Derby Day Entertaining Guide

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Blogger Stephanie Ziajka styles a kentucky derby themed party on Diary of a Debutante

The Kentucky Derby is right around the corner, so I thought it’d be fun to put together a Kentucky Derby party guide in today’s post! In my experience, whether or not you care about the race itself is irrelevant. It’s all about fashion, hospitality, and southern food (and drinks, of course). Accordingly, I’ve broken down this hosting guide into three sections: recipes, Kentucky Derby party decor ideas and DIYs, and style advice. Keep reading for all my top Kentucky Derby themed party ideas!

Kentucky Derby-Themed Party Guide

Kentucky Derby food ideas from blogger Stephanie Ziajka on Diary of a Debutante

1. Kentucky Derby Recipes

Blogger Stephanie Ziajka shares ideas for Kentucky Derby party food on Diary of a Debutante

Without sounding biased, southern food is the best food. The drinks aren’t too shabby either. So, I’ve broken down this recipe section into appetizers, desserts, and cocktails. 

Kentucky Derby Party Appetizers

One of my favorite things about the Kentucky Derby is that it happens smack dab in the middle of the day. Guests at mid-day parties don’t, or at least shouldn’t, expect full meals, so you can get by with a cheese board and/or a handful of yummy appetizers instead. If you need some ideas, here are a few Kentucky Derby appetizers to try–

  • Pimento Cheese Deviled Eggs– This Kentucky Derby appetizer combines two of my all-time favorite snacks, deviled eggs and pimento cheese. You can make the filling a day in advance, too!
  • Bourbon Pulled Pork Sliders– When it comes to set-it-and-forget-it appetizers, these bourbon pulled pork sliders are hard to beat. I make mine in a slow cooker and then add homemade coleslaw on top. So good!
  • Baked Pimento Cheese Dip– The only thing better than pimento cheese is warm pimento cheese. 
  • Beef Tenderloin Crostinis– These are a pricier Derby Day appetizer, but trust me, they’re worth it. 

Other southern classics include cornbread, benedictine dip, Kentucky hot browns, and fried chicken (to name a few). 

Kentucky Derby Desserts

No Kentucky Derby party spread is complete without sweets! Here are two of my favorite tried-and-true Kentucky Derby desserts–

  • Mini Bourbon Pecan Pies– If you like pecan pie, you’ll love these mini bourbon pecan pies. The bourbon adds just enough flavor to the filling without overpowering it. These are amazing warmed up and served with ice cream. 
  • Mint Julep Cupcakes– I pipe pink buttercream roses on top of mine to tie in the “Run for the Roses” theme!

Kentucky Derby Cocktails

Bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon featured on Diary of a Debutante

Derby Day is all about the bourbon. Woodford Reserve and Four Roses are classics, and I recommend having a few bottles on hand for those who enjoy it straight. Of course, lots of people don’t, so having beer, wine, and the ingredients for bourbon cocktails on hand is key! Here are a few fun Kentucky Derby cocktails to try (in addition to the classic mint julep, of course)–

  • Kentucky Mule– I cringe at the thought of vodka, so I started drinking Kentucky Mules instead of Moscow Mules. They’re made with mint and bourbon, and they’re ultra refreshing. 
  • Woodford Spire– A Woodford Spire is Woodford Reserve’s official derby drink. It can be easily batched, too, which is handy for parties.
  • Frozen Mint Julep Punch– This frozen mint julep punch sneaks up on you and is always a guest favorite! Not only is it one of my all-time favorite batch cocktails, it can also be made well in advance.
  • Black-Eyed Rye– In my opinion, Black-Eyed Ryes are tastier variations of Black-Eyed Susans, the official drink of the Preakness Stakes. They’re a huge hit with rye whiskey and blackberry lovers alike!

Also, as far as drinkware goes, I like to have whiskey glasses and julep cups on hand. Julep cups specifically just feel so festive. I own a set of silver ones, but my favorites are these copper julep cups from Woodford Reserve. You can find them on Amazon here!

Blogger Stephanie Ziajka shares ideas for Derby Day cocktails on Diary of a DebutanteWoodford Spire prepared in a copper julep cup by southern blogger Stephanie Ziajka on Diary of a Debutante

2. Kentucky Derby-Inspired Decor

Blogger Stephanie Ziajka shares Kentucky Derby decoration ideas on Diary of a Debutante

You can go two ways with Kentucky Derby-themed party decor– the classic way or the kitschy way. Neither way is right or wrong, but they don’t mix well with each other. I don’t buy very many holiday-specific decorations aside from Christmas and Halloween, so I lean towards the classic theme. By classic I mean fresh roses, boxwood and other greenery, and lots of decorative metallic touches, like these gold urn-style vases. Here are some other Kentucky Derby decor ideas I’ve come up with in the past–

Derby Day Tablescapes

DIY Decor and Party Favor Ideas

  • Mini Mint Julep Kits– These DIY mint julep kits are always such a hit! I make my own mint simple syrup, too, and put a little bottle in each kit. 
  • DIY Derby Drink Stirrers– These DIY derby drink stirrers from Inspired by Charm are so easy to make and a perfect festive addition to Derby Day bar carts and cocktails!
  • DIY Boxwood Wreath Chargers– Roses and boxwood go hand-in-hand, especially for derby parties. So, to incorporate more rich green into the table, I bought a few strands of faux garland and turned them into four boxwood wreath chargers.

More Kentucky Derby Decoration Ideas

  • Roses, garlands, and wreaths– The Kentucky Derby is also known as the “Run for the Roses,” primarily because the winner gets a massive red rose garland. So, lean into that theme and decorate with lots of fresh roses and garlands. Wreaths, like this red rose horseshoe wreath, are fun options, too!
  • Derby Day bar carts– The Kentucky Derby and mint juleps are almost synonymous as this point. Still, lots of people prefer other cocktails, so I like to set up a Derby Day bar cart (like this one) with different bourbons, mixers, and garnishes.
  • “Place Your Bets” station– Create a cute little betting station where guests can bet on horses they like. Signs like this one (which also comes with betting slips) are great for explaining the rules!

3. Kentucky Derby Style

Blogger Stephanie Ziajka shares ideas for Kentucky Derby party outfits on Diary of a Debutante

Kentucky Derby fashion is in a category all its own. For lack of a better term, you can “peacock” your heart out without anyone batting an eye, and it’s fun to get to see everyone’s personalities shining through. If you need help finding the perfect hat or styling an outfit, keep scrolling!

Kentucky Derby Hats and Fascinators

Kentucky Derby hats and fascinators are everywhere on Amazon. Still, sometimes it can be hard to find a hat that matches your outfit exactly, so making your own is the best option. I actually made the hat I’m wearing in this post, and you can check out the tutorial here–

Kentucky Derby Party Outfits

Anything goes for the Kentucky Derby color and style-wise. I’ve put together dozens of Kentucky Derby party outfits over the years, and they’re always so different. So, my advice is to wear something that you feel lively, confident, and comfortable in. If you need some style inspiration, here are a few of my favorite outfit posts from previous years–

Woodford Spire cocktail prepared in a copper mint julep cup by southern blogger Stephanie Ziajka on Diary of a Debutante

That’s all I’ve got for y’all today! If I left anything off of this Kentucky Derby themed party guide, please let me know. I love hearing from you guys, and I’m happy to help! Thanks so much for reading, y’all– and happy Derby Day!

Just so you know, I was reimbursed for the cost of these products as part of a sponsored social campaign with Woodford Reserve. I loved this creating this simple Kentucky Derby party spread so much that I decided to feature it on my blog, as well, although I had no obligation to do so. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.


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