A pre-game tailgate is the ultimate pop-up party. You roll up to the stadium, unload, set up and suddenly you’re part of a big, happy community of fellow fans who are ready to eat, drink and show their team spirit in a big way. From generator-run televisions to portable air conditioners, tailgaters will stop at nothing to deliver the best in pregame conditions—but you don’t have to go to those extremes to have a fabulous party.
If you’re intimidated by the idea of planning a tailgate, don’t be. We asked friend (well, sister) of Think.Make.Share Lori L.—a University of Georgia graduate and a seasoned tailgater—for her best tips. Read on for supplies, hints, and creative ways to score game and style points.
Oh, and: This DIY Felt Pennant is easy to customize with your team colors. Get our instructions and a free printable template.
Tailgate party tips: On your mark
First and foremost: PREPARE PREPARE PREPARE. Almost all of tailgating is in the preparation. Here’s a list of things to do before game day:
Map your destination.
Plan to arrive four hours before the game, and eat two hours before it starts, so you’ll have time to clean up. If you have a regular spot, let friends know where they can find you. If you’re going to tailgate in the stadium parking lot, check the team website for rules and regulations—especially about alcohol and grilling. If you’re off campus or outside the stadium, check city ordinances.
Plan your menu.
Choose food you can cook and prep ahead of time. Cut up veggies and sandwich toppings, form hamburger patties, pre-make sandwiches. And of course, there is no shame in picking up fried chicken and putting it on a pretty plate. (We’ve to some more ideas for you below.)
Lori is a big believer in culinary shows of team spirit: “I like to color coordinate some food, especially at away games—red velvet cupcakes, red Swedish fish, that kind of stuff. Some friends do a theme based on who they are playing: hot dawgs when they play the Bulldogs, chicken for the Gamecocks, alligator for Florida. Bars—grits bars, potato bars, Bloody Mary bars—those are all fun tailgating themes, too.”
Another tip: “I like to put things like peanuts, jelly beans, and snack mix in jars or carafes so people pour them into their hands and don’t stick their hands into the food—especially where there are no sinks to really wash your hands. Finger foods are also great for the same reason.”
Prep your food stations.
Get your grill and gear together, and make sure you’ve got plenty of propane or lighter fluid and charcoal. Freeze some water bottles for the cooler—they’ll keep cold food cold and then melt so you can hydrate. Pack food in a large basket or tub you can use on site as a flat surface for setting down drinks and food, then fill with dirty dishes to bring home again.
Pack your supplies.
Make a list of everything you’ll need, down to the last bottle opener. Lori’s tip: “I always like to have a bag I keep packed with essentials—I refresh it after every game and just throw it in the car.” Those essentials:
- Hand wipes and sanitizer (“Because everyone is using porta-potties”)
- Paper towels (“I am partial to Viva as they can also be comfortably used for tissues, napkins, and toilet paper, if necessary”)
- Bottle openers and a permanent marker (“To write your name on your drink cup—or for autographs after the game, if you have kids”)
- Aluminum foil, zipper bags, and chip clips (“To wrap up the food if you plan on coming back to tailgate more after the game while the traffic clears—although truth be told if everyone has had their hands in something I normally toss it”)
- Cups, plates, napkins, eating and serving utensils (“I save unused utensil packs with salt and pepper packets from restaurants”), tablecloths
Be ready for the weather.
Check the forecast and be ready for a sudden turn in the conditions. “Take ponchos—because even if the forecast says ‘no rain,’ you can NEVER trust it,” Lori warns.
Don’t forget the fun stuff.
Bring a portable speaker, chairs, blankets, and a football to toss around. Plus it up with a few photo props, some sidewalk chalk, or even a yard game, like cornhole or washers. “Take a pack of stickers or temporary tattoos to help people who stop by your tailgate and aren’t wearing any spirit,” Lori recommends.
Tailgate party tips: Get set
- Text your friends about where you ended up—you can send a pin so they know the exact spot.
- Hoist up a banner (we’ve got you), flag, or helium balloons to show your spirit and help friends find you.
- Pop the trunk, set up a portable table, and cover it with a tablecloth in team colors. Try to leave enough space for friends to mingle around your food and drink stations.
- When it comes to tailgates, trays are your most versatile accessories. Use them to organize side dishes, serving tools, and cutlery.
- Get your bar ready to go—don’t forget the Sharpie for writing names on the plastic cups. Put out your snacks and any decorations, like these straw flags.
- Set up your food with hot stuff on the grill so it stays warm, and keep your perishables in the cooler until right before serving (or set them on an ice-filled tray).
- Set up bags or pop-up containers for trash and recycling.
- Be sure to introduce yourself to your tailgate neighbors and offer to share any last minute forgotten items. You’ll be so glad you did in the event that you forget something.
Tailgate party tips: Game on!
We’ve found a way to add another layer of competition to the already awesome pregame event: A chili cookoff.
If you regularly tailgate with the same people, pick a date and throw down the challenge. Or make it a generational contest in your own family.
We’ve got a ringer for you—an easy chili that will have them cheering: Hallmark Creative Talent Development Specialist Erin R.’s chili, which we topped with shredded cheese, avocado, and corn chips. We made the chili at home and brought it chilled in a cooler with ice packs, then reheated it to 165 degrees on our grill. On the side, we served Erin’s cheesy jalapeno corn muffins, which can be made ahead, and defrosted and warmed up on game day.
And no tailgate is complete with a good dip: Here’s our favorite queso blanco recipe.
Batch drinks are by far the easiest way to serve cocktails at a tailgate event. We made these easy Cranberry-clementine mules to show off our team colors.
Serves 10 (in theory)
- 2 1/2 cups vodka
- 2 1/2 cups cranberry juice
- 4 1/2 cups ginger beer
- 3 clementine oranges, plus more for garnish
- 1 lime
Juice the clementines and the lime.
Mix the citrus juice with the vodka, cranberry juice, and ginger beer in a large pitcher of ice.
Garnish with additional slices of clementine.
To fancy up your garnish as shown below, cut super-thin orange slices. Pack your pitcher or jar tightly with crushed ice, and push the slices down the side—you can use your plasticware, a knife, or the end of a wooden spoon to position them.
You know we want to see your tailgate party pictures. Tag us on Instagram @think.make.share! And go team.