Are you planning a Halloween Party this year? Here are 13 ideas to help you decorate your dining room (with many general decorating ideas) and present an elaborate Halloween buffet.
1. Cover the Walls
By covering the walls you create an instant mood for the room. You can purchase printed plastic/vinyl room rolls (found at party stores, Halloween stores, and online) with spooky scenes like stone walls, peeling wallpaper, skulls, haunted forest, and many others. You can also use fabric to go along with the theme of the room or paint your own scene or pattern that you can use year after year. In our dining and living rooms, we use wallpaper patterns on top with a creepy wainscoting pattern below on all available wall space. It’s a great way to hide light boring walls and add a great effect to your room. Add Halloween art and pictures to replace existing wall art. Make it yourself, an old fashioned profile silhouette of a witch and devil is an easy and affordable decoration.
2. Cover Everything
Now that you have the walls covered, look at the rest of the room and consider how you are going to transform everyday items into something that will help you set your mood. Try to cover all “normal” looking items by using tablecloths on the buffet table (I found a black lace overlay at a thrift store for a few bucks), cover cabinets with spiderwebs or cheesecloth (more on cheesecloth in #6), either add an overlay to curtains or switch out curtains for something that matches the theme (you can find old curtains at thrift stores or buy discount curtains and dye/alter them). If you have light floors, you may want to add a dark throw rug for the party (we use a cheap burgundy remnant rug for Halloween parties). All blank spaces are opportunities to add more decorations. Cover empty spaces with decorations, props or more wall coverings.
3. Pick a Theme (let your decorations tell a story)
Sure, you can go with just a “Halloween Party” theme, or you can let your decorations tell a story. In the photos above you see Demonica, the evil toddler, poisoned her parents dinner (where they died and still remain) as well as the rest of the staff and party guests. Floating behind the poisoned parents is the Grim Reaper holding a scythe. My husband and I were in costume as the dead maid and butler and we had various skeleton party guests (dressed in party attire) positioned around the house. There are so many fun themes to play with, here are just a few ideas:
- Alien Invasion
- Ghost Pirate Ship
- Harry Potter
- Creepy Carnival
- Scary Tales
- Mad Scientist Lab
- Zombie Apocalypse
4. Have a Table Focal Point (Centerpiece)
Every buffet table needs a focal point. Whether you create a centerpiece, create a scene that tells a story, or just have an impressive tower or food, there should be something that stands out and grabs your guests attention.
5. Be Inspired by Your Favorite Props and Characters
Disney’s Haunted Mansion is my favorite Disneyland ride and the inspiration for many of my props at Halloween. We created a 13hr backwards clock out of an old cabinet, I made Jack Skellington Cake Pops, and a fake wall with window that has a lighting and thunder effect through the window. We even recreated the dueling ghosts from the ballroom scene in the wall art around the fake window.
6. Instant Effect: Cheesecloth
Cheesecloth is the best! It’s cheap, easy to dye and stain, easy to cut and rip, and will instantly transform a “normal” item into a Halloween prop. I use lots of cheesecloth in my Halloween decorating and can reuse the same cloth year after year…in fact, the more old and beat up it looks, the better! I use it over dark curtains, in doorways, over cabinets, over tables, and anywhere that need decoration “filler”. To make it look old, just soak in cooled tea or coffee then hang to dry. To make it look tattered, just rip a few holes and pull and stretch the weave until it has the shape you want.
7. Halloween Lighting
Using the right lighting is just as important as the decorations. With the wrong lighting all your decorating will have much less impact, while the correct lighting and light effects can change the look and feel of the entire room.
We use a combination of real candles (only when out of range of costumes and it’s encased in a sturdy hurricane glass), battery operated tea lights and tapers, colored light bulbs (red, blue, and green), LED spotlights, and projected images.
8. Floating Pumpkins
These looked great hanging from our chandelier over the buffet table and they are so easy to make!
- Buy three craft pumpkins (I used medium, but small would work too).
- Cut out Jack O’Lantern features and remove the pieces through the mouth (do not cut an opening on the top or bottom).
- Run a strong fishing line through the top of the pumpkin (I used an ice pick to make a hole).
- Tie the end of the fishing line from the chandelier so the pumpkin hangs at the height you want.
