Game day just got so much easier.
Everybody knows that tailgate parties are about the spread. But for some of us, that doesn’t mean the point spread. For non-sports-ballers like me, the priority is the game day snack spread, because no matter who’s on the field or who wins, the ultimate MVP is whoever provided the best bite of the night.
What Is the Secret to a Great Tailgate Food Spread?
A great tailgate party meal mix should feature bites that are familiar, with flavors like Buffalo or salsa, and food items that are accessible and Americana, like mini-sammies or chicken tenders. All of which sounds like a lot of work in a lot of different directions. But what choice do you have when you want to win the trophy for best tailgate party of the year?
For that, I’m going to use a phrase I learned from my sports-loving partner: I’m gonna call an audible.
Instead of baking frozen snacks in a kitchen someone is invariably complaining is too hot, or stressing out with experimental recipes, you could just … get it catered. Because, surprise! Tailgate party catering isn’t just for the rich and fabulous, and elevated comfort food is probably literally around the corner at your favorite lunch spot.
It turns out a ton of great casual chains are ready, willing, and able to serve as an affordable caterer for football season. Most have fantastic packages that are professionally calculated per person so you can rest assured that a) you have enough food and b) you can easily ask guests to Venmo you their share (or bring a 12 pack) in lieu of having a mixed-bag potluck on the table. Many chains even provide serving pieces, sternos, utensils, paper goods, and in some locations, delivery too. Win after win after win.
Here are 15 great chain restaurant catering picks for your tailgate draft.
Chipotle Mexican Grill
For parties of under 15, a Group Order function lets everyone input their own individualized order using a personalized link, simplifying order-taking and consolidation. The bill then goes to a single host payer, who can ask to get paid back on their own or make it their treat.
If you have at least 10 hungry bellies to fill, Build Your Own options are the way to go. The Double package gives you your choice of two proteins, two bases (rice, beans, or lettuce), two salsas, fajita veggies, cheese, sour cream, chips with guacamole or queso blanco, and two tortillas per person at around $13 per person (depending on location). Plus, they give you utensils, bowls, and napkins, making prep as easy as making room on the snack table. And if you’re the kind of person who likes to plan ahead, you can lock down this catering option up to three months in advance.
QDOBA has been giving Chipotle a run for its money, seeing Chipotle’s offerings then raising it with free queso and guac with any entrée. QDOBA also offers proteins like brisket birria, IMPOSSIBLE™, and limited-time flavors like Cholula Hot & Sweet Chicken; they also sell trays of sides à la carte for a truly scalable party. Either way, you can’t really go wrong.
Moe's Southwest Grill
On the Border
For one of the best sandwich deals in town, it’s time to rediscover your love for Quiznos. When they introduced the concept of toasting subs, it was revolutionary. Moreover, its sandwiches and soups are actually really good, which makes its waning popularity confounding. On the other hand, ordering something below the radar like Quiznos catering means you’ll definitely have a spread to surprise and delight.
Quiznos’ Classic and Premium sub trays come in packs of 20 three-inch subs, which they say is enough for 8-12 guests. Depending on location, prices and selections vary, but these will run you somewhere between $70 and $90–more than reasonable for a mix of up to five different sandwich combos with plates, napkins, and a pepper bar. Even better is that each of the portions are individually wrapped, which keeps in-hand eating neat and shredded lettuce off your floor (if we’re talking indoor tailgating). We can’t say the same for catering-sized salad bowls ($32 each, with or without protein) nor crumbs from 10-pack cookie or dessert trays ($14), but any small mess reduction is a goal in my playbook.
Potbelly Sandwich Works
If you don’t have a Quiznos near you, hit up Potbelly Sandwich Works. Their Box o’ Sandwiches for 10 is one of the better values out there since, like Quiznos, they give you 20 half-sammies to the order. That’s 10 full sandwiches in five combinations for only $70.49, as opposed to Panera Bread’s five sandwich/10 halves package for five partygoers, which costs about the same and only adds chips and pickles.
Another stellar sandwich catering option is McAlister’s Deli. Their Sandwich Trays are a little pricier at $9.99+ per person, but their presentation, variety, and quality is sure to impress. For example, the Signature Sandwich Tray has all their top hits, which means club sandwiches, wraps, croissants, and really just the whole shebang. Additionally, as a full deli, they make it easy to bundle in accompaniments like a salad, mac and cheese, or spud bar; dessert tray; and drinks.
