Planning a Hawaiian Luau

Food, Music, Decor and More

Luau food, Hawaii
Douglas Peebles / Getty Images

A Luau is a feast of Hawaiian food. Traditionally, Luaus celebrated major events in Hawaii such as a visiting dignitary or a wedding. The feast could go on for days and involved lots of food. Today restaurants and hotels offer scaled-down Luaus that celebrate Hawaiian culture and cuisine. You'll often find entertainment such as hula dancers and fire dancers offered to guests along with the traditional roasted pig.

There are many small details that will help you to create the feeling of a traditional Luau. Or you can turn it into a campy party with lots of tacky lights, plastic hula girls and more. For music, you can stick with the traditional or you go with beach party sounds.

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


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.

For the natural Hawaiian mood, consider some of these decorations:

  • Bamboo placemats, real tropical 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
  • Coconuts
  • Pineapples
  • A real parrot
  • Palm trees
  • Palm leaves
  • Tiki torches
  • Tiki masks and other supplies
  • Real flower leis
  • Tropical design fabric tablecloths and napkins

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
  • Little paper parasols for your drinks
  • Plastic picks for your drinks and hors d'oeuvres
  • Fun party lights above and around your buffet table
  • Colorful tropical tablecloths, napkins and party goods in paper or vinyl
  • Tropical design confetti

Ask your guests to dress in colorful Hawaiian Aloha shirts and straw hats, and welcome them to your Luau with a kiss and a silk, real or plastic 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!

Kalua Pig

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." The Culinary Arts Program at the Maui Community College has detailed instructions on how to do this. Realistically, most people won't want to dig a pit in their backyard to roast a pig in the genuine Hawaiian style. Therefore, an easier pork dish is included on this Dinner Club menu. Seafood also plays a large part in the Luau menu so consider including several offerings in your Dinner Club menu.

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.

Hawaiian Luau Menu


Pupu Platter

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



Macadamia Coconut Cake

Pineapple Butterscotch Squares

Serve With Kona Coffee

How to Choose the 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 Hawaiian Music Sources

Don Ho Gold - Many mainlanders consider the music of Don Ho to be the most representative of the Hawaiian sound.

Hawaiian Music and Hula Archives - You can't listen to the music at this site, but it's an amazing directory of very beautiful and poetic Hawaiian lyrics.

Beach Party Music Suggestions

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.