Tailgating is a cherished tradition for sports fans, allowing people to gather for food, drinks, games, and camaraderie in the stadium parking lot. If you’re looking to host an epic tailgate celebration before the big game, use this guide to learn tips, menu ideas, essential gear, and ways to create an incredible game day experience. You’ll learn the simple steps anyone can use to host the best tailgate party.
What is Tailgating?
Tailgating typically refers to the practice of gathering with friends and family in the parking lot of a sports stadium before a game. Fans arrive hours ahead of kickoff to barbecue, play games, socialize, and get excited for the upcoming game or match.
Tailgating transforms sterile parking lots into lively fan festivals and gives people a chance to bond over their shared team allegiance. If you’ve never hosted a tailgate party before, or if you’re just looking for some fresh ideas to make your tailgate party more lively, this tailgating guide will give you some great ways to ensure you host the best tailgate party yet.
Tailgating Essentials: Gear You’ll Need
Before you head out for the big game, you’ll want to packing the tailgating essentials. A properly equipped tailgate helps guarantee an epic pre-game experience. With the right gear, you can cook delicious food, relax in comfort, play fun games, and celebrate your team. This comprehensive tailgating checklist covers everything needed for an amazing game day tailgate.
1. Shelter and Seating
When the sun’s blazing or if the rain is falling, you’ll be glad you brought a tent or canopy. They’re a lifesaver when you need shade and a refuge from unexpected drizzles.
Tents and canopies like the Caravan Canopy V-Series II Instant 10’x10′ canopy provide crucial shade and shelter in any weather. Look for water-resistant canopies with UV protection. For windy conditions, you’ll want a staking kit to weight down your canopy or tent and keep it from blowing away.
Starting at $99.99
Bring foldable chairs and tables to create your own party area. Folding camp tables provide sturdy surfaces for food, drinks, and activities. A portable camp table is great for easy transport and set up. The ALPS Mountaineering Simmer Table is a solid option and bonus – it has built-in cup holders!
Starting at $39.99
Your tailgate party should offer plenty of seating options for people who want a break from standing. Folding chairs or a folding couch are convenient portable seats that give everyone a comfy place to sit. Prioritize portability and durability – you don’t want to be lugging around large pieces of furniture. We like the Kelty Lowdown Camp Couch which offers lots of seating and easily collapses down for transport. For extra flair, use team logos or patches to customize the table and/or chairs.
Starting at $199.95
Welcome mats, rugs, and Astroturf define your space and make it feel more homey. Outdoor rugs provide comfort and can be team-colored to show off your team pride.
2. Food and Beverages
While grilled food and snacks, along with sodas and beer, are typical food and drink for tailgate parties, you can really bring anything that’s delicious to a tailgate.
If you’re cooking up meats like burgers or hot dogs, a portable grill is a must. Look for one that’s easy to haul around and has enough cooking space to accomodate your group size. Portable grills like the Coleman RoadTrip 285 Portable Stand-Up Propane Grill are perfect for parking lot cooking. Choose propane for convenience or charcoal for authentic BBQ flavor.
Starting at $255.99
You’ll also want grilling utensils like tongs, spatulas, skewers, and corn holders to make cooking easier. Heavy-duty oven mitts or grilling gloves make it safer when handling hot items.
To keep those drinks icy and your food safe, you’ll want reliable coolers. Wheeled coolers are ideal if you’ll need to move your cooler around. Look for coolers with good insulation and plenty of storage, such as the Yeti Tundra 65 which keeps food chilled for days. Use separate coolers for drinks and food.
Starting at $375
Water and sports drinks help attendees stay hydrated. Have plenty of both readily available for your tailgate party-goers.
It’s important to keep your party area clean. Have trash bags on hand and designate trash and recycling bins.
3. Fun and Games
Part of the fun of tailgating are the socializing and games. From cornhole to ladder toss, you’ve gotta have some tailgating games to keep the good times rolling.
