7 Tips for Throwing Tiki Parties at Home

This article originally appeared in the program for The Hukilau 2016, where it was titled “Keep The Hukilau Going at Home.” These tips are relevant for anyone looking to dive into hosting tiki parties—or any kind of party, really.

Wearing a Trader Vic's lemon wrap shower cap, this tiki is ready to party.
Wearing a Trader Vic’s lemon wrap shower cap, this tiki is ready to party.

No one is ever ready for The Hukilau to be over. There’s a point when reality hits that the last party is done, that everyone has checked out of their hotel rooms and is headed to the airport, and all you can think of is the wonderful time you had, and all the people you can’t believe you didn’t get to say goodbye to. You sit, probably at least a bit worse for the wear, slowly making your way through breakfast while you relive the weekend in your head, and start to make plans for next year’s Hukilau. You can’t bear to think about going back to your work, you’re not ready for that fluorescent-lit blandness.

So here’s what you’re going to do: you’re going to bring The Hukilau home with you. You’re going to start throwing parties, and I’m going to help you. I throw parties several times a month at my own home tiki bar, and I’ve learned some things along the way:

Tip 1: Throw more parties

Throwing a party is just like exercise: when you first get started, it hurts. The preparation, the cleanup, it takes a lot of energy. But if you persevere and throw another, hey, it doesn’t hurt so bad. You start building host muscles. Throw parties frequently enough and you won’t feel it at all, it’ll be as hard as breathing air.

Tip 2: Look for ways to make the next party easier

As soon as each party is over, I think about ways I can make preparation or cleanup easier next time. Some of the improvements I’ve made: I bought big bussing tubs to cut down on trips to the kitchen when rounding up glasses at the end of the night. I switched to all-compostable straws and picks so I don’t have to sort out little bits of plastic when cleaning up. I upgraded my juicer. Your parties will be different, so you’ll find your own little tweaks. They’ll add up over time, and before you know it, hosting is a breeze.

Everything is ready on the bar top at Balhi Ha'i
Everything is ready on the bar top at Balhi Ha’i

Tip 3: Keep a party prep checklist

It can be overwhelming when you think of everything that has to be done when preparing for a party. A tiki party has even more moving parts, with the complicated drinks and decor. Let a checklist be your brain. Every time you cross an item off your list, you’ll feel more accomplished, more confident, and more ready to play host. I use a phone app called Clear, which lets me quickly reuse the same list every time.

Tip 4: Don’t try to stock your tiki bar

The initial instinct is to want to be able to make any of a dozen great tiki drinks on demand. Resist that temptation: you’ll spend a ton of money on expensive liquors you don’t have room for, you’ll struggle to keep perishables on hand, and honestly, you probably won’t be happy with the drinks you’re making. I made that mistake, too! Instead, build your repertoire one drink at a time. Serve Mai Tais, get the right ingredients for that drink, get good at it, and then move on to the Navy Grog, master that one, move on to the next, and so on.

Tip 5: Punch

If you try to make individual drinks for your guests, you’ll probably have a hard time keeping up. Go easy on yourself by also providing a punchbowl or two to get everyone started. Keep it cold with a great big block of ice, and encourage people to put a lot of ice in their glasses. Dilution is your friend with tiki drinks, and the ice cubes will help pace your friends’ consumption. While you’re at it, be sure water is available, too!

My citrus stays fresh because it's made of plastic.
My citrus stays fresh because it’s made of plastic.

Tip 6: Set the tone

Ideally, you’ll have your very own home tiki bar, a dedicated space just for entertaining. Odds are, you’re not there yet. Don’t let it hold you back. The best thing you can do: eliminate the white. Replace white light bulbs with colored bulbs, or put incandescent bulbs on dimmers so the glow is nice and warm. Cover your white walls with great big fishing nets. No need to buy a bunch of plastic neon junk, a few lighting touches along with some eBay or thrift store finds will get you on your way. And really, the best outfit any room can wear is the enchanting sound of Exotica and Hawaiian music.

Tip 7: Relax

You’re going to run out of time. As the party start time approaches, there will be dip you meant to make, garnishes you meant to prep. Don’t do it. At least 10 minutes before the party, stop everything you’re doing, and start relaxing. Your job as host isn’t to give dip, it is to give a fun time. If you’re harried, your guests will feel harried. The dip isn’t important. Make yourself a drink, turn on the Martin Denny, and breathe.


3 thoughts on “7 Tips for Throwing Tiki Parties at Home

  1. Oh dang! This is my new favorite website! I’m 3/4 done with my home tiki bar (I call it the ‘Tiki Niki Lounge’). It’s a single car garage, converted into what began as a junky mancave, but has now evolved into a straight up tiki room. I’ve been hanging out at Tiki Central for the past few months, lamenting my shortage of funds for my project after looking at all of the wonderful home tiki bars there. You have made some EXCELLENT suggestions on this site!

    I love it!

    Liked by 1 person

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