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Planning Your Tiki Party

 

The word "Tiki" conjures up images of 1950's beatnik fashions, smoky jazz lounges, flaming torches, rattan furniture, fruity rum drinks and, of course, wooden carved Tiki gods. Tiki parties are now enjoying a resurgence and can be given as a hip party alternative to celebrate just about any festive occasion, including holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, baby showers, and weddings.

Americans have been in love with Tiki culture since the late 1930's, when Victor Bergeron, also known as Trader Vic, opened his first restaurant. A few years later, American G.I.'s started returning home from World War II, bringing with them stories and souvenirs of Polynesian culture from the South Pacific. What makes a Tiki Party truly authentic is the use of stylish retro decor, fresh fruit, colorful fabrics in shades of oranges, pinks, blues, and browns, the exotic jazz of Arthur Lyman and Martin Denny, and Mai Tais served in mugs shaped like the carved Tiki gods of the Polynesian Islands.

A Tiki party is themed in a nostalgic and tropical style that everyone can relate to - you just can't go wrong in creating a good time with this kind of atmosphere! We offer everything you need to create a hip Tiki lounge of your own. Just scroll down the page for planning tips and items like tableware, decorations, props, and more!

 

Choosing a Location
Tiki parties can be equally successful indoors or outdoors. You can reproduce a beach setting in your own back yard or stage your party on an actual beach, if you live near one (see our Outdoor Party Planning Tips). Or, transform your living room or game room into a stylish and shadowy Tiki lounge from the 1950's. An indoor Tiki party is great during any season - appropriate for summer or as a needed reminder of sunnier weather in the dreary winter months.

 

Invitations
Invitations are your first opportunity to spark the imaginations of your guests and to give them a preview of the festivities to come. Consider breaking away from traditional invitations and send out invitations shaped like a Tiki mug or a fez. Drop some hints about the food and beverage choices that are going to be available - perhaps include a recipe for a Mai Tai. Go online and do a little research on the history of Tiki and Polynesian culture, then include a few stimulating tidbits in your invitations.

Think about mandating Tiki-specific attire (see Tiki Party Attire section below). Of course, if it's a pool party or a party at the beach, be sure to tell your guests to bring swimsuits and a towel.

 

Decorating
Decorating for your party is your opportunity to let your creative streak run wild! Your guests will appreciate the effort and creativity invested to make their visit memorable. We offer plenty of affordable options for decorations and props and you can probably also find a few ready-made items sitting in your storage room or in the back of your closet.

Tiki Torches. The number one necessary ingredient for an authentic Tiki party. Line the walkway of the approach to the party site, and place around the porch, pool, or in the garden. Additionally, use candle floats garlanded with tropical flowers in the pool. There are several types of Tiki torches available that burn different fuels.

Table Decorations. Tables can be decorated in a number of ways - with paper tablecovers, rattan or straw mats, and batik textiles. Or, use greenery such as palm fronds and Calla Lilies as a base on which to set your centerpieces. Finish off with natural raffia tableskirts (these look like grass skirts) for an authentic Tiki look!

1950's - 60's tableware and serving dishes set the mood with a great nostalgic flair. Use bamboo serving trays lined with banana leaves or coconut bowls for finger foods, fresh fruit, and flowers. You can create a magnificent centerpiece from tropical fruits like pineapples, coconuts, and mangoes, and from tropical flowers such as orchids, birds of paradise, lilies, and lava plants. Or, use fresh or artificial leis - the plastic ones are inexpensive and are available in a tropical rainbow of colors.

We have a variety of plates, cups, and cutlery available in tropical patterns and colors that will add a great deal of ambience. Try alternating solid colors like brown and caribbean blue with patterns for balance. You can choose from a large selection in both paper and plastic. Add tropical straws and Tiki swizzle sticks for a festive finishing touch.

For soft and lounge-like lighting, float tea lights in small coconut bowls of color-tinted water.

