The art of the tailgate gets mistaken as being something less than what it is…an art. A tailgate is far from the glorified picnic that it gets made out to be. Rather, this is a festival of the highest order for the sports fan. This event is a ritual that brings together the sporting and party world into a truly one-of-a-kind day in the park. However, understanding what a great tailgate really stands for is crucial.

The tailgate is the ultimate win-win scenario. If your squad wins, it’s a pre-party that’s a cap to an already awesome day. If they lose, at least you had a blast tailgating and that itself could soothe the pain. So, why not go all out and have a major tailgate every time out?

Here’s how to make it happen and cover every step on the road to tail-greatness.

8. Realize It Starts The Night Before: No true tailgate starts on game day. The teams don’t just get up and play without going to practice and getting ready beforehand so, neither should your tailgate. It’s only right to get up the day before, get your food sorted out, marinate as needed, and arrange all necessary tailgate items, but most importantly…get the party started the night before. Don’t host the party and not be a part of it.

7. Prime Real Estate Is A Must: Setting up camp where the party scene is, is everything. A successful tailgate feeds off the vibe of what’s going on around it. Plus, having good neighbors doubles your party and tailgates turn into big outside potlucks. Get up early in the morning, get yourself a great location and pay the price. Let nothing come in-between you and a good tailgate space.

6. Reinforcements Are A Must: Don’t be the LeBron James of tailgating. Bring it from beginning to end. A good tailgate starts hours before the game and runs strong all the way through without slowing down.
Make sure your tailgate food isn’t placed out too early, the wild beasts you are hosting are ready to pounce – don’t be a victim. Put out beers as needed, and be sure to keep a list in your pocket to quickly and accurately answer the “Do you need me to bring anything” calls, or to hand down to your go-fer. This brings us to the all-important, and often overlooked, positional breakdown…

5. Know Your Role: Tailgating is best done as a team sport, because there is too much to be done to expect one man to handle and still enjoy. The best tailgate teams feature each of these roles:

  • Coordinator: Makes sure everybody is in the know about where camp is being set up, what’s on the menu and who all is coming. Also brings everything that is needed to set up the event, including at least one grill (a serious tailgate always has at least 2).
  • Brain Trust: These things can get expensive, so having a solid core of investors and dedicated party folks to put up funds towards having the event every week are crucial. Don’t overextend yourself.
  • The Cook: Food is at the heart of the event, so there should be one person that is single-handedly dedicated to just that and nothing else. He also guards the private stock of exclusive eats that we’ll cover here in a second.
  • The Big Truck Driver: Having a guy that has a ridiculously big truck to bring in tents, grills, tables and generators is needed. Pay him with a bottomless cup, a full plate and a comfortable chair.
  • The Go-Fer: At some point, more items could be needed or an emergency could occur. Never find yourself unprepared for this. Have a good go-fer that can leave camp and get to a separate vehicle for store runs and item drop-offs.
  • Shepherd: Having a good shepherd (someone that doesn’t participate in the more “spirited” parts of the event) that can corral both items and people is crucial. Think designated driver, just with and without the car.
  • Court Jester: Having ‘that guy’ you know you have to watch is important too. Bring him with you so you can keep an eye on him, but be sure to get him going early and keep him going throughout to whole tailgate (even if you have to revive him one or two times). People love to hang with people that are having more fun than even they realize.

4. Have A Feast For The King AND For The Townspeople: Sharing is caring and that’s fine. However, what isn’t fine is looking at your bank statement, when you recover from your game day festivities, and seeing what it cost to feed an entire mob of people… like visiting royalty.

To avoid this, there has to be at least two levels of food prepared: the meal for the masses (hot dogs, brats, burgers, etc.) and then the meal that the Lords of the Gate (whoever brought food and not just their appetites) eat. This part of the gate should be prepared on the second grill after the first round of mass eats for the townspeople is removed. Hosting a tailgate is hard work, so don’t cut corners here, you deserve some goodness for yourself. I recommend steak, pork, fish or even lamb for this one.

There’s no shame in being the guy that keeps popping up with some new delicacy that the rest of your guests and visitors can’t quite find. To throw them off your trail, point them to a big tent on the other side of the parking lot. Batman wouldn’t tell you where the Batcave is, so don’t reveal where your secret stash is either.

3. Have Fun Yourself: This isn’t work; this is partying, so act like it. Get out there early enough to get the tailgate business out of the way, before the masses start showing up. If everybody that has a role is already into it, you’re guaranteed to be part of the tailgate randomness that ensues as opposed to becoming a spectator.

2. Step 8 Should Be A Distant Memory: We’ve covered how important it is to have everything lined up and in place already, so the event should be running itself by now. However, you should be so far into the tailgating season that you don’t even remember how you got here. I mean look at what you’re surrounded with:

  • Drinks of the adult variety
  • Food & the opposite sex
  • The vibe that only game day provides
  • Crazy games that only people with a special combination of everything already mentioned even try to play

If your tailgate is really the festival each and every tailgate should be, how you got to this point should be beyond you. Just recognize what you’re surrounded by and that everything is right about the universe.

1. Remember The Reason For The Season: However; in the end, remember what you are there for… to support your squad. Even if getting into the game isn’t on the agenda, there should be a radio or TV setup that keeps you current on what’s going on inside.

A great tailgate can always make every game day great. It makes the wins better (and more memorable) and the losses more manageable (and sometimes less memorable). But showing love for the team is the most important thing as always. So whether your tailgate is at home or at the stadium, remember to hold it down for your club first and foremost!

Matt Whitener is contributing writer/manager for

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