When insurance consultant Jo Chua was planning her son Jeremiah's first birthday party last month, she decided that a 3D fondant birthday cake would not cut it for her.
Instead, she spent about $2,000 on a Paddington Bear-themed dessert table.
It was decked out with confections such as cake push pops dressed up in the bear's trademark hat and duffle coat, jars of orange marmalade, chocolate bars and cookies adorned with bear motifs.
Matching the theme was Paddington Bear merchandise such as placemats and paper bags that were imported from London.
Ms Chua, who hired dessert table specialist Colour It Sweet for the party, believes that a whimsical setting provides perfect opportunities for family photos.
She says: "Dessert tables create a joyful setting to capture photos with the family and make a birthday more memorable."
She is among a growing number of people who opt for dessert tables to give birthday celebrations, weddings and corporate events a sweet touch.
Instead of nondescript pastry platters, these tables typically consist of cupcakes, cookies, macarons, cake pops, jelly cups and push pop cakes, which are customised with cream, icing and fondant to match the decor.
The confections are stylishly assembled in ornate serveware such as cake stands and trays set against a wall banner.
Popular dessert table themes range from cartoon characters such as My Little Pony and Peppa Pig to classic themes such as safari, princess and carnivals.
Prices start from $500 for 20 people without a centrepiece cake.
Dessert tables became popular in the United States and Australia five years ago. They have gained a following here in the past three years in the expatriate community and more people have come to know about them.
At least seven companies offering dessert table services have sprung up in the past 1 1/2 years.
These are mostly small home- based outfits, with the baking done in rental kitchens or in homes. Some companies get food from bakeries.
Due to logistical limitations, these companies do three to eight tables a month.
The owner of Colour It Sweet, Ms Angeline Lie, 36, says sales have increased. From doing one dessert table a month, she now does about three, and a growing number of customers are Singaporeans.
She says: "Initially, customers were shocked by the prices, but more of them understand the high level of customisation behind setting up a table."
Ms Veronica Yang, 33, owner of online cake shop Celebrate With Cake, which has been offering dessert table services for three years, says that customers are getting more affluent and go for professionally set-up tables.
She says: "Now, when we deliver a customised cake, it tends to be part of a themed dessert table."
Besides children's parties, the company has created tables for occasions such as Halloween, featuring blood-like red gelatine in syringes and finger- and ear-shaped cookies.
With competition heating up, the companies are going out of their way to attract customers.
Cake Avenue, a 15-year-old online cake shop that started doing dessert tables in April last year, has full baking facilities in its bakery to create personalised confections.
Owner Wong Chuan Sheng, 41, says: "Customers need not pay a premium to have their cakes customised by another vendor."
The dessert tables are part of parties that can also be held in its cafe in Lorong Kilat. He adds that sales of dessert tables have increased by 50 per cent over the past 11/2 years as "parents are more willing to spend money on kids' parties".
Ms Wee Pei Yoke, 38, owner of Acuppaluv, which started offering dessert tables in December last year, says she is reducing the sugar content of the confections to cater to health-conscious customers.
Ms Theresia Noviyanthi, 30, who owns The Little Wonderland, offers "more luxurious, dark and serious themes" to set herself apart from the usual "bright and cutesy designs".
Themes that the former graphic designer has done include a woodland-themed table complete with hand-sewn antelope models and hand-painted animal figurines, and a Red Riding Hood theme.
Another theme that she has worked on was inspired by the movie The Great Gatsby (2013), which was based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald and set in 1920s New York.
She set up this theme for sales manager Rica Hadayani's birthday bash.
Ms Rica, who turned 30 last month, spent about $2,000 on the dessert table and loved the fondant cookies in the shape of perfume bottles and dresses.
She says: "The confectioneries looked so pretty that my friends spent two hours taking photos of them. They were also reluctant to eat the pastries and wanted to take them home; it made my party stand out from the rest."
This article was first published on Nov 15, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.