Nothing makes going to a football game better than a tailgate party. It’s like pizza, it doesn’t even have to be great to be awesome. That said, make sure to take a few precautions to put your tailgate over the top.

The first step is to find out where you can park and how early you can get there. Parking for a college game seems to be easier than in a big city for an NFL game because those lots usually don’t open as early. Either way, find out where and when to park so you don’t waste valuable time driving around confused.

Next big key: the food. Keep it simple when it comes to food and try to stay away from food that requires two hands. Steaks are great but when it comes to parking lot food, go with a burger. You want to be able to wander around and socialize and to do that you need to be mobile. Burger in one hand, beer in the other and you’re good to go.

It really is that simple, too. A lot of tailgates get stuck in the mentality of having to overwhelm partygoers with an incredible food spread. Nope. Really, basic food with maybe one marquee dish to help you stand out is all it takes. If you’re the host, you don’t want to spend all day hovering over a grill anyway.

And if you can’t bring a grill, which is almost a necessity, go with the giant party sub. Very adequate plan B.

The cooler is the next part and almost as important. Keep in mind who will be there when assembling your beverages and throw in a few non-alcoholic drinks for the kids and the boring people. After you have what you think is enough, pack an extra case of beer. You never know when extra celebrating is needed and you don’t want to run short on beer because you can’t exactly drive away to get more. Also, if you’re spending a lot of hours in a hot parking lot, remember to pack some bottled water. It will go a long way.

Another useful item most people forget: trash bags. Along with napkins, trash bags are a tailgating essential because there aren’t going to be many trash cans around and the last thing you want is a trunk full of empty beer cans.

Depending on how close you are to your neighbors, every good tailgate requires some decent music and maybe even some activity to keep people entertained. I’m also a big fan of the people who set up a TV to show an early game or the pregame show. Very classy move.

tailgate21 Get There Early, Keep It Simple: Stadium Tailgating Tips

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Most importantly, remember your tickets. Nothing makes a tailgate go south like forgetting your seats to the game. Even better, save the money and watch on a TV in the parking lot. The beer is cheaper and then the party can go nonstop.

Mark Chalifoux is a contributing writer to CBS ManCave and can be reached at or @markchalifoux on twitter.

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