In honor of the annual football issue, my sweet editors have requested a tailgating party-themed column. Having only been to one (yes, one) tailgate party in my entire life, I’m definitely at a loss here. Like any good journalist and party planner, I knew some research was in order. Since it’s not football season and attending a tailgate or three was not going to work out (and still come within a month of my deadline), I did the next best thing – asked a lot of questions of people who do tailgate.
As it turns out, hosting a tailgate party pre-game is pretty much like any other party. You have your basic requirements of location, food, entertainment, guest list and attire.
Location is fairly easy – the best parking space you can find near the stadium. Some stadiums plan for this and some season ticket holders may even have a designated spot. I know when I attended a pre-game celebration at UGA once (in another life), we had a designated patch of lawn. The next element is, of course, the canopy. A 10 x 10 tent is pretty easy to come by, and you can even get them with sides on them for cold or wet game days (a logo for your favorite team is a nice addition). If you have guests meeting you, it might be nice to distinguish your spot from everyone else‘s with something unique, like a balloon in some random color (but not the opposing team’s, of course) so that your friends can see your location from across the parking lot.
As part of the location section, seating is also necessary. Folding chairs and coolers that can double as a seat are key. Providing a seat for everyone in your group isn’t totally necessary, and your friends may very well bring their own.
Planning your meal is a great way to get creative. Many tailgate celebrations begin early in the day and stretch to game time, somewhere in the mid-afternoon or even into the evening. So, pace yourself. Most foods should be hand-held and in smaller portions. My husband, who has been to a few more tailgate events than I have, will disagree. He and his friends always grill steaks. But for every weekend, it would probably work best to think in terms of sliders, wings, skewers and other foods that are easily eaten with the fingers. High-quality disposable plates and flatware are good ideas (sturdy, yet disposable) but easy-to-stack-and-pack reusable items are great, too. Keep everything in your team’s colors wherever possible, or at least neutral. The last thing you should do is pull out an orange plate when you’re sitting in Athens.
With decorations, you can certainly go crazy with pom-poms, colored blankets and tablecloths; chairs in your team colors; and mascots and logos galore. But don’t forget to keep it classy by not going so far overboard you appear to be the mascot yourself.
In my business, we do a lot of signature drinks. I would definitely suggest spending some time finding a beverage you can make in a batch quantity to share with your friends. Make sure to have some non-alcoholic options as well so that the designated driver(s) in your group have something to enjoy. Pacing oneself is also recommended here. If you have all day to enjoy your tailgate party before getting into the stadium, make sure you’re sober enough to find your seat and cheer for the correct team once you sit down.
As far as entertainment, the game is supposed to be the focal event of the day. But when you have hours to kill prior to game time, your guests might enjoy something other than a deck of cards. Corn hole is a lot of fun, along with other lawn games. Be sure not to interfere with other guests’ tailgate areas. If the weather is rough, bring along some sports-related trivia games or good, ol’ fashioned checkers. Music is also a great idea or some other high-tech device for watching other games and getting the pre-game information.
A note about technology – if you’re at a football game to watch football, stop watching your phone. It’s one thing to tweet a fun photo of yourselves or a short comment cheering on your team during halftime (using the correct hashtag, of course), but try not to stay glued to your device.
For your guest list, obviously the friends you share seats with or your fellow alumni are definitely people to include. A tailgate event is the place to make new friends as well, and to share your resources. So be prepared that you may have some folks stopping by to say hello and see what you’ve been doing under your canopy. You may also get some ideas from other fans about how to make your tailgate area the best it can possibly be.
For your attire, this is the best part of tailgating in the South. A T-shirt with the team mascot is just not good enough. It’s time to trot out a cute dress or a dress shirt and tie in team colors. Make sure to dress for the weather, knowing that by game time, it could be hotter or colder than when you start your day. Layers are key, and a little team flair is the way to go. Again, you don’t want to compete with the team mascot.
Overall, with a tailgate party, keep things fun and easy going. There’s no sense fussing over a tailgate event as you would a wedding or birthday party. After all, you’re going to have a chance to do something different (better?) next week!