A Comprehensive Guide to Planning the Ultimate Tailgate Party

Anita Ventura

October 164 min read

Nothing quite compares to the thrill of tailgating before a game. With good friends, good food, good music, and of course good vibes - it's no wonder why we all enjoy this pre-game ritual so much. So grab your cooler, fire up the grill, crank up the jams, and get prepared to have some serious fun with this Tailgating How-To!

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Catch the Wave of Tailgating: A Comprehensive Guide to Planning the Ultimate Tailgate Party

We all have those days we want to go to an epic party. And not one of those run-of-the-mill, overdone house or club parties: a grand, stand-on-your-head kind of party. Unfortunately, while you know the type of excitement you are going for, you might not quite know how to execute it. Well, when you need to turn things upside down, nothing goes down better than a tailgate party

What Is a Tailgate Party?

Tailgate parties are quite popular and you might have been to one, only you didn't have a name for it.

There are several theories on how tailgating started. The first, according to the American Tailgater Association, is that the practice began in 1986. This was at the first intercollegiate football game between Rutgers and Princeton. At the event, football fans gathered to grill and feast on sausages at the back or tail end of a horse, which gave rise to the name 'tailgating'

A different theory on tailgating parties goes back to the 1900s when people traveled to sporting events via train. As such, spectators needed to bring food as no food vendors were available at the time.

While tailgating was initially centered around a game, it has taken a life of its own in recent years. Today, a significant number of tailgaters never find their way into the stadiums to watch football games! Instead, they show up for a good old tailgating party, have a grand old time, and head home. Talk of the after-show taking center stage.

So popular is tailgating that it has a national holiday: the 1st Saturday of September. This is not surprising considering that 80% of Americans tailgate, with 61% of them joining in the fun at least 5 times every season. It's also serious business as well, as the food and beverage sales for tailgating parties are touted to be as high as $35 billion. Well, that's one hell of a party!

group of friends grilling at a tailgate

Why A Tailgate Party?

A gathering with friends, good food, and drinks makes for the perfect party. But the tailgate party has an edge.

What makes tailgating parties so infectious that some football fans don't even get to enter the stadium to watch a game? Several reasons.

The Unique Atmosphere

For starters, when you have some drinks, fun people, and some choice meats to throw on a portable grill, you are unlikely to have a dull time. Throw on some competitive games and some trash talk and you have yourself a party unlike any other.

The atmosphere when there is a game is often high energy, charged with high levels of excitement. When you set up a tailgate party, you get to tap into this energy, even without checking out the game. People also tend to come in a party mood, so expect people to be chill and fun. This creates a communal vibe with people talking, playing, mingling, and enjoying the grilled goodies.

The Camaraderie Factor

Tailgate parties offer a very different vibe compared to club and house parties. Revelers in club and house parties tend to hold back and stick to their own and their table. Not so with tailgating parties.

Here, it's common to see total strangers compete in a game, share grilling tips, or even just merge groups for a good old time.

There is always a sense of camaraderie and you will be surprised at how many friends you make just by virtue of being dressed in your favorite team's jersey.

people drinking at a tailgate party

Planning a Legendary Tailgating Party

If you have an upcoming event and are looking to celebrate it in style, why not plan a tailgating party? These are ideal for multiple events, including bachelor parties, birthdays, graduations, name it. The secret ingredient? Planning and getting some logistics right. If you are wondering where to start, here is your ultimate guide to throwing a fabulous tailgating party.

Location, Location, Location

A tailgate party needs a sporting activity as a backdrop. This is a good place to start. Begin by scouting local avenues and stadiums for an ideal tailgating spot. The place you pick should enjoy good numbers when there is an event, and have a huge parking area and grounds. With a select stadium in mind, you need to find the perfect spot to set up. Ideally, this should be a prime spot where you can see much of the action going on and with easy access to the parking lots and the common facilities. Still, don't be so close to the communal facilities that you get excessive or disruptive foot traffic. On the day of, arrange for at least two cars to arrive together and park at the tailgate party spot. Similarly, have some foldable chairs on hand, or have everyone coming to your part bring a chair. This should ensure you are covered and have some extra chairs should new friends wish to join your gang.

Inviting Friends & Setting the Date

A party is not a party without your friends and loved ones. So once you have the perfect spot and have identified a game, it's time to send out the invites. Begin by creating a guest list of people you want to be there. These will likely be your closest buddies. Then you can think about a few other people you might want to have around or people you want to introduce to each other. You can send individual invites, or have them in an online group to discuss your plans. The latter works especially well if you want consensus on aspects of the party like availability, food, available cars, cash contributions, and so on. You also get people's buy-in in real-time as opposed to waiting for invitees to RSVP.

Preparing a Theme & Decorations

A couple of cars parked next to each other don't do much to get anyone in a party mood. However, throw in some party décor and you're in business! Tailgate party décor should be simple and easy to set up and take down. So think about the event you are celebrating and find an ideal theme. You never go wrong with helium balloons. Similarly, a tent and some foldable tables and chairs will transform a parking spot into the ultimate party spot. As you scout for a spot, be sure to look for poles, trees, and fences and how these can be used to hang different décor elements. In regards to the games playing at the venue, you can also come decked out in party jerseys and have other party paraphernalia. This should help mesh your party to the ongoing game, even if no one wants to sit inside the stadium.

