A luau is quite literally a feast of Hawaiian food. Luaus can be given to celebrate holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, baby showers, weddings to just about anything that brings family and friends together.
What differentiates luaus from other parties is the use of colorful flowers, fresh fruit, colorful Aloha attire, island music and dancing, and a feast that traditionally consists of roast pork, rice, fresh fruit, sweet potatoes and of course those famous Hawaiian punches!
Due to the relaxed atmostphere of a luau, people tend to have fun right from the start. So, hula on down the page and learn everything you ever wanted to know about planning your luau!
Choosing A Location
Luaus are generally held outdoors, but they can just as easily be held indoors! A backyard or poolside luau works great for that tropical island feel. However, don't be afraid to move your luau indoors if you decide to have one in the middle of winter. There's nothing like the bright colors and relaxing island music to lift one out of the winter doldrums. (See our Outdoor Party Planning Tips.)
Planning A Large Luau
If you are planning a large luau, with 50 or more people, you might consider asking others to join in and help. Not only is it lots of fun to work as a group, but it allows you to draw on the resources and ideas of others.
Form sub-groups and designate each one in charge of an area such as food, decorating, music and entertaining, equipment, set-up and clean-up, invitations and publicity. Individuals can request which group they'd like to be in based on their ability and interest.
Meetings should be held at least twice, once at the outset and again just before the event. (Serve refreshments and play some island music to get everyone in the mood.) Make sure to get everyone's email address for follow-ups and updates. The event chairperson should send out notes following the meeting to formalize the discussion. It's important to tell everyone exactly what they need to do, give them a time-line in which to do it, and follow-up to make sure it gets done.
Luaus don't need to be expensive. Don't be afraid to ask others to prepare and bring dishes that are on the menu list. We threw a luau for 80 people at our neighborhood block party for less than $7.50 a head. Working with others proved to be as much fun as the luau itself, and new friendships blossomed as a result.
Invitations are important as they set the mood and are your calling card for the event. Break the mold and do something fun. Mention the feast you are going to have and entice them with some of the items on the menu such as authentic roasted pig. Don't forget to mention the hula girls!
Your invitations can be customized or created on your computer using clip art or found images. You can even make some using tropical fabric cut to fit your card stock. Go online and do a search for Hawaiian words and phrases and sprinkle the invitation with them. You can also attach your invitation to a pair of sunglasses and mail in a padded envelope!
Make sure to tell invitees what the attire is. If it's a pool party or at the beach, have them bring swimsuits and a towel. Otherwise have them wear Aloha attire such as halter tops, Hawaiian shirts and shorts.
Decorating for a luau is great fun! There are many readily available ideas to get you started. Decor can be easily made, purchased, or even found in the back of your closet or tucked away in the garage. Best of all, creating the right atmosphere for you luau is not expensive, and you won't have to scratch your head trying to come up with something. Where to start?
Begin with the site itself. Based on how many guests you are expecting, decide on your seating. With larger parties, you don't have to have a seat for every guest. People will stand, talk and mill around.
Set up the location for your buffet table and make sure you have the ability to form two lines, one at each end, especially important for larger groups. Have the lines meet in the center. Decide where your drink station is going to be. It should be separate from the food line. You may want to serve a Hawaiian punch and you can have a separate table for that.
Tables and chairs can be rented or borrowed from committee members and friends. You will be surprised how many people have folding chairs and utility or card tables. You can even create your own tables by using plywood and concrete blocks stacked on top of each other. (Make sure the wood is smooth with no splinters and the blocks are inset to the plywood so no one gets hurt.) The plywood can be topped with paper tablecloths, rattan or straw mats. You can even go to the local fabric store and find colorful fabric with a tropical flair cut to fit the table tops. Finish off with paper tableskirts (these look like grass skirts) for an authentic luau look!
Table decorations are great fun because there are so many different and easy ways to create a luau atmostphere:
1. Small sea shells can be sprinkled around the center of the table or strings of shell necklaces can be used which your guests can take home as party favors. You can also sprinkle confetti. These come in many designs such as palm trees, flamingos, tropical birds, and tropical fish. Or, scatter several loose purple dendrobium orchids around the serving tables.
