The Girls' Guide to Throwing a Summer Cocktail Party

Tropical drinks, small bites and tiki decor add up to one swinging summer event. Follow our guide on how to throw the perfect summer luau

If only summer really could be endless. The warmer months are a great time to throw an al fresco cocktail party. For a fun twist on the usual summer soiree, I like to take inspiration from the South Seas. Don’t worry, you don’t need to roast a pig to throw a luau-inspired event — just mix some tropical drinks, whip up a few quick snacks and deck your yard in tiki gear (paper drink umbrellas are a must).

Mix Up a “Hawaiian Punch”

Don’t try to imitate Tom Cruise’s bartending skills in Cocktail: Keep things simple with two (or at most three) signature cocktails and a selection of beer and wine. One of my favorite summer drinks is the Painkiller: For each drink, shake 1/8 cup dark rum, 2 teaspoons cream of coconut and 1/4 cup Tropicana Orange Peach Mango Juice in a cocktail shaker; pour over ice and top off with a splash of seltzer water.

For guests who don’t like hard alcohol, it’s nice to offer a lighter wine-based cocktail, like a tropical take on a spritzer: Mix 2 small limes sliced into thin rounds, 2 small lemons sliced into thin rounds, 1 cup diced pineapple and 1 cup diced mango with 2 (750 mL) bottles of dry white wine; when ready to serve, add 12 ounces of seltzer and serve over ice.

Stick to Small Bites

The beauty of any cocktail party is that you don’t have to cook a full meal or seat all of your guests at one time. Instead, lay out a buffet of small bites and place a few bowls of easily nibbled snacks on tables throughout the yard. For tiki-themed hors d’oeuvres, serve black bean-mango salsa, Pineapple and Tuna Ceviche Chips, and Cold Marinated Shrimp and Avocados, which can be served in small juice glasses. You can also adapt this Spicy, Salty, Sweet Roasted Mixed Nuts recipe to a more tropical taste: Swap in 2 teaspoons finely grated lime zest and 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes for the cumin, coriander, mint and sumac in the original recipe.

Serve Simple Skewers

Skewers make for perfectly luau-licious appetizers: Try this Chicken and Pineapple Kebabs recipe, placing only one piece of chicken and two pieces of pineapple per skewer for a petite portion. Another quick kebab idea is to cut up 2 cups each of watermelon, mango and pineapple, toss with the juice and zest of 1 lime and 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder, and thread onto skewers.

Break Out Tropical Tunes

For music, check out this playlist of tiki-tastic songs from Everyday With Rachael Ray magazine. Can’t be bothered to put together a special mix for your fete? The Beach Boys’ Endless Summer is a classic surf soundtrack. If you’re feeling brave, a ukulele plus cocktails is also a recipe for fun.

Prepare a Polynesian Paradise

When you decorate, you can’t go wrong with classic bamboo tiki torches, which can be purchased at hardware and home stores. (Be sure to stake them firmly into the ground to avoid toppling torches.) If you want to take your decor to the next level, Oriental Trading has a whole section devoted to luau accessories, including grass skirts and leis. Use the flowers from one lei to decorate drinking straws—simply cut an “x” into the base of each blossom and slip it on.

Go Low

You’re never too old to limbo! Although the limbo isn’t really Hawaiian in origin, it’s still a fun game for a luau party. Choose a song with a festive rhythm, set up a broomstick as your limbo pole and instruct your guests to shake it horizontally. We promise they’ll have fun.


Laura Fenton is a Brooklyn-based writer whose work has appeared in many publications, including Country Living, Family Circle and Good Housekeeping. She is also a regular contributor to ShelterPop and the author of The Little House In The City.

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