For football, baseball, soccer, and hockey fans, one ritual stands above all others: tailgating. Whether you’re in the parking lot waiting for the game to start or having a get-together at home, before any weekend contest, you will surely see excited fans gathered around smoky grills, holding cold drinks, and enjoying delicious food.
The most successful tailgate parties are planned in several stages: prep, implementation, and cleanup. Read on to learn a few tailgating tips that will help you master every stage and make your next party more memorable.
Get an Accurate Headcount
Even if your football tailgates have gained legendary status, it’s still important to find out just how many people are coming. Before planning entertainment, food, or logistics, you’ll need an idea of how many you’ll be serving. Invitations with RSVPs, whether they’re on paper or in a text message, are a useful option. Get the info out as soon as possible and follow up a few days before the event.
Follow a Schedule
When planning a stadium tailgate party, consider arriving at least four hours before the game begins—and plan to eat about two hours after getting there. You’ll have enough time to set up, clean up, and put away the leftovers before heading in to watch the game. Don’t forget to send out a final schedule to guests so they can plan accordingly.
Think About Food and Drink
Whether you’re planning a small get-together or hosting dozens of friends, bringing the right amount of food and drink is essential. I think potlucks are a great choice when planning larger tailgate parties because they allow all guests to enjoy their favorite snacks and beverages—and you won’t have to do all the work!
If you’re supplying everything, be sure to include options for everyone. Some guests may have allergies and dietary restrictions, and the best hosts always keep those constraints in mind.
Use the Right Dishes
The right serving dishes and tableware can make (or break) your tailgate party. While most stadium tailgaters use plastic forks, disposable cups, and paper plates, home party planners have more options. A great set of melamine platters and matching tableware will set the right mood and get guests ready for the big game.
Pick a Spot
If it’s possible to reserve a spot to party, do it! I like reserving space because it keeps me from rushing around at the last minute. Not all venues allow tailgaters to reserve spaces. In many places, it’s first come, first served. Be sure to learn about your venue’s reservation rules before game day.
Follow the Venue’s Rules
While learning about the stadium or arena’s reservation policies, brush up on its tailgating rules. Many places put limits on things like vehicle size and guest capacity during events and it’s better to change your plans than it is to get to the venue and realize that your party won’t go on as scheduled.
Make It Easy for Guests to Find You
It can be difficult for latecomers to find your tailgating spot in a crowd where everyone is wearing matching team gear. To cut through the confusion and allow guests to find our spot more quickly, I usually raise a flag or tie a banner to my tailgating canopy. If you’re near a landmark, use it to direct guests.
Use Coolers to Keep Drinks Cold and Foods Warm
While it may seem simple, packing a cooler is an art form. Proper packing will keep your ice frozen and drinks cold until game time! With a few modifications, you can use coolers to keep foods hot. Heat a few bricks in the oven before leaving home, and wrap them in foil. Put the bricks in the bottom of the cooler and put hot dishes on top.
Put Up a Canopy
Whether it’s an early snowfall or a summer shower, bad weather will ruin any tailgate party. In my experience, the best defense against foul weather (and grumpy guests) is a tent or a canopy. Not only will a covering protect guests and their food, but it will also provide valuable relief from the sun’s hot, harmful rays.
Have a Seat
Even at tailgate parties, where guests usually stand, laugh, and socialize, seating is crucial. If you’re attending a parking lot watch party, the game may last for several hours—and that’s a long time to stay on your feet! Even if you’re packing up and heading into the venue for an event, you’ll still be there long before it starts—so don’t forget the seating for yourself and your guests.
Football, baseball, and soccer games are a great way for fans to show off their tailgating and entertainment skills. Horseshoes, cornhole, and even video games are all great options; just consider the available space when choosing which games to bring.
Clean Up and Enjoy the Game
While most tailgate planning is focused on the times before and during the party, it’s just as important to think about what you’ll do as things are winding down. Being ready for cleanup will allow you to get everything packed away before kickoff, and I typically set aside at least an hour to get it all done. Here are my must-have tips for tailgate cleanup:
- Don’t forget the trash bags. Not only are these bags a great place to put waste, but they can also be used as ground covers, ice packs, or emergency ponchos if the need arises.
- Focus on leftovers. All that food is too delicious to waste! Bring some melamine containers with lids to store leftovers in coolers with ice or send guests home with to-go plates.
Although cleaning up isn’t the most exciting part of tailgating, it’s a necessary step. With the right supplies and some great melamine dishes, cleanup will be a breeze.
Follow These Tips for a Fun and Festive Event
Tailgate parties are a staple among sports fans, and every party will be slightly different. Whether you’re camping out in the parking lot or enjoying some downtime before heading into the stadium for the big game, these tips will make your party safer and more fun.