2. Fresh flower leis or very inexpensive plastic ones which come in every variety and color of the rainbow, can be placed in the center of the table on their own, or surrounding a straw hat, coconuts, pineapples or other decor.
3. Balloon Bouquets with luau designs and colorful balloon weights (try using a pineapple for a weight) can be used as a festive centerpiece. Balloons will need to be on ribbons long enough so that they don't interfere with guests seated across from each other. For something different, try a single SuperShape Metallic Balloon in different shapes such as parrots, palm trees, toucans, tiki island and others.
4. Honeycomb centerpieces such as pineapples, palm trees, tiki motifs, hula girls, or flamingos work well. These are inexpensive and yet add flair to your table.
5. Go into the attic and find some old straw hats and use these in the middle of the table. Glue or tuck a few fresh flowers on the hat.
6. Printed paper placemats with any tropical theme, or go for solid colors in mango, green, yellow, pink or blue. Printed table runners placed on top of a solid tablecloths. There are many designs such as Bamboo, Club Luau, Flamingo, etc. Straw or rattan adds a touch of authenticity.
7. Bowls of whole fresh fruit with colorful flowers tucked in between are perfect for a luau. Consider pineapples, coconuts, oranges, mangoes, papayas, bananas or kiwis.
8. Also try cut fruit centerpieces such as pineapple boats, or stacked dishes of cut fruit. Provide tropical foodpicks.
9. Fresh flower centerpieces using tropical varieties such as Bird of Paradise, or the Hawaiian flower, the red Anthurium, Orchids or Lilies. Calla Lilies are always nice. Gardenias add a wonderful scent of the tropics unlike any other flower.
10. Use fresh greenery such as palm fronds or calla lily leaves and lay them down the center of the table. Display fresh fruit on top.
11. Use large candle centerpieces surrounded by small votives floating in small bowls of tinted water.
12. Fishnets, Hawaiian print fabric, coconut ukuleles or other coconut sculptures can be used creatively for table decorations. Baskets can be used to hold cutlery or napkins. Fishnets can also be hung from ceilings and doorways.
13. For a more contemporary feel, try using inflatable metallic centerpieces in beach, island or fish themes.
14. Paper table cloths in tropical colors, can be paired with natural or green grass or rafia tableskirts wrapped around each table. Tableskirts are great and add a lot of atmosphere and authenticity.
Other decorating ideas
Bright, bold tropical colors play a large role in creating an island atmosphere for your luau. Tropical flowers and foliage placed in strategic areas is a good starting point. Here are a few other decorating ideas:
1. Ask friends to look in their attics for a set of oars, straw hats, gourds, conch or abalone shells, grass skirts, bamboo, travel posters or mounted fish.
2. Consider Decorative Palm Trees; "Raffia-look" Umbrella Covers; small electric lights in island designs; garlands; streamers and banners; door curtains; lawn signs announcing your luau; cut outs such as palm trees, hula girls, tropical birds, dolphins, tropical flowers; decorative fish nets; a plastic ship helm; foil hanging decorations such as a giant parrot, angel fish, or flamingo. Also paper lanterns are inexpensive, colorful and atmospheric. Don't forget the bamboo tiki torches or the citronella torch candles in all kinds of luau designs. Either can be used to line the pathway leading to your luau or placed strategically in an outdoor location. (Tiki torches can be used indoors, if not lit.)
3. Make your own flower ropes from jute, cord or wire using either fresh, silk or plastic flowers. Use florist tape to secure the flowers and wrap the ropes around columns, pillars, poles, door openings, trees, or even draped in front of a table.
4. Float plastic or fresh flowers in water, either small bowls or a pond or pool.
5. If you like to draw, try a mask design. Draw and cut out Hawaiian masks from colored craft paper and place on top of a contrasting color. Mask designs can be found on the Internet or from books on Hawaiian culture found at a local library.
