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How Restaurants are Cashing in on Tailgating Mania

Yes, the season of folding tables, red Solo cups and pom-pom waving fans is upon us. And it truly doesn’t matter if your restaurant is in Foxborough, Massachusetts, home to the New England Patriots, or it is hundreds of miles from the nearest Gillette-like stadium. Football fans are everywhere and, as a restaurateur, it may very well behoove you to offer seasonal entrees and events designed with these loyal fans that may one day become loyal customers in mind.

Restaurants are taking advantage of the season of tailgating with unique and creative offerings. Here is just a few that have made tailgating and football synonymous with their brand.

 

Harry Caray

Harry Caray gained national fame as a baseball announcer. His outspoken antics got him into the Sportscaster Associate Hall of Fame and made him the seven-time winner of Baseball Announcer of the Year. He became the voice of the Chicago Cubs from 1982 until his death in 1998. The first Harry Caray Italian Steakhouse was opened in 1987. Four brick and mortar locations, an offsite catering company, and Harry’s to Go—a drop off service—now make up Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group. One of their sites, Harry Caray’s Tavern, knows how to put on a tailgate party.

Harry’s goes one step further than the traditional tailgate specials. They offer a Park, Tailgate and Cruise party. The tailgate party starts at the restaurant and is followed by a water taxi to and from the game which is then proceeded by a post-game tailgate party back at Harry’s. Did anyone say cha-ching? If the game is out of town or you don’t have tickets, the tailgate party just keeps hopping with a local radio station on hand. They’ve also partnered with Miller Lite and give away two Chicago Bear’s tickets that include the Park, Tailgate and Cruise party every home game. Now that’s a marketing strategy.

 

Michael Mina’s Tailgate

Michael Mina took it one step further when the renowned chef opened up Michael Mina’s Tailgate in Levi Stadium. Ticket holders to the 49ers games can purchase a $5,000 membership that gets them into the tailgate party and includes all food and drink. Mina offers up un-tailgate-like specialties such as lobster, cioppino, rotisserie ox and waygu beef.

 

Danny’s

Danny’s of New York offers up their parking lot to RVs and busses and hosts their own before-game tailgate party. Their game day tailgate menu consists of large quantities of bacon-wrapped shrimp, Swedish meatballs, chicken wings and a croissant platter. For large groups, they offer tailgate buffets with carved roast beef and prime rib as well as Italian sausage, baked ham and a host of side dishes including parsley potatoes.

 

How to Participate

While you may not be able to offer water taxis or morning to evening tailgating affairs, you can participate with special tailgate offers. This may include a full tailgate menu with grill packages for pick-up or delivery. Think about your tailgate favorites and ones that are easy to set up for a parking lot party. Popular packages include chicken wings, meatballs, ribs and brisket, chips with salsa and guacamole, various salads and sides such as mac and cheese. Other restaurant offerings include shrimp platters, smoked meats, gourmet sandwiches, and cheese and charcuterie boards. And, of course, don’t forget the easy-to-handle desserts, disposable chaffing pans and utensils.

If you want to stand out from the crowd, think about unique combinations such as assorted sausages including venison, jalapeno and cheese;  elk with apples and port wine or wild boar and blueberries. Open up early, think Harry Caray’s, and offer a pre-game brunch.

Get someone in your organization that is handy with pen and paper and write up a Tailgating Guide. Consider offering specials and promotions on football game days. This may include discounts on certain appetizers or drinks when the local team scores. This helps promote a sense of excitement and camaraderie and one-time customers that turn into loyal-brand fans.

 

Fantasy Football

Don’t forget the fantasy football players who now number in the 50-plus million. Thousands of fantasy football leagues are searching for a restaurant to host their live draft parties. Fantasy football draft boards—monitors that depict how players are faring in their draft picks— can be customized for your restaurant. Theory, a popular Chicago restaurant and bar, has been offering fantasy football draft parties for the last several years and sees it as a way to generate business and introduce their venue to the all-important football fan. Create packages that include traditional finger football food and domestic draft beer.

Once you have your football tailgate party in place and have purchased Sports Pack or NFL so you have access to every game, don’t forget to let your would-be customers and already loyal fans know. Add it to your website, send social media blasts across all platforms, and promote it with a colorful flyer.

 

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