While no one’s going to be mad to see Popeyes on game day, people will be impressed with your worldliness and good taste when you come in with this Guatemalan-founded chain’s take on bone-in chicken. Their fried chicken bursts with flavor, but it’s the citrus-kissed, marinated grilled chicken that’ll give your party the winning touchdown. And the catering sizes are as Texan as the Dallas-based brand–the Small Chicken Bundle is for a party of as many as 15 and comes with 30 pieces of fried, grilled, or mixed chicken, plus two catering-sized sides, and 15 dinner rolls or 30 tortillas.
As with all of these chains, pricing varies, dipping as low as $123 to as much as $199 for the same package. You can also customize your package. Start with 50 individual pieces of chicken, add accessories from their immense menu of sides for $32+ (don’t sleep on the sweet plantains, Campero rice, or salad tray, which you can get with cubed fried chicken for just a few bucks more), and a gallon of horchata besides.
Pollo Campero also has amazing empanada platters. You can get a dozen of these pulled chicken, roasted corn, pepper, onion, and Monterey Jack-stuffed pockets for $35-$40 with a side of Signature Campero sauce.
Popeyes Fried Chicken
No one will be disappointed to see Popeyes fried chicken laid out like a running back when they arrive at your viewing party. Their 25-Piece Classic Signature Chicken Bundle is meant to serve 10 at less than $10 a person in any part of the country and includes 10 biscuits and one of four available comfort food sides. You can also grab their Ghost Pepper Flavor or new Sweet ‘N Spicy Wings.
Chili’s Grill & Bar
Chili’s can not only be counted on to get your baby back, baby backs, and deliver fajitas with sizzle and pop, but their Party Platter Triple Dipper for eight is a great snack-forward option for a tailgate party. For $52, you can choose three crowd favorites, including Big Mouth Bites, Southwestern Egg Rolls, fried mozzarella, and any of their bone-in or boneless wings. Of course, you can also make Chicken Crispers the main feature—party platters of these run for $35 a dozen, which is enough for six guests. Personally, I’d go for the Mini Molten Cakes with caramel sauce for the same price instead!
Wingstop offers a 50-piece party pack for 6–9 guests that comes with or without bones (which come with the added benefits of less mess made and fewer dollars spent). They’re a couple of bucks less than the traditional types, but if you can’t decide, they’ll do a mix of both. For this 50-pack, you can pick up to four flavors from a list of 14 and four dips that even include cheese sauce. This catering order also comes with two large fries that you can upgrade to special flavors like Louisiana Voodoo or Buffalo ranch, and two orders of veggie sticks–celery, carrots, or both.
Buffalo Wild Wings
Buffalo Wild Wings, another sauce king, has some nice wing bundles that lets you go far beyond basic Buffalo. A 40-piece tray with a 20/20 split of traditional/boneless and two flavors from their selection of 27 runs $42.99 across several locations, and you can choose a total of eight portions of dips, carrots, and celery sticks. Their boneless wings are similarly cheaper than bone-in. And they also make cauliflower wings for vegetarian friends, a large order of which will only set you back $18.99-$23.99 depending on where you are. However, that’s a much, much milder fluctuation than at Wingstop, where the range is truly wild--$53.59 at an Atlanta location and $71.93 from one on Long Island, for example.
Another option is to “eat good in the neighborhood” from Applebee’s, because half-off apps during late nights shouldn’t be the only time you enjoy tangy, sharply flavored wings. You can order increments of 30 Double Crunch Bone-In Wings for $49.99-$64.99 or go boneless for $29.99-$44.99. Overall, they suggest 2–3 dishes for parties of 10 and will include plates, serving utensils, and cutlery with the order.
If you want tenders, consider the Crispy Chicken Tender Bar from Smashburger, a 30-tender package for 10 for only $7 per person–the same price as an à la carte order of tendies, which wouldn’t come with the ready-to-serve presentation. Bonus: You can add on a tray of the famous SmashTots, which are tossed in rosemary, garlic, and olive oil, and other sides at a per-person price with the bar, too.
Now who’s ready for some football?
Read the original article on The Spruce Eats.