How to Plan a Backyard Luau
Choosing the Date
Summer is the most popular season for luau shows because of the long days and warm temperatures, perfect for outdoor luau parties. But if you are planning an outdoor luau, don't forget to have a back up for in case it rains (e.g. moving the party indoors, or renting a large outdoor canopy or tent). Click to check the weather here.
By Alia Kealoha
Throwing a luau is actually a pretty-budget friendly theme. The biggest expenditure is typically the food or catering and drinks. Luau budgets can range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands.
No need for formal 'save the date' cards now a days, a quick and easy 'save the date' can be done by email or facebook (it's fast, convenient, and most importantly free). There are some very cute invitations that can be printed from your own computer for free online or for you can purchase custom ones off of etsy. My personal favorite is the message in a bottle (click here for how to mail a bottle) or flip-flop invitation without packaging (click here for how to mail a flip flop). Just make sure the stamp sticks to the outside of the bottle or flip-flop (you can use clear packing tape to do this).
Luau party staples include fresh tropical fruit (pineapple, melon, banana, strawberries, etc), white rice or fried rice, teriyaki chicken, pork, grilled fish or seafood as well as poi (a taro dish popular at luaus). Some of my favorite luau treats are (click the names for recipes!):
You can also hire caterers who can do full island menus for you, usually costing between $30-100 per person depending on the menu you choose for more formal events (weddings, anniversaries, company parties). You can also order party platters through most Hawaiian restaurants (e.g. Ono Hawaiian BBQ) and through your local grocery store. Hawaiian Shave Ice is also a fun addition to luau parties and are a colorful, light and tasty treat.
For non-alcoholic parties, I recommend buying water in mini-bottles (most people don't finish the full size bottles), a selection of different sodas, and iced tea (unsweetened & sweetened). If you want to get fancy, you can include water in coolers with fresh cut fruit in then (e.g. lemon, orange, or strawberry) as well as Hawaiian Sun or Waialua Soda.
For alcoholic drinks, you can make your selection more tropical by adding Longboard beer (brewed in Hawaii), and by learning how to make a few of the classic tropical drinks (find the recipes here). Be wary of these tropical drinks though, these recipes are strong (many tiki bars limit customers to 2-3 drinks per visit for this very reason). You can also hire a professional bar tender if you have the budget.
Luau decor can very widely from event to event. It just depends on the vibe you want to set. There's the fun and vintage luau with raffia grass table skirts and brightly colored flowers as well as the more subtle and elegant luau with lots of greenery. You can find cheap luau decorations at Party City or Dollar Tree in the Spring & Summer. If you want more expensive-looking decor you can try the Orange County Swap Meet for affordable vintage Tiki decor or go online at Amazon or Ebay. Fresh tropical flowers make for affordable and beautiful table centerpieces, especially when you hollow out a pineapple for a vase.
Check out my Pinterest for tons of luau decor ideas: https://www.pinterest.com/kealohaalia/luau-party-ideas/
Make it Moana
If your planning a Moana themed backyard luau, then there are a few tweaks you can make to the classic luau. There are tons of free Moana coloring pages online, as well as Moana favors (e.g. Moana play packs) available online at Amazon or Ebay). You can also purchase & download custom Moana printables from sellers on Etsy or even order a Moana cardboard cut out for photo through sellers on ebay. You can also download the entire soundtrack from iTunes & mix it with the soundtrack from Lilo & Stitch for some very Disney luau music. And, of course, you can hire our real, living Moana character performer & her friends Maui, Lilo, or Te'Fiti to visit your child's luau party and teach the children how to dance and play the island way.
No luau party is complete without tropical music. You can find many tropical playlists online, including my personal Hawaiian music playlist (click here), and you can purchase classic Hawaiian luau music through sellers such as iTunes & Amazon. If you mixing your own playlist, I recommend slower music during the time when guests are arriving and eating, then more lively island music & top 40 music after dessert.
If you can, I do recommend getting a live musician to play during your dinner for a more authentic experience. Island culture is all about music, and just about everywhere you go in Hawaii you'll find people playing ukulele, guitar, drums, or singing. Our musicians usually play 1-3 hour sets and play a selection of Hawaiian classics (like Tiny Bubbles, Pearly Shells, and Over the Rainbow) as well as more contemporary music (like Top 40s Pop and Island Reggae).
Up until this point, I have given you all my tips for having a pretty good luau. But if you want to have an amazing, over-the-top, unforgettable luau experience you have got to hire professional Polynesian dancers. It's actually pretty affordable to get a small, but exciting little luau show for your backyard party (of course, you can also go big and get a full-blown hotel caliber luau show) Our one hour luau show is modeled after the luau dinner shows from the hotels & resorts in Hawaii and include dances from Hawaii, Tahiti & other Polynesian islands as well as audience participation and photo opportunities with the full team and your guests. Add a real live Fire Dancer to really surprise and delight your guests.