10 Easy Kentucky Derby Party Ideas

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Looking for Kentucky Derby Party ideas? From mix your own mint julep bars to easy southern themed appetizer recipes, everything you need to host the best Kentucky Derby Party is right here.

10 hostess hacks: the easiest Kentucky Derby Party Ideas ever

Are you a Kentucky Derby fan? I have always been intrigued by all the traditions that surround this annual spring event--the amazing hats, the decorations, the parties, the mint juleps.

A friend of mine that lives in Kentucky made a funny comment about how you can't possibly claim to be a "glue gun expert" until you've lived in Louisville during Derby season.

She's been spending hours crafting unique hats for her and her adorable girls to wear to countless Derby parties over the course of the Derby.

With all that action, I can imagine that by the time the actual party day arrives, a Kentucky Derby hostess is looking for all the shortcuts she can get.

These tips are perfect for hosting a last-minute Derby party no matter where you are or for any southern-themed festivities all year round!

What is a Kentucky Derby Party?

A Kentucky Derby party is a gathering to celebrate the annual Kentucky Derby horse race which is held on the first Saturday in May.

The Derby is a cultural event known for traditional southern cuisine, signature cocktails, and festive attire.

Party guests often participate in betting pools and watch the race together but even without that, it is a fantastic excuse to get your friends together for some fun.

How to Decorate for a Derby Party

If you want to make your Kentucky Derby party look more festive and feel more Derby-themed, there are several fun options even on a smaller budget:

1. Use Fine China or Polished Silver Platters

Now is the time to bring out the good stuff! For this elegant event, even if you're just hosting at home, use the prettiest platters you've got.

No wedding china? No problem, you can find plenty of options on Facebook marketplace or a local antiques shop on even the smallest budget.

The perfect china to use for a Derby party? Try searching for Royal Albert Old Country Roses!

2. Decorate with Roses

The Kentucky Derby is also known as the "Run for the Roses" because the winning horse is draped in a garland of red roses.

Incorporating roses into your party decor, such as with floral arrangements or garlands or the china I just mentioned above, can help create a beautiful and authentic look.

3. Use Traditional Kentucky Derby Colors

The official colors of the Kentucky Derby are black, white, and gold.

Using these colors in your party decor, such as with balloons, streamers, or tablecloths, can help create a memorable and festive look.

4. Display Horseshoes

Horseshoes are a classic symbol of horse racing and can be used as a decorative element for your party.

You can find horseshoe-shaped decorations or even use these horseshoes as place card holders or table centerpieces.

5. Display Horse Racing Memorabilia

If you or your guests are fans of horse racing, consider displaying horse racing memorabilia such as old tickets, programs, or photos of past Kentucky Derby winners.

How to Set Up a Mint Julep Bar

10 hostess hacks: the easiest Kentucky Derby Party Ideas ever

The hero of the event! You can't have a Kentucky Derby party without a mint julep! Blasphemy!

But mint and bourbon straight up may not be everyone's cup of tea.

How much more fun would it be to set up a "Mix Your Own" bar with 4 flavor combos?!

Since moving to the south, Handyman Tim has taken to learning more about the local bourbons. For me, a traditional mint julep is just way too strong.

Instead, I selected a handful of fruity cocktail mixers to create blends that would be more appealing to the bourbon lovers like my husband but could be lightened up a bit for the ladies in the crowd.

4 Amazing Mint Julep Flavors

  1. Blood Orange Mint Julep: My absolute favorite one! I think I found my summer drink.
  2. Pineapple Twist Mint Julep: Tim's favorite.
  3. Sweet Strawberry Mint Julep: I enjoyed this one tremendously but it was far too sweet for Tim.
  4. Southern Peach Mint Julep: I couldn't host a southern party without trying a peach twist. Though it was tasty, I'd sip all day long on that Blood Orange one instead.
10 hostess hacks: the easiest Kentucky Derby Party Ideas ever

A simple mint syrup is the base of all 4 recipes. To that you add 2 ounces of your preferred fruit mixer and top with a pour of bourbon.

For a mint julep with a more authentic (strong!) ratio:

2 oz fruit mix + .5 oz mint syrup + 2 oz bourbon + ice

For a mint julep with a lighter more refreshing (girlie!) taste:

2 oz fruit mix + .5 oz mint syrup + .75 oz bourbon + ice

I set out bottles of Blood Orange Margarita Mixer, Mai Tai Mixer (for the pineapple version), Strawberry Margarita Mixer, and Peach Margarita Mixer alongside the mint syrup and a bottle of bourbon.

Letting your guests mix their own allows them to make them as light or strong as they want and everyone can have fun sampling the different flavors. It would be so fun to have a taste test vote at the end to see which one was most popular!

Though the prepared mint syrup gives the mint julep all the minty flavor it needs, I set out some fresh mint for garnish along with fresh strawberries and cut up pineapple.

10 hostess hacks: the easiest Kentucky Derby Party Ideas ever

Easy Kentucky Derby Party Menu

When you're planning out your Derby party menu, keep your focus on simple southern recipes to keep with your party theme.

I've gathered together my very favorite Kentucky Derby appetizers and Kentucky Derby desserts for you to add to the menu alongside the mint julep bar mentioned above.

That said, some of the easiest party foods can be even picked up at your local grocery store and presented in minutes on your pretty platters for the party.

Some of my favorites include:

Cheese Straws

This classic spicy southern munchie can be bought right in the cracker aisle of most gourmet grocery stores. They are the perfect savory complement to a sweet cocktail.