Corn hole boards are practically required for tailgating fun. Customize with team logos and colors.
Football, soccer ball, or frisbee give people something to toss around. Nerf footballs are perfect for closer quarters.
Ring toss or a giant Jenga tests skills and hand-eye coordination. A variety of tailgating and party games provide plenty of entertainment until game time.
Portable speakers like the JBL Flip 6 stream music from any phone. Bluetooth connectivity lets multiple people DJ.
Set the vibe with your favorite playlist, blasting out of a portable speaker. And hey, a TV setup for pre-game coverage? Now we’re talking!
4. Team Spirit Extras
Deck out your tailgate spot in your team’s colors with flags, banners, and jerseys. Let everyone know who you’re rooting for!
Banners and flags prominently display allegiance. Look for high-quality signage that’s durable in weather.
Pennants, pom poms, beads, and rally towels add festive decoration. Buy team colored versions.
Custom shirts, hats, and jerseys show individual flair. Consider getting matching outfits.
Face/body paint and temporary tattoos display team colors and logos.
Noisemakers, clappers, and vuvuzelas help fans get loud.
5. Health and Safety Essentials
Nobody wants accidents, but it’s always smart to be prepared. Have a first aid kit on hand for those little bumps and scrapes. First aid kits like the Adventure Medical Kits – Sportsman 200 First Aid Kit provide essential first aid products to treat minor cuts, burns, and injuries.
Starting at $45.99
Sunscreen and chapstick prevent painful sunburns and damage.
Hand sanitizer and wipes encourage good hygiene for all the communal food and surfaces.
Garbage and recycling bags keep the area clean and organized.
How to Host a Tailgate Party: Step-by-Step Instructions
Once you’ve assembled and packed your tailgating gear, it’s time to head to the stadium or field and set-up your tailgate party. Follow these steps to arrange your space for the best tailgate party experiences.
1. Arrive Early
Get to the parking lot at least 2-4 hours before kickoff to get your pick of the best spots. Scout popular tailgating areas near the stadium entrance and look for a space with ample room to unload gear and to set up your tables, chairs, grills, and games.
Consider traffic flow so you don’t block cars or foot traffic. Also be mindful not to take more room than you need. If you have a large vehicle like an RV or trailer, find designated oversized vehicle parking ahead of time for RVs, trailers, limos, etc.
2. Designate Roles
Have a game plan for unloading and setting up. Assign each person specific roles like unpacking food/drinks, deploying tents/tables, arranging games, decorating, etc. Get everything moved from your vehicles to your spot quickly and efficiently.
3. Set Up Shelter and Seating
After your gear is unloaded, it’s time to start setting up your party area. Pop-up your canopy or tent for shelter from the sun and rain. Arrange canopies to provide optimal shade and wind protection. Make sure you anchor your shelter into grass or use weights for pavement to keep it secure.
Set up folding tables and set out comfortable foldable chairs or benches.
Use area rugs, welcome mats, or Astroturf as “flooring” to define your party space.
4. Decor and Signage
Next it’s time to show off your team spirit. Hang up signs, banners, flags, balloons, streamers, etc. in team colors. For evening or nighttime tailgate parties, put up rope lights, string lights or lanterns for illumination after dark. Display personalized gear like team cups, koozies, cornhole boards, etc.
5. Food and Drinks Prep
Plan out an extensive menu of finger foods, dips, sides, and beverages to keep energy levels high. Popular tailgate treats include grilled meats, pulled pork, walking tacos, buffalo chicken dip, pasta salad, and dessert bars. To help with food prep, make dishes ahead of time and package them up for your tailgate.
Fill coolers with ice and store any items needing refrigeration, such as drinks, perishable foods, or even frozen treats. Prep finger foods, sides, dips and garnishes. Set up condiments, napkins, plates, utensils. Ensure you have ample trash and recycling bins.
Provide a selection of bottled water, sports drinks, soda or juice, and beer. Use separate coolers for drinks and food to avoid cross-contamination. Place non-alcoholic drinks in a separate area for designated drivers and minors.