Balloons always elevate the mood and make for a festive atmosphere, and there are plenty of Tiki-related options available. Create a balloon bouquet with helium-filled tropical design balloons and creative balloon weights. Try using a pineapple, a wooden Tiki carving, or a colorful Tiki mug as a weight. When used as a centerpiece, balloons will need to be on ribbons long enough that they don't interfere visually and vocally with guests seated across from each other.

Fish nets (actual fish nets, not the stockings!) are a great and flexible tool for creating a tropical ambience. In addition to being draped over tables, they can be hung on walls, from ceilings, and in doorways, and adorned with other objects like shells and leis. You'll be surprised how many of your friends have neglected items such as these lying around the house. Have them dust off these treasures for your party!

Paper Lanterns are always a festive and popular choice for adding color, light and levity to your party. We offer several styles in different shapes and Tiki patterns.

Strings of colored lights are a quick and easy way to light up a room with color. The idea works just as well for setting a joyful mood at a Tiki party as it does during the Christmas season! Check out our Tiki-designed strings of lights, such as our 14 Foot Tiki Party Lights.

DIY Flower Garlands. Make your own flower ropes from jute, cord, or wire using fresh, silk, or plastic flowers. Use florist tape to secure the flowers and wrap the ropes around columns, pillars, poles, door openings, trees, or drape them in front of a table.

Tiki Cutouts. If you're the artistic type, consider creating your own cutout drawings of Tiki gods. Draw and cut out from colored craft paper and place on top of a contrasting color. Tiki designs can be found on the Internet with a quick Google search or from books on Polynesian culture at your local library.

Miscellaneous Ideas. Consider our "Raffia-Look" Umbrella Covers; streamers and banners; door curtains; lawn signs announcing your Tiki gathering; or a plastic ship helm.

 

Tiki Party Attire
Tiki parties allow for a great deal of fun for your guests in the area of dress. Unlike going to a Luau Party, there are more options for Tiki attire than merely tropical aloha shirts and flip-flops, although these are passable, too. Tiki culture speaks of a 1940's - 1960's era of nostalgia. Make sure your invitations tell everyone to get creative in reliving this time. Also make sure you have plenty of extra leis so that those who forgot or decided to skip the dress code will feel included. You can also go traditional Hawaiian and greet each arriving guest with a lei, which should be worn draped down the front AND the back.

Tiki style is a retro collage of pacific cultures, so you can mix in Asian, Hawaiian, Tongan, and other influences. The general focus should be on hip and chic lounge wear over beach tropical: 50's-dated suits with narrow lapels, tapered pants, and skinny ties; a leopard print or red smoking jacket; and vintage cocktail and cheongsam dresses. The ladies may choose to don flower hair clips. Guys - no Tiki party is complete without at least one fez! Don't forget the cool sunglasses.

Other options: muumuus, pedal pushers, kitten heels. And for the guys: slicked-back hair.

 

Food
Tiki party foods should be fun and easy, for the most part. A big advantage you'll have is the diversity found in Polynesian culture, so you'll have plenty of choices. You'll find influences from the various island groups, New Zealand, New Guinea, China, Japan, and other unexpected locales. With an emphasis on seafood with sweet glazes and fresh fruit, you'll be sure to please any pallette.

Roasted Pig. Have a fire pit? No problem, if you're not that industrious - you'll have plenty of options for simple yet substantive dishes and snacks that require minimal cooking. BUT, there's nothing like a roasted pig with which to say "Welcome to paradise!" to your guests. Your pig can be roasted in an underground pit, on a spit, or even in your little old oven. You can find companies on the Internet that will ship you fully prepared pigs for roasting.

Fresh Fruit. An obligatory staple for any respectable Tiki party. Bowls of whole fresh fruit with colorful flowers tucked among are perfect for both appetizers and decor. Consider pineapples, coconuts, oranges, mangoes, papayas, bananas and kiwis. Also, try pineapple boats and stacked platters of cut fruit. Offer Tiki food picks and a receptacle for the used ones.