Sweet and Spicy Nut Mix

The south is known for peanuts and pecans. Look for a fancy nut mix like the sweet and spicy one I found at our grocery store. Otherwise, you could easily make up a batch of these spiced pecans or these peppered glazed pecans long before the party starts. They keep well for weeks.

10 hostess hacks: the easiest Kentucky Derby Party Ideas ever

Pimiento Cheese with Crackers

This was definitely an acquired taste for me when we moved to the south but now I love pimiento cheese, especially on a hamburger.

If you can't find a prepared carton of it at your grocery store, here is my super easy pimento cheese spread recipe to mix together on your own.

Homemade Pimento Cheese
This delicious classic pimento cheese spread is perfect for serving alongside a platter of buttery crackers or using as the base for a pimento cheese sandwich. Just a touch spicy with a little dash of sweetness, it is the perfect texture.
5 from 1 vote
A bowl of homemade pimento cheese is served on a plate with butter crackers.

Skewer a Cheese Cube Plus Grape

For the guests who may shy away from the Pimiento cheese option, pull together a simple but fancy finger food.

Just grab a container of cheese cubes from the store and skewer them up with a red or green grape.

Elegant Finger Sandwiches

You could make many from this list of 30 delicious finger sandwich recipes using items you probably have in the pantry right now. It's all about the presentation and these are elegant and easy.

30 Delicious Finger Sandwich Recipes
Pick 2 or 3 of these easy finger sandwich recipes to mix and match for a tiered tray at your party. Delicious ideas include vegetarian-friendly party sandwiches, creamy chicken salad bites, and delicate deli meat nibbles for plenty of variety.
A tiered sandwich tray has several finger sandwiches on display.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries with Dipping Sauces

Grab a bag of fancy sweet potato fries from the freezer section and then go browsing in the condiments aisle for 2 or 3 dips to go with it. Maybe a Southern BBQ sauce and a bottle of spicy mayo? YUM.

Alabama BBQ Sauce
Alabama white sauce is a homemade barbecue sauce made with a mayo and vinegar base for a delicious burst of flavor on your seasoned and grilled chicken or pork.
5 from 1 vote
A plate with sliced barbecue chicken has a drizzle of Alabama bbq white sauce over the top.

Roast Beef & Horseradish Crostini

This easy prep-ahead roast beef crostini appetizer recipe is always a huge hit.

Swing by the deli aisle and get some freshly carved roast beef sliced thick. Skewer it up with a dollop of prepared horseradish sauce and chopped fresh cherry tomatoes and serve on a simple crostini bread.

Roast Beef Crostini
Easy beef crostini with horseradish cream is the perfect prep ahead appetizer for the holiday. Serve as an assembled small bite or as part of a snack board or charcuterie.
5 from 1 vote
A plate of roast beef crostini with horseradish cream and cherry tomatoes.

Peach Pizza

Make a gourmet pizza with the South's favorite fruit with one of the five delicious variations in this peach pizza recipe. Then cut the pizza into smaller squares as an appetizer. If you use a homemade pizza dough, you could roll it out to a square shaped pizza that would make it even easier to cut.

Peach Pizza
This fresh peach pizza with goat cheese and basil is a delicious summer dinner or appetizer for cocktail hour.
5 from 1 vote
A homemade peach pizza has been sliced and served.

Pulled Pork on Hawaiian Roll

Pulled pork is a southern staple.

Grab a container of prepared bbq pork from the refrigerator section of your store and serve it up slider-style on a mini Hawaiian bun.

Bonus points if you take the time to set out some fresh coleslaw to go with it.

Pulled Pork
This is the best pulled pork recipe for the oven or slow cooker. Seasoned with a delicious pulled pork rub before it is cooked, enjoy it with or without BBQ sauce drizzled over the top.
5 from 2 votes
A barbecue pulled pork sandwich is on a plate next to potato chips.

Easy Strawberry Shortcakes

Grab a container of whipped cream, fresh strawberries, and store bought biscuits. Set out the fixin's for your guests to make their own mini strawberry shortcakes. No one can resist this sweet ending.

Classic Strawberry Shortcake
This classic strawberry shortcake is just like the one grandma used to bake. A slightly sweetened shortcake biscuit is filled with fresh strawberries and sugar and topped with whipped cream. An essential summer dessert during strawberry season!
5 from 1 vote
A classic strawberry shortcake has been split in half with fresh berries and whipped cream.

Pecan Pie Bars

I found amazing prepared pecan bars in our grocery store bakery department. Buy just a few of the big ones but then cut them up petit four style (bite-sized) and place on a pretty platter to help stretch them further.

If you have the time, making a batch of homemade pecan bars is super easy and lets you cut them to just the right size.

Shortbread Pecan Pie Bars
These rich and chewy shortbread pecan pie bars have a crispy cookie crust, a gooey caramel center, and salty pecans all over the top. Slice up a square to share with friends for fall entertaining.
4.96 from 41 votes
A stack of shortbread pecan pie bars on a cake plate for serving.
10 hostess hacks: the easiest Kentucky Derby Party Ideas ever


  1. These are great tips for any party & especially. Derby week. Thanks fir sharing.
    I did miss some form of Hot Browns. Also, Benedictine is a must have and about as easy as it gets.

  2. I'm an event planner for my office + 200 employees. I usually do Cinco de Mayo for them but have been considering Derby Day. These posts really make it difficult to decide which to do.

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