6. Grill and Food Station
No tailgate is complete without a variety of delicious food. The centerpiece is often a grill churning out classics like hot dogs, burgers, chicken wings, and more. Set up grills safely away from any flammables. If cooking with a portable propane grill, use fully fueled propane tanks. If using a charcoal grill, make sure you have enough charcoal and lighter fluid to ignite the coals.
Try to keep your cooking area somewhat organized and keep grilling tools nearby. Store raw meat in a well-chilled and iced cooler until ready to grill. Make sure you keep raw meats a safe distance away from your food.
Arrange your snacks, appetizers, and main dishes neatly on a table. It helps to pour bagged items into bowls. Keep plates, napkins, utensils on the table and make sure trash bins are easily accessible.
7. Games and Activities
A winning tailgate has activities to keep guests entertained before the game. Set up chairs around games like cornhole and ladder toss. Make signs with rules. Bring footballs, frisbees, etc. and designate open areas for throwing.
Set up portable Bluetooth speakers to play your favorite pre-game playlist.
Remember necessities like sunscreen, first aid kit, and battery packs to keep phones charged.
8. Safety Considerations
While a tailgating party should be all food and fun, it’s still important to stay safe. Keep the first aid kit visible and accessible. Remember to keep plenty of water available and use sunscreen to protect against sunburns available.
If you’re grilling, have a fire extinguisher readily available.
If serving alcoholic drinks, make sure there is a designated driver and stay hydrated with water between alcoholic drinks. Refrain from getting belligerently drunk. Follow all parking lot rules and be respectful of other tailgaters.
9. Start the Fun!
Finally, you’re ready to start your tailgate party. Fire up the grills and get the first round of food cooking. Turn on the music. Crack open those beverages and get the games going. Your epic tailgate setup is complete – time to relax and party before game time!
iWith proper preparation and these tips, you can host the ultimate pre-game tailgate party.
A Brief History of Tailgating
Tailgating has been a game day tradition for decades, with some accounts tracing it back to the 1800s. However, it really became a widespread cultural phenomenon in the 1960s and 70s.
Some key events that helped popularize tailgating include:
- The advent of TV sports broadcasting which turned games into must-watch events
- More families owning vehicles and able to travel to games
- Schools and universities sponsoring official pre-game tailgates
- Advertising and media portrayals of buffet-style tailgate parties
Over time, tailgating has evolved from simple picnics into a massive party subculture with dedicated tailgating vehicles, menus, gear and clothing.
Tailgating Tips from the Pros
So you’ve mastered tailgate setup – now take your game day skills to the next level with these insider tips from seasoned tailgating pros:
Organize Your Gear the Night Before
Avoid morning scramble by packing non-perishables and supplies in bins the evening prior. Make checklists for easy loading.
Arrive Early to Score the Best Spot
Prime real estate goes fast! Show up 4-5 hours before kickoff to claim the best tailgate spots. Scope out spots near main walkways for high visibility.
Host a Potluck Tailgate
Why shoulder all the cooking? Encourage your fellow tailgaters to bring their signature dishes. It’s a win-win!
Complement Food Stations with Themed Cocktails
Take your menu up a notch with tailored drinks like bourbon apple cider, margaritas, and beer cocktails.
Bring Giant Versions of Classic Games
Go bold with jumbo game versions of Connect Four or Oversized Jenga to stand out from the crowd.
Meet Your Neighbors
Mingle with nearby tailgaters, share food and drinks, and build camaraderie. Having friendly neighbors enhances the experience for everyone. Organize a mini-tournament of tailgate games with your neighboring tailgaters. It’s a great way to make new buddies and create fun memories.
Clean Up Post Party
Pack trash bags, wet wipes, and hand sanitizer to leave your tailgate area spotless. Place trash bags in designated receptacles – don’t leave them lying around.
