From the lavish to the laid back, the authentic to the unapologetically ersatz, luaus are the most socially acceptable events to toss back two too many MaiTais, ogle scantily clad locals, strike up a flirtation with an unassuming Canuk, attempt the hula, watch a grown man eat fire, strum a uke, eat pig roasted in a pit and listen to live slide guitar—all in the same night.
But, no matter which island you find yourself on, keep in mind that coconut bras and unlimited access to skewered pineapples come at a pretty price.
Fear not, intrepid voyagers. Here’s how to shake it in a grass skirt without reaching into your pocket:
Channel Your Inner Magnum
As in Magnum P.I., young brethren. First, gather the basics. Best to shun the internet for once and make an old-timey phone call to the Oahu luaus of your choice. Why would you go to such great lengths, you ask? Conviction and authority, my friend.
Say you get caught (this isn’t foolproof, fool): Claiming Cindy Watanabe in Reservations confirmed your booking carries much more weight than drunkenly paraphrasing a website’s rules and regulations. When you get Cindy on the phone prior to the event, explain that you’re sending your Grandma to her very first luau (!).
“Yes, she’s super excited (so excited), but she tends to get nervy at large gatherings and likes to have as much information as possible up front. What’s the best time to arrive to avoid the crowds? (You’ll be doing the opposite, Kid Rock.) Is it okay to stroll around the property during the luau? Will leis be given upon arrival? (Listen up: This is crucial.) Shell or flower? What type of flower? White orchids, you say? How lovely!”
Aim to receive the most precise answers possible—consider the lei your golden key, the equivalent to the mighty pool bracelet with its far reaching powers—and then, make a stop at Safeway for the goods. Or, better yet: Scope out the digs the night before. Partygoers often leave behind their leis before the grand finale.
Dress to Impress
This is Hawaii. By that, we mean that you could pretty much wear what you please, as long as you’ve got a strut that suggests there’s so much more going on with you than what meets the eye. (Some of the wealthiest folks in the islands bum around in board shorts and half-buttoned aloha shirts, and surely everyone on Facebook has seen the infamous photo of the G-string-wearing woman in line at Foodland).
In order to crash a luau, however, you want to convey that you’ve got cash and class.
Ladies, go for a sleek sundress that shows a little cleavage, platform sandals, and a few I-Just-Got-to-Hawaii accoutrements (a necklace with an island-inspired pendant or hoop earrings with puka shells).
Gents, think moneyed Connecticutan meets Waikiki Surf Shop: Plaid shorts, well-made slip-ons and a t-shirt with some sort of conspicuous Hawaiian insignia.
And don’t forget a sunburn—few things say FOB like that telltale red.
Then, don your lei, champ, and wear it with the self-effacing pride of someone who’s going along for the ride.
Proceed at Your Own Risk
Timing is everything—in love and in life.
Arrive too early and you’ll blow your cover: Names and rezzies are generally checked upon arrival. Saunter in too late and there’s no doubt you’ll garner more than a few suspicious stares.
Prime time is also poi time, when throngs of daiquiri and sun-dazed guests storm the buffet. Linger out of plain sight until the lomilomi salmon is officially served, then make your move while the party is in full effect.
Time it right and the greeters will have dispersed to attend to their next task.
Show Some Swagger
Pussyfoot like a college freshman trying out his fake ID for the first time and the jig’ll be up, shyster.
Walk in like you own the place, or at least own a ticket to that night’s parade of half-naked Polynesians. Give security a smug nod.
Find a group of people in your demographic and loiter just outside their circle. “Let” that timid couple in matching shirts cut in front of you, grab a plate and make a series of obligatory noises and phrases as you loop around the buffet (“Mmmm, teriyaki…Now, what’s this? Purple dinner rolls?”).
While peeps are returning to their seats, feign starvation and start chowing down as you make your rounds (think of it as an ultra-confident, kinda dick-wad Kanye move).
Be chill as you search for enough open chairs for you and your party. (A word of caution: It’s best to sneak in solo or as a pair.) Found a spot? Good. Now sit and smile.
If your tablemates frown, tell ‘em you got lost on your way to the hotel—everyone likes to bond over being a bumbling foreigner. Ease your way into a conversation about your hometowns and the humidity.
Feeling extra smooth? Get their names, first and last (For example: “Your name is Tony too? What are the odds? Wouldn’t it be heelarious if we had the same last name too? What’s yours? You’re frickin’ kidding me.”).
Exploit your newcomer status if your dining companions ask for proof: Your wallet got washed away by a rogue wave. Should security accost you while you’re in line for a drink, you’ll have a ready—and valid—backup plan.
(Bonus tip: Have friends with kids on the island? Borrow a stroller, wrap a bottle of wine in a couple of colorful shirts, throw a blanket over your blissfully-sleeping baby, pull down the visor, rock the buggy here and there, and give childless people a placid, half-smiley stare.
Trust us: Few security guards are going to give a whole lot of shit to a lei-wearing parent with a passed out infant.
Befriend the Bartenders
Let’s be straight: Luaus are lovely, even romantic, with that luscious island breeze and those swaying palm trees. But, they’re also a rather suitable place to get shit-faced.
You, sly devil, will be waiting for the after party to get blitzed, if that’s what floats your paper boat (see the next step). However, should the night unravel—best laid plans and all that—you’ll need some serious ammo.
Butter up the bartenders. Flatter them without coming across as a douche. Tip them well. Strike up a conversation about mud runs in Sacramento. Whatever. The point is to make a solid enough impression so that when your partner-in-crime is smacking a hula dancer on the ass, your mixologist pal will step in to tell security, “He/She’s cool, man.”
Kowtow to Convention (and Be Ready to Bounce)
To successfully crash a luau, you need to be brazen—but you also need to blend in as effortlessly as a blazer-and-necktie at a Republican convention.
Mingle merrily, but with dashing decorum. Chuckle when Aunt Ethel takes to the stage. Greet bystanders with a warm smile and a handshake. Discuss achingly generic topics. Curb your inner train wreck.
Keep an eye on security and make your way to the bathrooms if you see them heading your way. Have confidence in the fact that if you aren’t making a scene, no one will likely say a thing; after all, luau employees will want to save themselves and the real guests from embarrassment and disruption.
Then kick back and enjoy the show, Big Kahuna. Guarans you’ll have a smashing good time.
What about you? Ever crash a luau? Why not?