For many sports fans, the fun of attending the big game begins well before the first ball is thrown, kicked or tossed. The action starts in the parking lot with a tailgate party.
Named for the place where they’re usually held—at the back of a vehicle—tailgate parties can range from simple picnics to elaborate shindigs.
We asked tailgating experts to share their top tips for staging the perfect pregame party. Here are some ideas from the pros:
When it comes to tailgating, food is the most important ingredient. A pregame party is the perfect time to serve “man food,” says Christina van Koppen of the Wow! Factor, a catering and event planning company in Woodstock, Ga.
“Think chicken wings, corn on the cob, pasta salad, hamburgers and hot dogs, barbecue, baked beans, popcorn, chips, etc.,” she says. “These are foods that can be eaten with your hands or while milling around, watching the game.”
Van Koppen suggests setting up a buffet so guests can serve themselves in a relaxed manner.
“Keep it simple and fun,” she says. “Make a list so you don’t forget important items like condiments, paper plates, napkins, plastic forks and spoons, paper towels, trash bags for cleanup and plenty of water.”
The best tailgate parties have electricity, says Jay Ducote, a Louisiana State University tailgater and winner of the 2010 Tony Chachere Tailgate Cook-off.
“A smaller party may be able to get away with running stuff off a car battery, but that gets old after the second time you need a post-game jump start,” he says.
Use a generator to power a music sound system, an electric fan on hot days, a blender or a slow cooker.
For many, tailgating is not simply an hour-long picnic before kickoff. “We sometimes tailgate for up to 12 hours,” says Ducote, 29, who lives in Baton Rouge, La., and tailgates 12 to 15 times a year. “When throwing a party for that length of time, people will need to sit down.” Ducote recommends folding tailgate chairs, which come in a carrying bag and often are available with your favorite team’s logo.
Plan for possible inclement weather and provide shelter for your guests. Ducote suggests using anything from a pop-up tent to a large canopy. “I’ve tailgated during tropical storms, in the snow, and in 100-degree heat,” he says. “In all of those environments, proper shelter is a must.”
“We’ve tailgated on grass and dirt,” says Stefan Prelog, of New York City. Prelog has organized pregame parties at Giants Stadium for the New York Steelers Fan Club, hosting more than 300 guests. “If it’s raining, the ground can get really muddy. We’ll check the weather and if there’s rain in the forecast, we’ll get a bale of hay and spread it around the ground before we set up so no one slips and falls in the mud.”
While tailgate parties revolve around food and beverages, it’s a good idea to provide other entertainment. Basic backyard games, such as bean bag toss, ladder ball, horseshoes, ring toss and Frisbee are portable and fun.