Tailgating is a time-honored tradition when attending sporting events, whether fans are serving pre-made snacks from the bed of a truck or setting up full-service grilling stations and buffets for family, friends, and passersby.
Teeming with delectable and filling comfort foods, these parking lot parties offer a peek into a cultural phenomenon that speaks to a significant portion of the population.
Whether you’re a restaurant looking to offer a takeaway tailgating menu, a market serving a sports-minded community, or a food manufacturer trying to connect with this niche audience, start by looking at some of the most popular and timeless tailgating eats. Here are a few that invite modern interpretation and innovative makeovers.
Chicken wings are as popular in a chilly parking lot as in a packed sports bar on game day. In fact, it could be argued that wings are the quintessential food of any sports-watching event.
Zesty buffalo wings with creamy dips like ranch and blue cheese dressing are de rigueur. The mild hint of spice is suitable for pretty much anyone, thanks to a blend of butter, Worcestershire, vinegar, and a dash of cayenne. However, there’s no standing on ceremony with wings – sweet, spicy, and savory flavors are all on the table.
How can this meaty dish go to the next level? Swapping in trending flavor profiles is a good place to start, and with Asian, Middle Eastern, and North African cuisine gaining popularity in the states, there’s no shortage of options to explore. Don’t forget to choose complementary dips to add complexity and appeal.
Hot Dogs and Burgers
Staples of sports and Americana alike, it’s hard to argue with a meal that pairs meat and bread. Whether you’re marketing meatless alternatives or going hog wild with recipes that load up on innovative toppings, hot dogs and burgers are tailor-made for customization.
Inventive aioli or BBQ sauce recipes are a great way to stand out from the crowd, as are unconventional toppings like, say, tart apples, brie, and candied bacon that take grilled meat to a whole other level. Pre-seasoned burger patties that go straight on the grill could be a great way to add convenience for customers.
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This make-ahead meal is easy to cook or warm in a crock-pot pre-game. Companies can get a leg up with options like meatless or white chicken chili or international flavor profiles that feature Asian or Indian spices for innovative fusion cuisine.
Chili also offers an easy way to elevate burgers and hot dogs without carting tons of toppings.
Chips and Dips
Not every sports fan is keen to tote (not to mention clean up) a grill. Plenty of tailgating snacks offer no-cook appeal, but few are easier and more versatile than chips and dip. This may be the most popular tailgating snack of all time simply because it’s inexpensive and easy to tailor to everyone’s personal flavor preferences.
Naturally, pre-packaged food companies shine in this category, but that isn’t to say restaurants can’t get in on the market by offering a lunchbox-style menu complete with choices of homemade chips and innovative dips or even prepacked chips with made-from-scratch dips.
This beverage is as essential to tailgating as any food item. While American lagers abound, it wouldn’t be hard to tout local craft brews that will easily pair with the greasy, salty, and spicy foods typical to tailgating.
For the craft community, hazy IPAs offer a step up from the traditional lager. Canned cocktails have also taken off in a big way since the start of the pandemic, as have cannabis cocktails.
Finger foods tend to be the order of the day when it comes to tailgating, but all kinds of comfort faves, from nachos to mac and cheese, have made appearances. To drum up interest, try elevating traditional options and making it easy for sports fans to swing through your establishment and walk out with a whole kit.