tailgate and game day football season tips

VARIATIONS ON A THEME: MIX IT UP…one week Mexican with hats and decor, the next week you can take it to New Orleans with a Mardi Gras menu, the following week make it a Lowcountry crab boil, Italian, Pirate Party, Chili cook-off, beach party, etc. You don't have to go with BBQ, wings, or typical tailgate food every weekend.

MULTI-PURPOSE FOOD: For example, chili works for a variety of different foods... chili pie, tacos, hot dogs, nachos, and more. You can host a chili throwdown where everyone brings a Crock-Pot with their favorite recipe. Add a condiment and hot sauce bar so everyone can add their favorite toppings. Serve chili in individual Fritos or Doritos bags.... yes, serving right in the bag makes yummy Frito chili pie or nachos! This is so good and makes clean up a breeze. Best of all, no dirty dishes to take home.

Serve your chili in individual Frito or Dorito bags... delish and no dishes!

Serve your chili in individual Frito or Dorito bags... delish and no dishes!


1. When it is still hot outside, make sure to take an extra cooler filled with ice so you can keep drinks and food items cold and have plenty of clean ice for drinks.

2. Use multi-purpose glasses like the insulated glasses from Tervis Tumblers – they keep hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold. LOVE THEM... especially when I have a party inside. No condensation rings and no broken glass. Plus they go right in the dishwasher.

3. A great way to keep hot food hot is to wrap and store them in a cheap Styrofoam cooler and pack it with newspaper. This will keep it hot until you are ready to serve.

4. Do most of the prep at home so you just have simple assembly or grilling when you get to the stadium.

5. If you don’t want to take a cooler- get a case of your favorite drinks, empty it and line with a white or clear garbage bag and put the drinks back and fill with ice. Afterwards, put the whole thing in the trash. I always double the bag so I don't have any leaks. You can also use a beer carton as a condiment holder. Works great! Save the carton from your next 6-pack!

6. Another use for a cardboard drink carrier- is to use it for a condiment carrier or a dip holder. Next time you go to Starbucks, save the carrier. Keeps dips and dippers organized and neat.

7. Pre-cook what you can. You can even pre-cook ribs and finish them on the grill. Just make sure to keep them well chilled.

8. Get in on the Crock-Pot craze…. Plug it in before you go to bed the night before and you’ve got a good start on lunch when you get there. My super easy Fire Roasted Tomato Chipotle Chili is one of my all-time favorite chili recipes and I've had great reviews from people who have made it. Get the recipe....

9. One of the most frustrating things about going to the game is not being able to find your friends or their tailgate! Use a cluster of helium balloons and fly them way over the top of your tent so your friends can spot you from a distance! I got huge balloons and wrote on them with a marker to define our tailgate and help friends locate us easily. Don't use team colors; use pink or something easy to spot.

10. You don’t have to buy special football items or tableware- you can easily make a football field runner from placemats or some other item. I used a green chenille kitchen rug I got on sale for $4 at Target and lined it with white plastic electrician's tape. I got the numbers at Wal-Mart in the mailbox section but you can get stick-on numbers where you get scrapbook supplies also.

A chenille bath rug is a great, cheap table covering... this one was $4 on sale. Stripe with electrician's tape. Afterwards you can wash it and reuse.

A chenille bath rug is a great, cheap table covering... this one was $4 on sale. Stripe with electrician's tape. Afterwards you can wash it and reuse.

11. Bring items in a large plastic tub. When you are ready to pack up, line the tub with a garbage bag and then put your dirty dishes inside. Makes for super easy clean up when you get home!

I love making a few big sandwiches rather than lots of little ones. This is a New Orleans style Muffuletta with lots of cured meats, cheese, and olive salad... it isn't a Central Grocery Muffuletta but really good and perfect for game day.

I love making a few big sandwiches rather than lots of little ones. This is a New Orleans style Muffuletta with lots of cured meats, cheese, and olive salad... it isn't a Central Grocery Muffuletta but really good and perfect for game day.

12. Make giant sandwiches instead of lots of small sandwiches. Just take a large loaf of bread and make one large sandwich. Slice it up and you are good to go! If you make hot sandwiches, make sure to double the foil on the bottom so you do not burn the bread. Open up the top of the foil for the last few minutes to get the bread toasty. Add a little cheese on top and toast it for some extra yum.


Every savvy host knows that almost half of their overall party budget will be directed to food and beverages and wine can be a significant part of that expense. Wine is not only expensive, it is intimidating. There are thousands of choices and so many new labels; it is easy to make a mistake or worry you are going to make a mistake when selecting wine and champagne for a large crowd. Even experienced party-givers and industry professionals are a little intimidated when it comes to selecting wine. I don’t pretend to be an expert in this area. I know a little, but I prefer to rely on the real experts to guide me. It’s their job to be up on the latest, best, and best priced wines in the market so I go to them for help. Any large wine seller will have an in-house expert. Give them a budget and they should be able to recommend several wines to meet your needs.

how to buy wine for a party or wedding Martie Duncan

Here are the most questions I am most frequently asked about wine:  

How much wine do I need for my party?

The basic rule of thumb for calculating consumption is 5 glasses per standard 750 milliliter bottle of wine. Many glasses are oversized but don’t be tempted to over-pour. Five ounces is considered the correct amount per glass no matter how large the glass.

Dinner Party: Estimate four glasses per guest for a four hour dinner party or about one glass per hour. For example, if you have ten guests for four hours, you’d serve forty glasses of wine which would be about 8 bottles. You’ll have to determine the ratio of white to red based on your menu and guest list. (Add 20% extra like the caterers do, especially if you have some heavy drinkers on your guest list.)