- Just before party time, activate a few glow sticks (I used 3 per pumpkin) and put them inside the hanging pumpkin.
- That’s it!
9. Sound Effects and Music
I love adding sound surprises throughout the house. Our primary sound is the music (hidden on the bottom shelf in a crate) which we alter slightly from year to year, but is a mix of songs that have something to go along with the Halloween theme. Past playlists have included:
- Echo and the Bunnymen “People are Strange”
- Cranberries “Zombie”
- Siouxie and the Banshees “Halloween”
- Pixies “Dead”
- B52’s “Plant Claire”
- Squirrel Nut Zippers “Hell”
- Peter Tosh “Vampire”
- and so many more
I have the most fun adding sound effects that perhaps aren’t expected. We start with a pressure activated mat under our front door mat that says “Welcome, to the Haunted House” in a creepy voice. Once inside there’s a loud thunder effect from behind the window in our fake wall, creaking noises from the bookcase with motion activated props, evil laughter from the projector (that projects the giant skull on our ceiling), and a motion sensor in the bathroom which plays sounds from the Psycho shower scene when you walk past the tub…to name a few.
10. Halloween Cake Pops
It’s cake! On a stick! It’s cake on a stick with cute faces…what more do you need to know?
I use candy melts to coat each cake pop then used melted chocolate chips for the features on Jack Skellington. For the Monster heads I used candy melts to coat the cake pops and for the hair. The eyes are candy and glued on with more candy melts.
You can make these a week ahead and stick them in the freezer until just before party time (that’s why it looks like they are sweating…they are thawing from the freezer). To display, I put a firm foam ball in a plastic cauldron, covered it with small wrapped candy, then stuck the cake pop sticks into the foam balls.
11. Meat Head
Want a truly disgusting way to display sliced meat? Meat Head! We use a foam head (now we have an old CPR practice dummy head) covered in plastic wrap as the base. Then we just layer on the sliced meat and use olives for the eyes!
12. Snake Sandwich
OK, so it just looks like a snake, it’s not made of snake meat. It has a great “gross out” effect and tastes yummy!
To make the sandwich:
- Roll out one can of crescent rolls into a large rectangle
- Spread a line of spicy mustard down the middle of the rectangle (lengthwise).
- Place sliced lunch meat along the line of mustard (salami, ham, turkey, etc.)
- Sprinkle shredded cheese on top of the line of meat.
- Fold one half of the dough over the center filling.
- Brush the top of the folded side with egg yolk.
- Fold the other half over the top of the side with the egg yolk and pinch the dough together so the seam it tight.
- Shape the snake so there is a clear head and tail and place on a prepared cookie sheet (according to crescent roll instructions) in an “S” shape.
- Beat two egg yolks with green food coloring and brush onto the snake.
- Bake at 375° for approximately 25 minutes (or until golden brown and fully cooked).
- Add olives for eyes and a red roasted pepper for the tongue.
- Slice into single servings (keeping it in snake shape) and serve!
13. Gelatin Brain and Cocktails
Deciding what to serve for drinks can be a little overwhelming if you are like me and have pinned every Halloween cocktail ever invented and want to try them all! You want to serve something in the Halloween theme and you want to offer a variety, but you don’t want to spend all night behind the bar making drinks. So what do you do?
After much trial and error, we came up with this formula (amount depends on total RSVPs):
- Grateful Dead Punch (large batch served in spouted drink cooler)
- Sangria (large batch served in spouted drink cooler)
- Bottled Beer
- Gelatin Brain “shot”
- Soda and bottled water
I set up two drink stations. The table holds a tub full of ice with bottled beer and bottled water, 2 liters of different soda and cups, and the gelatin brain shot (we use vodka, but there are lots of fun “spiked” gelatin recipes out there) with scoop server and small shot cups.
The kitchen island holds the drink ice cooler, more cups, and the two large spouted drink coolers for the Sangria and the Grateful Dead Punch.
Warning the Grateful Dead Punch is STRONG so warn your guests and serve over ice!
Grateful Dead Punch Recipe (adjust to amount needed):
- 1 part vodka
- 1 part light rum
- 1 part gin
- 1 part tequila
- 1 part raspberry liqueur
- 1/2 part sour mix
- serve over lots of ice