight for dessert is a host's dream. It lends itself to either outdoor or casual den or rec room gathering, no tablesetting needed. Everyone has already had their drinks and dinner, so no bar to set up to, no grill to light and manage, no canapes to build or side dishes to create. It starts a little later, so people have already shaken off the post-work stress or family weekend drama, and no one can be in a bad mood when ice cream is the focus!

Ice cream socials can be a 100% store-bought delight, no one is expecting you are churning your own or making homemade cones, and as simple or fancy as your heart desires. And lastly, they are family-friendly, so your pals with kids can have a night out without having to hire a babysitter. If you use eco-friendly disposables you can feel good about your carbon footprint and still make cleanup a breeze.

Here are some of my favorite ways to host a great and easy ice cream social, one will for sure work for you!

set up for the ice cream social
Credit: Carson Downing

How to Throw on an Ice Cream Social Party

Go Classic. Get a giant tub of vanilla (and one of chocolate if you are feeling inclined), buy some toppings like chocolate syrup, sprinkles and peanuts, some bananas, a jar of maraschino cherries, a can of whipped cream topping and some cones and bowls. Everyone can DIY their perfect ice cream memory.

Go Decadent. Up the ante on both the ice cream choices and toppings. Think cookies and cream or coffee chip or strawberry or grab some great pints that are already loaded with goodies like Ben & Jerry's. Buy some microwaveable jars of hot fudge or caramel sauce, and scoop-shop toppings like marshmallow crème, mini peanut butter cups, pecans or walnuts, chopped candies. Make homemade real whipped cream. Everyone can assemble their platonic ideal of a luxurious sundae.

Explore One Location. Find a terrific scoop shop in your community that is doing it right and get a bunch of their best flavors. No toppings needed, this is all about premium ice cream and being able to taste the full range of what they do. Think about buying a minimum of one flavor for every two people who are coming if you don't want leftovers, one flavor per person if you want to taste more flavors or you want people to be able to take their favorites home.

Taste Test. Pick one flavor and buy as many different types of it as you can find, to determine the best possible version.

Take the Cake. Buy an ice cream cake to make your event as simple as slice and serve.

Ice Cream Pot Luck. Everyone who comes brings a pint of their favorite flavor to share.

Ice Cream Field Trip. Pick a place convenient to everyone in your group, and meetup for an ice cream date. Can be the local soft serve shop, an elegant gelateria, a Thai rolled ice cream experience, Mexican paleta cart or Filipino Halo Halo stand. Pick a place that has a convenient spot to sit or stand and enjoy your treats together.

Check out our collection of Summer Dessert Recipes.