Cocktail Party: Estimate three glasses per guest every two hours. For example, if you have ten guests for 2 hours that would be thirty glasses of wine which would be six bottles of wine. Determine your ratio of white to red wine based on the time of year, the time of your party, your menu, and your guest list. Why? Because women will usually drink more white wine than red and men have a tendency to drink more red wine. In summer, typically more people will drink white wine than red. For a party in the afternoon, more people will drink white than red to keep things light. At an evening affair, red is almost always the more popular choice but that could vary depending on the menu. If your guests list includes more women than men and your party is on a summer afternoon, you’ll need a greater percentage of white wine than red. If your party is in the fall, most of your guests are men, and the guests arrive at seven in the evening, you’ll likely serve more red wine than white. Are you completely confused? 

How much should I spend on wine for my party?

There are so many good wines available in every price range you can find something to serve that is easy to drink and easy on your pocket, too. I have no trouble finding good wines under $15 per bottle. A few good ones are listed below.  

Do I need to rent or buy special glasses?

Anything goes, but if you are having a large party, renting glassware is an easy solution. You can mix and match, too, but that isn’t what wine snobs would tell you. For a large event, you aren’t likely serving high value wines so you don’t have to use the perfect wine glass. Champagne, however, is best served in a flute. Target, Pottery Barn, and Pier 1 all have boxed sets of affordable wine glasses that come in a sturdy box for storage. Buy several of these and you won’t have to worry about renting. I don’t like serving wine in plastic but will occasionally use it for the right occasion—like at the beach where glass is prohibited, for example. 

What wines do you recommend?

Since wines are always changing, it is difficult to recommend one. It seems as if every time I go to my favorite wine store, I don’t recognize half of the brands on the shelves. I do have a few “go-to” favorites for different occasions. What I buy depends on the size of the crowd. For small, intimate gatherings, I tend to spend more per bottle than I do when there is a large crowd. Also, I will spend more on wine if the emphasis of the party is on the food. If we’re having a big party with lots of beverage options, I don’t spend a lot on the wine; I like to keep the price around $12 per bottle.

If I have a party coming up and want to be sure of what I’m buying, I will stop into Whole Foods or a wine shop where they have wine tastings to sample wines that will work for my event. They typically have a price break during these events so I try to stock up.

Print Friendly and PDF


A good rule of thumb to follow when setting a budget for your party is to estimate what you think you’re going to spend, double that number and you’ll have a more realistic figure.

Parties always cost more than you think they will. As you begin to budget, decide what you can’t live without—your “must-have” items. Put those items at the top of your budget knowing you may have to compromise on other things. You need a party plan and a shopping list to keep you from going over budget. You know how it goes—you head to the store and think to yourself--- “I think I have the right tablecloth, but I should get this one just in case. I can always take it back later.” Then you don’t use it or take it back. In fact, I’ll bet it is in the closet with the price tag still on it. So the best tip for saving money on your next party is to stick to a list when shopping for your party. Don’t pick up any “I might need this” items that aren’t on your list and you’ll keep your budget intact. You can also shave a little off the top with these tips.  


Many people don’t hire planners because they think it adds to the bottom line. In fact, a planner can make suggestions and recommendations that will actually save money, time, and mistakes so they are well worth the cost. My good friend Lori Stephenson at LOLA Event Productions in Chicago always comes up with clever, unique ideas that are extremely cost effective. It’s her job. If it’s not your job, get someone like her (or me) to help you and you’ll save yourself money and headaches.


The more time you have to plan, the more time you can take to source the items you need. If you allow time to compare prices and quality, you’ll be less likely to make impulsive decisions which could add to the bottom line.


Think about it this way, for every guest you have to eliminate, you save money. Suddenly, the chore of cutting down the guests list just got easier. Cut ten guests at $25 per person and you’ve saved $250.  


No matter if you are renting a venue or have the party at home, you need to think about what you’ll need to pull off the party in terms of space, kitchen, and cooking facilities. If you have to bring in tents, ovens, refrigeration units, etc., the costs can explode and kill your budget. Check with the caterer before booking a venue to determine the additional rental supplies required.  


Book your party on an “off day” for caterers, venues, florists, etc. You’ll be able to negotiate better if you book your party on any day other than Saturday. 


Serving a signature cocktail rather than having an open bar looks festive and will save some dollars. You can squeeze 20+ drinks (depending on recipe and serving size) from one large bottle of premium vodka. This is also a an easy way to monitor and control the amount of alcohol served.


Guests are always hungry when they arrive at a party or event. By serving several inexpensive appetizers as guests arrive, you’ll curb their appetite and can lighten up on the main menu.


Every magazine shows pictures of celebrity parties with loads of swag. Your guests don’t expect to go home with favors. It’s a nice touch, but certainly something you can eliminate if your budget is already strained.


If you have a good selection of tunes on your MP3, make a mix to last the length of your party and pass on hiring a DJ or band. You’ll never get the impact you would have with live entertainment, but if your budget is tight it is a viable alternative.


If you look at my various party profiles, you’ll see that I often use both food and beverages as décor. Brightly colored and filled glasses stacked on trays are not only welcoming to a party guest, they are pretty, too. Use lemons, limes, apples, or other food items like tiers of cupcakes as decorations. Just about any type of food or beverage can be creatively presented using unique vessels and lighting so that your food doubles as your décor. All of the top caterers use food to make a statement. You can easily accomplish the same thing by thinking creatively about presentation and display of your food and beverages.