Review Stadium Policies Beforehand
Check rules on grilling, alcohol limits, parking times, generator use, etc. Follow all rules and guidelines so your party doesn’t get shut down.
With these pro ideas, you’ll take your tailgating celebrations to the next level.
Tailgating Etiquette and Tips
Follow these dos and don’ts to be a polite tailgater:
- Don’t take up more parking space than you need or block traffic lanes
- Do keep sound levels reasonable and quiet down at night
- Don’t get belligerently drunk or rowdy
- Do welcome friendly fans from the opposing team
- Don’t trash the parking lot when leaving
- Do arrive early to get your spot and set up
- Do overprepare food and drinks since you’ll be there for hours
- Don’t bring glass containers or bottles
Tailgating Safety Tips
Have fun at your tailgate while staying safe by following these tips:
- Designate a sober driver – Avoid drinking and driving from the tailgate. Appoint someone to stay sober.
- Watch alcohol intake – Eat plenty of food and alternate alcoholic drinks with water to avoid overconsumption.
- Use buddy system – Arrive together, look out for each other, and leave together. Don’t let anyone wander off alone.
- Watch belongings – Don’t leave valuables unattended at your tailgate spot.
- Wear sunscreen – Protect yourself from sun exposure and heat for hours outdoors.
- Have first aid kit available – Bring bandages, antiseptic, etc. in case of minor cuts and injuries.
- Clean up thoroughly – Don’t leave behind trash or spilled food/drinks that may attract pests.
Embrace the Tailgating Lifestyle
Tailgating isn’t just a pre-game tradition; it’s a way of life. Tailgating allows fans to fully enjoy the experience of supporting their favorite team. Plus, it offers a chance to bond with friends, make new ones, and revel in the outdoors. Armed with the right gear our expert advice, you’re ready to host a tailgate party everyone will enjoy attending. Let’s get our tailgate on!
Tailgating allows fans to fully enjoy the experience of supporting their favorite team. With proper planning and these tailgating tips, you can have an epic time at your next pre-game party while staying safe and courteous. Fire up the grill, cue the music, and start celebrating game day!
Frequently Asked Questions About Tailgating
Where did tailgating originate?
Tailgating traces its roots back to college football in the late 19th century. Fans would gather around the “tailgate” of horse-drawn carriages before games, sharing food and drinks.
What time do people arrive for tailgating?
Most tailgaters arrive 2-4 hours before kickoff to allow enough time to park, set up, eat, socialize, and make it into the stadium. Diehard fans may arrive even earlier to secure the best parking spots.
What foods work best for tailgates?
Grilled meats like burgers and hot dogs are tailgate staples. Finger foods, dips, chips, and cold refreshing beverages also shine. Focus on foods that can be eaten with your hands or while standing.
What drinks go well with tailgating?
Beer and soda are tailgating staples. But you can also make crowd-pleasing drinks like bloody marys, margaritas, sangria, whiskey sours, mojitos, and spiked iced tea or lemonade. For non-alcoholic tailgating drinks, consider juices, sports drinks, and mocktails.
What games or activities make for great tailgates?
Cornhole, ladder ball, KanJam, and spikeball are excellent options since they are portable and easy to play. Tossing footballs or frisbees around is another fun activity for tailgaters.
How can I customize my tailgate on a budget?
Buy decor in team colors, make homemade food labels, and encourage potluck contributions. Shop wholesale stores and buy non-perishables in bulk. Upcycle items to save money while still standing out.
Can you tailgate at non-sports events?
Absolutely! Tailgating isn’t limited to sports. You can tailgate for concerts, festivals, RV rallies, or even backyard BBQs. The key is bringing people together before an event with food, drinks, games, and fun
What are some creative ways to deck out your tailgate?
- Make personalized jerseys or t-shirts for your group
- Make food labels featuring your team’s logo
- Hang strings of team colored pennants or pom poms
- Use your mascot’s image on banners or foam fingers
- Buy disposable tableware in your team’s colors