How to Tailgate: 15 Tailgating Tips to Master Your Pregame Party

How to Tailgate: 15 Tailgating Tips to Master Your Pregame Party

By: Nicholas Sollitto


August 8, 2022

For sports fans, one ritual defines autumn more than any other: tailgating.

Whether it’s in the parking lot surrounding a professional arena or the lawn circling a collegiate football stadium, before any Saturday or Sunday contest you are sure to see fans gathered around steaming grills, cold drinks and endless game day spreads.

The best tailgates are planned in three stages: preparation, performance and cleanup. Keep reading to learn 15 tailgating tips to help you master each stage and make your game day party the talk of the parking lot.

How to Plan the Perfect Pregame Party

When it comes to tailgating, preparation is as important as any game-day superstition. So, while your “lucky socks” are racking up days without a wash, make sure to take time to properly prepare for the perfect pregame party.

1. Get a head count

Even if your “Border War,” “Battle for the Interstate,” or “Old Milk Jug” tailgate has gained elite status in the pantheon of pre-game, you still need to find out how many of your friends and family are coming. This is key to pulling off a great tailgate. Before you plan out your food or entertainment or even reserve a tailgating site, you need to know how many guests you are going to serve. If you are planning your tailgate well in advance, send out invitations with an RSVP option.

Morse code, snail mail, text, email — whatever method you use, just make sure you get the info out as early as possible, then follow up with a group text a couple of days before.

2. Adhere to a schedule

Plan to arrive four hours before the game starts and eat two hours after you arrive if the stadium will allow it. This will give you plenty of time to set up, clean up and pack any leftovers before entering the stadium. Make sure to send out a finalized schedule to all your guests so they can plan to arrive accordingly.

If you are going to be watching the game from the parking lot, make sure to arrive at least two hours before the game starts. By the end of the third quarter, you should have already eaten and started to wind down the grill. Adhering to this schedule will give you plenty of time to enjoy the game’s closing minutes without having to worry about cleanup.

3. Figure out food and drinks

Whether you are planning for just yourself and immediate family or a slew of friends, it’s important you know roughly how much food to bring. You wouldn’t want to run out of food or drinks within the first hour.

If you are expecting a large number of guests, a potluck is a great option. A potluck will not only prevent you from having to supply endless cases of drinks and an entire spread of food, but it will also allow guests the opportunity to bring their favorite tailgating beverages and snacks.

If you have taken on the task of supplying food and drinks yourself, make sure you have options for every diet. Furthermore, you will also need to properly identify any allergies your guest may have before laying out your complete spread.

Give this hidden allergy guide a once-over to make sure any potential allergies in your tailgate fare are identified. This will allow guests to be at ease when chowing down at your tailgate.

4. Reserve a spot

If you can reserve a tailgating spot, make sure to do so. This will prevent you from having to scramble for space last minute. However, not all stadiums and watch parties are governed by the same rules and requirements. Make sure to read up on reservation specifics for each stadium before your target tailgating date.  

Pro tip: it’s important to judge where your spot is in relation to the facilities. Too close and people will be constantly traipsing past your location, not to mention the smell. Too far and you risk upsetting your small-bladdered friends or losing the navigationally challenged ones.

5. Read up on stadium policies

While you are reading up on the venue’s reservation requirements, make sure to also read through the entire list of tailgating policies. Stadiums, arenas and other venues commonly place limitations on any number of things, such as glass bottles, vehicle size and capacity during tailgates and other events.

Use these restrictions from M&T Bank Stadium if you would like a sample list before searching for the policies of your locale tailgating venue.  

How to Throw Your Tailgate Party

Once you have properly prepped for your tailgate, the next phase is performance. By effectively carrying out your game day plan you will be able to elevate your tailgate from a fun gathering to a memorable experience. Along the way, take advantage of coolers, party games and other tailgating essentials.

6. Let your guests know where you are

In a sea of matching jerseys, it may be hard for guests to distinguish your tailgating spot from your neighbor’s spread. To mitigate confusion, tie an identifiable balloon, flag, banner, or kite to your tailgating rig.

Make sure to choose a balloon or kite with a unique pattern, for other tailgaters are sure to have ones of their own. If you are near an identifiable landmark, you can also use this to help direct your guests.

7. Use coolers to keep food hot and drinks cold

While it seems simple, packing a cooler is an art. Take time to properly pack your cooler. This is critical to keep your ice frozen and your drinks chilled longer. If you didn’t know there was a proper way to pack a cooler, that’s okay. Just watch this cooler packing guide and read up on these ice retention tips from the cooler experts over at Yeti.

While it may seem counterintuitive, with simple modifications, you can also use a cooler to keep food warm. Simply take a few solid masonry bricks, heat them in your oven and wrap them in tin foil. Next, place these hot bricks into the bottom of your cooler and then layer extra food and potential second helpings on top. Watch the pros do it in this tutorial.

8. Provide ample entertainment

Outdoor games are a great way to provide your tailgating guests with ample entertainment. Cornhole, horseshoes, lawn golf, Spikeball and Kan Jam are all great options. Make sure to consider how much space you will have at your tailgating site when deciding what games to bring.

Oh, and don’t forget the coveted pigskin. Consider bringing a few footballs for your guests to toss around, too.

