Every fall, Ann and Bill Gault and their four children make the trek from their home in Verona, N.J. (pop. 13,533), to Ann and Bills alma mater, Penn State, in central Pennsylvania, to attend a few home football games.
"It's often tough to get tickets to big games, so we go for the lesser known opponents—sometimes schools weve never heard of—but it doesn't matter what team we play because tailgating is the highlight and we still have a ton of fun" Ann says.
The Gaults and their tailgating friends are informal; each guest brings a dish to share, creating an eclectic menu. They also bring board games, decks of cards, and footballs to toss.
"Our dress code is creative-casual; everyone wears team colors—blue and white—and we even don face paint and colored hairspray sometimes," Ann says. "Music blares nonstop—mostly Penn State fight songs mixed with pop music—which gets everyone in the spirit."
Although the Gaults have spent years perfecting their tailgating technique, throwing a parking lot party doesnt require a lot of practice—just a little preparation and a penchant for fun. Whether you're a tailgating veteran or first-timer, and whether your party is at the local high school field or a big-league stadium, these tips will help you get in the spirit and enjoy the party before and after the game.
- Make a list of items you want to take along and check off items as you pack them.
- Keep your tailgating gear in clear plastic bins for easy retrieval and storage.
- Use two coolers: one for drinks and ready-to-eat foods, and one for raw meats. Pack foods in reverse order so that the last ones packed will be the first ones used.
- Freeze bottles of water and keep canned beverages chilled in the refrigerator until you're ready to load the cooler.
- Scout tailgating locations before game day, if possible. Pick a spot near a grassy area or at the end of a parking row so you'll have more room to party.
- If you plan to bring alcoholic beverages, check with the venue first to make sure it's permitted.
- Dress in team colors. Layer clothing in case of extreme temperature changes.
- Arrive three to four hours early and plan to eat 90 minutes or more before kickoff so you'll have plenty of time for dining, cleaning up, extinguishing fires, and cooling down grills.
- Pack a half-gallon jug or 2-liter soda bottle filled with water. Use the water to put out hot charcoal after cooking.
- Use a 5-gallon plastic bucket with a lid and handle for storing and toting charcoal. It also makes a handy seat during the party.
- Tie a helium-filled balloon to the tailgate of your vehicle so people can more easily find you.
- Set up your table out of direct sunlight. Decorate it with team paraphernalia—pompons, megaphones and team flags. Roll napkins around cutlery and tie with a ribbon in your teams colors.
- After the game, put recyclable cans and bottles in the empty cooler to dispose of at home if there are no recycle containers on the lot.
Besides enjoying old friends and supporting your favorite team, tailgating is a great way to forge new friendships. Get to know your parking-lot neighbors and enjoy their company while waiting for traffic to clear after the game. It's a perfect way to end a full day of fun.