How to Plan a Hawaiian Luau

Set the mood with themed decor, food, cocktails, and music

Luau food, Hawaii
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Celebrate Hawaiian-style by hosting a traditional luau. Luaus are often held in honor of major events in the Aloha State, such as a visiting dignitary or a wedding. In the Hawaiian culture, the feast of food and entertainment could go on for days.

Today, Hawaiian restaurants and hotels offer scaled-down luaus that celebrate the state's culture and cuisine. You'll often find entertainment such as hula dancers and fire dancers offered to guests, along with the traditional roasted pig.

It's easy, however, to host your own luau at home, as long as you pay attention to a number of small details that will help you create the proper atmosphere. Of course, you could always go in a different direction and turn it into a campy party with lots of tacky lights, plastic hula girls, and more. Aloha!

Hawaiian Luau Decorations

You can create the mood for your party with minimal expense. In fact, you can even plan on eating your decorations when the luau is over if you use pineapples and coconuts as elements in your design! As you can see in the simple centerpiece above, a pineapple, coconut, two silk leis, paper parasols, and tropical fish create a simple, colorful design. Other ideas for decor include:

  • Bamboo placemats
  • Flower arrangements with orchids, hibiscus, bird of paradise and any other tropical flowers
  • Seashells scattered around your tables
  • Napkin rings made from seashells glued to raffia rings
  • Palm trees or leaves
  • Real flower leis

For a campy beach party, you can include all of the above, but also add any of these Hawaiian icons:

  • Plastic hula dancers
  • Surfboards
  • Plastic leis
  • Paper drink umbrellas
  • Colorful tropical tablecloths, napkins and party goods in paper or vinyl

Ask your guests to dress in colorful Hawaiian Aloha shirts and straw hats, and welcome them to your luau with a kiss and a flower lei.

If you're setting a campy beach party mood as in the Elvis movie Blue Hawaii, raffia grass skirts can add to the hula dancing mood. Don't forget to organize a limbo contest!

Hawaiian Luau Menu

Read your chosen recipes a day or more in advance of the party to help plan the timing of the meal, paying particular attention to meat recipes that require advance preparation. For example, if you plan to build the traditional pit for roasting a pig, you'll need plenty of time to prepare.

In a traditional luau, pigs are roasted in a pit dug in the ground called an imu in order to make the dish called kalua pig." Realistically, most people won't want to dig a pit in their backyard to roast a pig in the genuine Hawaiian style, so you might want to choose an easier pork dish with a similar feel. Seafood also plays a large part in the luau menu, so consider including several sea-based offerings.

Start the evening with a Polynesian Pupu platter, accompanied by a selection of Hawaiian cocktails. As you might expect, fruit juices and rum play a big part in these cocktails. Take it slowly because these drinks can sneak up on you on a sultry evening!

Coconuts and pineapples are mandatory ingredients for your luau. Another indigenous Hawaiian food you might want to try is Poi. Made from the taro root, Poi may at first seem distasteful to a non-Hawaiian, but it's a nutritious staple food in the state.

  • Cocktails: Blue Hawaiian, Mai Tai
  • Pupu Platter: Rumaki, Ono Ribs, Shrimp Ono Nui
  • Main Course and Sides: Hawaiian Roasted Pork, Hawaiian Grilled Fish Salad. Chicken Long Rice Lomi Lomi Salmon, Aloha Sweet Potatoes, Poi
  • Desserts: Macadamia Coconut Cake, Pineapple Butterscotch Squares

Hawaiian Luau Music

Music for your Hawaiian luau can be either traditional Hawaiian music or fun beach party music; both are festive. Just make sure you're consistent and design the other details of your party to mesh with the musical. For example, if you select traditional Hawaiian music, choose low-key, natural decorations when setting the stage. However, if you feel like hosting a beach party luau, go with beach party music and pull out the campy decorations such as the plastic hula dolls and cardboard palm trees.

Traditional music options include:

  • Don Ho Gold: Many mainlanders consider the music of Don Ho to be the most representative of the Hawaiian sound.
  • Spotify's "Hawaiian Dreams" playlist: Stream traditional Hawaiian tunes, featuring the ukelele and other tropical vibes.

You might, however, prefer to go with some classic beach tunes:

  • The Surfaris: This band is most famous for the tune "Wipeout."
  • The Beach Boys: You simply can't hold a beach party without some music from this band!
  • Blue Hawaii: This classic soundtrack from the movie by Elvis Presley will add a rocking Hawaiian ambiance to your luau.