9. Pitch a tent (or a canopy)

Whether it’s a late-season snowstorm or a rain shower amid a summer matchup, adverse weather can dampen any tailgate. Your best defense against unexpected precipitation and soggy hamburger buns is a canopy tent. Not only will your canopy tent protect your food and guests from rain, snow and other precipitation, but it will also provide guests relief from the burning sun on a warm and clear day.

10. Don’t forget seating

Even at a tailgate, where guests are often standing, cheering and playing outdoor games, seating is key.

Four 15-minute quarters is a long time to spend standing in a parking lot. Tack on a slew of TV timeouts, injuries and tactical stoppages, and halftime ceremonies, and the average college or NFL football game is over 3 hours. And even if you are only partying in the parking lot before the game, remember you are arriving well before the game starts.

Make sure to provide enough seating for all your guests. A good alternative is to ask guests to bring their own seating. Stadium chairs and folding chairs are convenient and time-tested options.

Cleaning Up Your Tailgate and Enjoying the Game

While most of the planning associated with a great tailgate is reserved for before and during, it’s also important to think about what you need to accomplish as the party wraps up and kickoff approaches. Being prepared for cleanup will enable you to easily get things stored away before you need to enter the stadium. Ideally, you should allow 60 to 90 minutes for cleanup.

The tailgating tips down below will make cleanup a breeze:

11. Make trash bags accessible

Surely, you remember that catchy jingle? Well, in the world of tailgating, it’s true. The more trash bags you have, the better off you will be. Aside from serving as a black hole for waste, garbage bags can also be repurposed into impromptu ponchos, ground cloths, group flags or ice packs if anyone has an unfortunate injury.

During your tailgate, make sure to have trash bags set out around your tailgating spot, such as secured to the legs of the canopy. This will not only encourage guests to dispose of garbage properly, but it will also keep the bugs at bay if you throw out bags as they become full.

If you’re packing your trash out (rather than disposing of it onsite) make sure no one puts anything hot (such as coals or cigarette butts) into your trash bags. If you suspect this may have happened, tie your bags shut, but wait until after the game to throw them in your truck bed.

12. Plan for leftovers

Don’t let valuable tailgate food go to waste; make sure you have a plan in place for leftovers. Pack Tupperware containers, foil pans and Ziploc bags to help you easily store leftovers in your cooler (the one with ice, not the hot one). You can also consider sending your guests home with leftovers if you have an excess. Just make sure to pack everything up with plenty of time to spare, so you and everyone else can get into the stadium on time.

13. Cool down the grill

Before cleaning your grill and packing it away, you will need to make sure it is cooled down enough. For charcoal grills, consider bringing a bucket of water. You can use this water to submerge the briquets in. This way you won’t have to wait for them to cool down enough to throw into the trash.

If you are operating a gas grill, make sure you remember to turn off your propane tank when you are done cooking. Also, never put a smoldering, hot or even warm-to-the-touch grill into your trunk, SUV or truck bed. Worst case scenario, you pack the grill after the game. It should still be where you left it when it’s time to leave. To avoid this hassle, consider activating a reminder on your smartphone to notify you when it’s time to turn off the propane and let the grill cool.

14. Use aluminum foil

Covering your grill with aluminum foil is a great way to cut down on grease residue and decrease your cleanup time. Once you are done grilling for the day, you can simply toss the foil and give your grill a quick wipe down. Line the grease trap for even more easy cleanup.

15. Check your site after packing up

After completing your cleanup routine and packing up for the day, make sure to check your site for any belongings or trash you accidentally left behind. Some stadiums have a “take what you bring policy” in place, but even in other parking lots, it’s courteous to make sure you clean up your site.

Tailgating FAQs:

What are the best foods for tailgating?

The best tailgating foods are generally hamburgers, hotdogs, ribs, and skewers. Think foods that can be thrown on the grill and eaten easily. For added flare, you can choose to grill chicken and steak for tacos or pair your traditional spread with a few handheld desserts, such as s’mores.

  1. Hamburgers & Hotdogs
  2. Ribs
  3. Skewers
  4. Barbecue
  5. Tacos

What makes a good tailgate?

In general, a good tailgate is defined by tasty food, fun entertainment and a friendly and inclusive atmosphere. The following list includes several tailgating essentials:

  1. Tasty Food
  2. Cold Drinks
  3. Good Music
  4. Canopy Tent
  5. Optimal Seating
  6. Endless Snacks
  7. A Football to throw around
  8. Fun Outdoor Games

What games are played during a tailgate?

Tossing the football, Frisbee, Spikeball, cornhole, Kan Jam and lawn golf are all very common tailgate games. If you are looking to take your tailgate to the next level, consider bringing one or more of these games to entertain your guests.

Use These Tailgating Tips to Plan the Perfect Pregame Party

Now that we have explored several tailgating tips to plan, execute and clean up the perfect tailgate, it’s time to talk about tailgating vehicles. Maybe you even have a special vehicle you use specifically for your weekend tailgates?

If so, consider storing it with Store Space in between games and after the season ends. We have a fleet of facilities located across the country, many of which are equipped with secure vehicle storage options.

Our rates are always affordable, and we take pride in offering the best customer service. Find the Store Space facility nearest to you by using our storage finder.

writer nicholas sollitto and his sweater

Nicholas Sollitto is a contributor to Store Space who also enjoys rooting for the Detroit Red Wings, reading Vonnegut, and hiking.


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