Good Life

Tailgating Pro Tips

Fun, festive ideas to host a game-day soirée

Peanuts and Cracker Jacks may be great baseball game fare, but when it comes to fall tailgating, “people take their food very, very seriously,” says Claudia Sidoti, head chef at Hello Fresh, the popular meal kit delivery service. “Chicken wings and a bag of Doritos aren’t going to cut it,” she says. “People now come to tailgates anticipating the food and festivities as much as they do the actual game.” Whether you’re hosting an afternoon gathering at a steeplechase or game-day party in the parking lot of your favorite professional football team’s arena, we’ve got a trunk-full of ideas for a game-day party that scores with your guests. Here are three unique ways to make your next tailgating event extra special.

Plan an Elegant Menu

“I call it tablecloth tailgating,” Sidoti says, referring to the notion that many tailgates these days are fancy affairs. “There’s a competitive spirit that goes along with hosting these types of events, and it brings out the grillmaster sort of mentality in everybody.” Driving the trend, she says, is the fact that most sporting arenas now “have really upped the ante themselves. Instead of just offering hamburgers and hot dogs, you’ll find crab cakes and sushi at many places.”

To create a menu to satisfy fussy foodies, she says, start with appetizers that can easily be transported in Crock-Pots, like artichoke dip or crab dip. Instead of serving chips with dips, offer them with crispy vegetables, artisan bread and bagel chips, suggests Sidoti. Serve dips and other cold items atop a bowl of ice to keep them chilled throughout the event.

Another hot idea: Make jalapeño poppers fresh on the grill as soon as you set up your tailgating spot. They’re easy to make (simply bring a cream cheese spread along with you and put it inside the peppers when you pop them onto a mini Weber-style grill), and the spicy aroma will tantalize guests as they arrive.

As far as a main course, think items that can be marinated the night before and then grilled (like filet mignon, chicken and veggie kebabs or specialty sausages), or are easily transportable. If you’re going to go with a fan favorite like chili, Sidoti suggests, kick it up a notch by adding a gourmet toppings bar so guests can customize their meal with zingy condiments like limes, Greek yogurt, roasted garlic and sliced avocado. The same goes with hamburgers. Instead of serving the traditional variety, cook up some sliders and include a toppings bar for choices like pimento cheese, bacon, kimchi and charred scallions. Rather than soft drinks, serve fruit-infused lemonade. And in lieu of keg beer, consider a variety of craft selections. Serve wine and champagne in glass flutes for an added touch. Caterers typically suggest planning enough food for 25 percent more guests than have RSVP’d. So if you are expecting 20 tailgaters, bring enough food for 25.

Go Beyond Pom-Poms

Tailgating tip 101: Rent or invest in an elegant white tent. Besides serving a functional purpose (shielding guests from direct sunlight, rain or wind), a classy white tent sets the stage for the event and will help guests find your location quickly. It also will serve as the perfect backdrop for a portable chandelier or other unexpected decor. Tote along wooden folding chairs so that guests have a comfortable place to sit.

If you’re rooting for a specific team, incorporate the team’s colors into your table display. Think beyond the traditional plastic tablecloth. For a nicer touch, find a plaid blanket or a throw with the appropriate colors to use as a table covering. Or, create a simple pennant banner to hang on the table by cutting out fabric triangles in team colors; then, glue them to a ribbon. Adorn your serving table with flowers or succulents, and make sure there is a logical flow, beginning with beverages and ending with dessert.

Also, place the serving utensils in wooden, napkin-lined baskets or colorful ceramic pots – for an improvement on plastic containers.

Bring on the Games

Get guests in the mood for the big game by hosting some competitions of your own. Bring along a few new, trendy games to kick things off. One popular option: Speedminton, which is a faster, scaled-down version of badminton. The rackets are slightly smaller, and up to eight of your guests can play at a time. A Speedminton kit (which can be found at major sporting goods stores) includes a bag with two speed rackets, balls, a wind-ring (for all-weather play) and eight cones for court making. The kit also contains lights, which make the game easily playable at night. Other fan favorites include bocce ball, croquet and life-sized Jenga.

Playful and Perfect

Use a helium balloon or other landmark in a crowded area so guests can find your event.

Serve a signature beverage that coordinates with the game. For example, fans of the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide football team have an affinity for Alabama Slammers, the cocktail that includes Southern Comfort, Amaretto and orange juice. If your favorite team doesn’t have a signature cocktail, create one of your own.

Give guests options to customize their beverages as well as their food. For a wow-worthy Bloody Mary bar, incorporate blue cheese-stuffed olives and rim glasses with celery salt.

Freeze water bottles to use instead of ice in coolers, and your game-day guests will have cold water to drink throughout the game.