6. Use a rubber raft or child's wading pool as a cooler. Fill with ice and drinks.
Plates and glasses with tropical patterns and colors will add a lot of atmosphere. Try mixing and matching, alternating colors or solids and patterns. You can choose from a large selection of both paper and plastic. You can even find inexpensive rattan plateholders for your paper plates.
Choose serving dishes with a luau theme or go with clear plastic designs and dress up the dishes with fresh flowers. These can be purchased quite reasonably or ask friends and neighbors to loan appropriate serving pieces for the dishes you are serving.
Don't forget the tropical straws and drink stirrers for a finishing touch.
Hawaiian Party Attire
Make sure your invitations tell everyone to wear Hawaiian attire. Tropical attire is easy enough to find. Most have some, or they can be found at thrift shops. Almost anything white works well with a colorful lei added.
Women can wear colorful print skirts with a white blouse or halter top and sandals or thongs. Wearing flowers in your hair is a wonderful island tradition and adds the finishing touch (left side if she's taken, right side if she's not).
Guys can wear a Hawaiian shirt with shorts, or colorful swim trunks with a tank top. Add sunglasses and a Don the Beachcomber or straw hat and he'll be dressed to limbo. Add a grass skirt and coconut bra and he'll be dressed to compete in the hula dance contest!
Leis are floral necklaces traditionally worn during special occasions or to welcome guests. There are also smaller leis that are worn on the ankles, wrists and head. The proper way to wear a neck lei is so that it drapes down in front and back.
If you want to be traditional and make everyone feel truly welcome, greet each guest with a lei and a welcoming Aloha when they arrive. Take their photo wearing the lei and send it afterwards as a reminder of your special event.
True Hawaiian cuisine has been influenced by many different cultures, each leaving its culinary mark on the islands. The Polynesians, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Portuguese, Spanish, and Filipinos have each played an important role in Hawaii's history and that translates to lots of good food!
Traditionally the centerpiece of a luau is the roasted pig. Depending on how authentic you want to be (and how much time you want to devote), you can roast your pig in an imu or underground pit, or roast one on a spit. If that's too ambitious, you can roast one in your oven. There are places (look on the Internet) that will ship you fully prepared pigs ready for roasting.
Get everyone in the mood with some Hawaiian punch or Hauoli Island Punch. You can spike this or not, depending on your guests. Or you can start with it spiked and as the evening progresses, leave out the rum. You can also serve pineapple daiquiris, mai tais, piña coladas or chi chis (with or without alcohol) with fresh fruit garnishes and tiny umbrellas.
Pass the Shrimp-Pineapple Pupus (Appetizers) next. Use colorful foodpicks for the finishing touch.
Create an authentic Hawaiian luau with several of our Luau Recipes for pork, rice, fruit salads, sweet potatoes and desserts.
Decorate serving platters with leafy greens, individual orchids or cherry tomatoes cut in half and arranged in the shape of a pineapple and placed on top of rice dishes.
Entertainment & Activities
Good luau music gets everyone in the mood to party, dance and have fun.
Drew's Famous Luau Party Music is a great mix of songs. Drew's already done the work for you and has a great selection, such as Surfin' USA, Don't Worry Be Happy, Hawaii Five-0 Theme Song, Blue Hawaii and more. There's also Hawaiian Favorites with Don Ho and Drew's Famous Island Party Jams with various artists.
Have the guys put on grass skirts and coconut bras and have a hula contest and have the winner give hula lessons!
Pull out the limbo stick and have eveyone see how low they can go! There's even inflatable limbo sticks!
Put on the song, Wipe Out, and have ground surfing contests and see who has the coolest wipe out! (This is great for kids.)
Invite Hawaiian dancers or Hawaiian bands. Call dance studios or go on the Internet. Have dancers teach your guests how to hula.
Have hula loop contests, and give out an award for the most creative way to hula.
Give an award for the most creative or loudest Hawaiian attire. Announce this on your invitations so guests can prepare.
Lip-sync Don Ho songs such as Tiny Bubbles or Pearly Shells!
Print out our Party Checklist.