Pull Off a Hawaiian Luau Wedding Reception Anywhere — With Ease

By Kim Crinella

The Hawaiian word luau means a feast. For the people who live in the Hawaiian Islands, a luau is a gathering of family and friends to enjoy savory food, close company and great times.

Because the atmosphere at a luau is about hanging loose — and less stuffy than the usual traditional, formal reception — guests and the wedding couple tend to be more relaxed from the start. And that allows everyone to enjoy themselves to the hilt. Plus, with a little creative styling, you can turn any backyard or banquet hall into a virtual destination wedding!

Secrets to a Successful Backyard Bash

Really encourage your guests to wear aloha attire. This lets them know they can show up in the Aloha spirit instead of the usual Formal Wedding Mood, plus it adds a ton to your reception’s island atmosphere. Then, one of most cost-effective way to add a convincing touch of the tropics is to decorate liberally with fresh, loose flowers. It’s amazing what a change in atmosphere a few fresh orchids here and there can manage … or try the loose blooms of asiatic or gloriosa lilies, pincushion proteas or hibiscus.

Use these exotic florals to lend a Hawaiian touch to your wedding cake, catered plates, bar drinks, table tops, grassy areas, and float-in-water features. You can even encourage guests to pick up a loose orchid and tuck it in a buttonhole or behind their ear. By the way, in Hawaii, wearing a flower behind an ear is a message with a specific meaning: behind the left ear means you’re taken; behind the right means you’re available.

Atmospheric Attraction

How much Hawaiiana your reception should hold is up your personal preference … and budget. Here are some more ways to bring the islands to your backyard or ballroom:

Dress Up Your Guests

Have a few game children dressed in hula outfits greet your guests with armfuls of silk or shell leis (or ti leaf leis for the men).


Razzle-Dazzle ‘Em

Hire a live Hawaiian band, and book a troupe of hula dancers … or even fire dancers … for a guaranteed high point your guests will buzz about for weeks afterward. Then, bring the fun to the floor by hiring a professional hula instructor to give a basic lesson. Encourage guests even more by offering a fresh floral lei to the first six people on the dance floor.

Virtual Vacation

Set up a sweet tropical scene and a snapper with an instant Polaroid camera, so guests can take a keepsake photo and place it in your guest book.

Tropical Trivia

Translate your guests’ names into Hawaiian, and put the intriguing results on their place cards. Then, scatter a few cards on each table containing
Hawaiian words and their English meanings, or fun Hawaii-related facts. They’ll serve to entertain your guests, give them a conversational starter and teach them a bit about the islands.

Living Beauty

Use whole fresh pineapples and loose orchid blooms to add punch to your centerpieces. Eye-pleasing offerings like fruit kebabs serve both as refreshment and decor. Simple piles of black river stones look stunning next to a white or purple orchid bloom or an asian stargazer lily. And tiki torches are an inexpensive, must-have frame for any tropical setting.

Still, even if your budget’s tight, don’t be afraid to improvise. For example, you could always play Hawaiian CDs instead of booking a live band. And you could always a special friend (or bridesmaid!) to rent a Learn to Hula DVD and teach the results to adventurous guests. Just keep in mind it’s your special day, so focus on whatever appeals to you.