Appetizers. Appetizers can very well be the central food focus of your Tiki party. There is a wide range of delicious and Tiki-appropriate offerings to consider, such as sweet and savory options like grilled pineapple skewers, chicken satay, and coconut shrimp. Also, check out simpler fare like macadamia nuts, multi-colored veggie chips made from yams, taro root, and yucca, and creative crudités that include sugar snap peas and jicama. Veggie spring rolls will be a popular item for both vegetarians and carnivores alike. Whip up a big pu-pu (Hawaiian for "appetizer") platter of Asian finger foods like sushi, wontons, and pot stickers, and be sure to include plenty of fresh ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce. Check out our own recipe for Shrimp-Pineapple Pupus.

Main Dishes. Your main courses don't need to be intimidating or arduous to prepare. Consider something as simple as sweet and sour chicken kebabs served with noodles, or a ginger stir fry that includes your favorite meat(s). For the more adventurous, try an exotic and sweet fish entree like honey-glazed salmon, or perhaps something savorier like ahi tuna, swordfish, or grilled mahi mahi. Check out our own recipe for sweet and sour pork on our Luau Recipes page. Compliment everything with a simple green salad that includes Maui onions.

 

Drinks
For many, the key element of a good Tiki party is a great Tiki bar serving plenty of fruity rum drinks with an emphasis on sweet. Set the stage appropriately with our Table Top Tiki Hut, from which you can sling your concoctions. Be sure also to serve a variety of non-alcoholic drinks for your responsible designated drivers. You can use your child's wading pool as a cooler - just fill with ice and drinks. Check out these standard Tiki drink recipes and reproduce them, or use them as inspiration for creating a drink with your own name on it!

Mai Tai

  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 3/4 oz. orange curacao
  • 2 oz. orgeat syrup
  • 1/4 oz. rock candy syrup
  • 2 oz. golden rum
  • 1 dash of grenadine
  • Pour ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into a margarita glass. Fill with crushed ice and decorate with slivers of lime and sprigs of fresh mint.

Singapore Sling

  • 1 1/4 oz. gin
  • Sour mix
  • Soda
  • Cherry brandy
  • 1 dash of grenadine

Scorpion Bowl

  • 1 oz. dark rum
  • 1 oz. gold rum
  • 1 oz. 151 proof rum
  • 2 oz. gin
  • 2 oz. vodka
  • 4 oz. orange juice
  • 4 oz. pineapple juice
  • 4 oz. grenadine
  • Blend ingredients and add to a punch bowl filled with ice. Garnish with orange slices, cherries, orchids, and plastic scorpions. Serves 6-8.

 

Entertainment and Activities

Music. An all-important element of any party and critical for setting an authentic mood at your Tiki party. You must take advantage of the great lounge music created by artists like Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, and Les Baxter, who infused jazz with Polynesian, Asian, and Latin instrumentals, creating the "Exotica" genre. With its unusual instrumentals and background sounds such as the calls of tropical birds, it will transform your home into a nostalgic, loungey lair of the 1950's! You can find CD compilations of these artists at most good music stores.

Limbo. Did somebody say limbo? You may need to change the music to something more upbeat, but a sure-fire way to break the ice and get everyone involved is a limbo contest. You can purchase limbo sets, including inflatable limbo sticks, but you can just as easily make your own with a broomstick decorated with streamers. Challenge your guests' flexibility and create party unity at the same time!

Twister. Why not Twister? This classic game of the 1960's never gets old. It'll whip up nostalgic memories of good times past while you're creating new ones!

Beatnik Poetry Contest. For a more subdued activity, take 1950's nostalgia to the limit with a beatnik poetry contest! Hand out prizes for the most far-out spoken word compositions. To be truly authentic, instruct your guests to snap instead of clapping! Too much, Daddy-O!

Karaoke. Nowadays, Karaoke is a desired party past-time pretty much anywhere you go. Have your guests lip sync to hits of the 50's and 60's and hand out prizes for the most shameless performances.

Shutterbug. Document all of your events with photos of everyone who attended your party. Then, mail or email them out later to inspire denial and questions like, "Is that really me?"