Food & Drinks Preparation

You can go about the alcoholic drinks in two ways. The first is to supply a bottle of the basics, that is vodka, whisky, rum, brandy, and beers. The other is to request everyone to bring their own drink (BYOD). The best thing about the latter is that everyone gets to bring a drink they love, and it saves you the cash and the headache of trying to figure it out. With this squared away, you can focus on providing assorted juices and soda for teetotalers and people that will choose not to get inebriated. This leaves the food, which is the life of the party. The first tip to tailgate food is early preparation, you need to do as much prep work (like margination) the night before. As much as possible what should be left is throwing the food on the grill for a couple of minutes.

Spread of food for a tailgate party

Here are some manageable food options for tailgate parties:

  • Pretzels and cheese
  • Grilled vegetable flatbread
  • Grilled kebabs
  • Grilled loaded nachos
  • Burgers
  • Hot dogs
  • Barbeque chicken
  • Sliders
  • Chips and dips
  • Mini tacos
  • Cold pasta dishes`

The idea is to have foods you can grill or throw together quickly and eat while standing, walking and even chatting. No fuss. Bring along some plastic or disposable plates, spoons, forks, dishes, and tumblers for the drinks.

Hot dogs and hamburgers for a football party

Entertainment & Activities

You will find some impromptu things to do to fill up your time in between grilling and feasting. Still, it doesn't hurt to have some planned activities just in case.

One thing to consider is bringing portable screens so that you can enjoy the game playing in the comfort of your tailgate party. Two birds with one stone. Your jerseys and club or team paraphernalia should make things a lot more fun should you take this route.

Music also almost always gets any party going. Remember the group discussions you had during the invitation stage? You can have people suggest their playlists there as well. You can then compile the music and bring along a speaker (and chargers) to play your music from. Keep in mind that your music might not be everyone's cup of tea, so be mindful of how loud it is.

Bring tailgate games as well. Card games, Jenga, horseshoe toss, ring toss, Frisbee, and a football are sure to keep everyone well-occupied. Other popular tailgate games include ladder ball and drinking games like beer pong and corn hole.

Safety & Cleanliness Tips:

Just as you would clean up after a yard party, you need to ensure you leave your spot as you found it. To action this, come armed with a hard broom, a dustpan, and a couple of garbage bags for the clean-up.

Place a waste paper basket, cardboard box, or garbage bag in a strategic place at the beginning of the party so people can dump anything they need to toss directly into the garbage bag. This should make clean up easier and faster.


  • Have a first aid kit, some disinfectant, some painkillers, and some antacids
  • Bring a fire extinguisher
  • Don't allow anyone from the party to drive home drunk
  • Don't leave the grill unattended for any reason
  • When in doubt about any perishable food, toss it out
  • Do not carry back any raw meat: cook all leftover meat products thoroughly, before packing them up
  • Have sanitizer, disinfectant and clean all utensils and food as you prepareas you prepare

Packing Checklist

Here is the ultimate skimmers checklist for items to pack for a tailgate party:

  • Food items
  • A grill
  • Cooking tongs
  • Basting brushes
  • Grilling utensils and serving tools
  • Disposable cutlery, paper plates, and tumblers
  • A fire extinguisher
  • A first-aid kid
  • Your favorite team's jersey
  • Décor items
  • Foldable tables, chairs, tents, and umbrellas
  • Games
  • Chargers
  • Hand sanitizers, wipes, and disinfectant
  • Cooler box
  • Garbage bags, a broom, and a dustpan
  • Blankies (if your area gets super chilly)
  • Condiments for burgers and hot dogs
  • Paper napkins
  • Bottle openers
  • Sunscreen and insect repellants
People having a great time at a tailgate party

Last-Minute Tips & Tricks

You want a fun-filled, yet relaxed day at your party. This is achievable with some foresight and planning.

One tailgate party hosting tip is to start early. Aim to arrive at your spot 2 hours before the football game starts. This is of course dependent on stadium rules. If you can pull this off, you will be fed and cleaned up by the end of the third quarter. This allows you to wind down and enjoy the tail end of the game without worrying about cooking, serving, or cleaning up.

Secondly, as you are planning your party, go through the stipulations provided by the stadium, arena, or venue you pick. Some have limitations on tailgating including the number of partygoers, glass bottles, car size, and so on. Familiarizing yourself with these rules will ensure proper planning and eliminate last-minute inconveniences.

One last thing; go through this party planning list, alongside the packing checklist to make sure everything is squared away. Nothing puts a damper on a barbeque than firing up the grill only to discover you left the meat at home.

Party Up!

The best thing about a tailgating party is its simplicity; the exciting bit of it is the uncertainty. What you start as a party of five, can easily balloon into a party of ten with other tailgaters joining you. And hey, the more the merrier. Such a party, juxtaposed with the electrifying environment of a game is sure to be a winner. Whenever you are in the mood for a thrilling, fun, outdoor party, a tailgating party is worth considering. If you have a party coming up, why not treat yourself and your buddies to a tailgating party? Everyone will always remember you for it.

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