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Restaurants aim to blitz C&U’s tailgate business

Operators ranging from Taco Bell to independents are adding new serving sizes to raid the gameday football market.

Not all the rivalry during a weekend of college football is limited to action on the field. Restaurants are intensifying their competition with college and university foodservices for the game day spreads that fans will set up in stadium parking lots and countless living rooms this season.

Operators ranging from Taco Bell to small independents are adding platters and meal packages this fall to capture more of the big-dollar spending by sports fanatics for tailgate parties and “couch gating,” the at-home version. They’re awakening to the opportunity many C&U foodservice directors spotted years ago, when they started selling party-sized meal packs that alumni and other fans of the home team could buy right at the stadium and enjoy car side in the parking lot before a game.

Like the tailgating offers from the food services, the restaurant options are intended to spare fans the trouble of having to cook enough food themselves for a throng of people. The emphasis is on providing a sizeable volume of finger foods, often in a form that travels well.

Taco Bell’s new Party Packs, for instance, consist of 12 or 10 tacos per order. The three variations provide a degree of customization as to the type of taco (soft, hard shell or Doritos-flavored hard shell) and the main ingredient (meat or a vegetarian black bean filling).

The real twist to the Party Packs is how customers can obtain them. They are available for delivery through a third-party service as well as via takeout, the standard by far for game day party platters.

Other chains are similarly vying for a piece of the tailgate and couchgate markets by offering their menu signatures in larger serving sizes. The Bojangles’ fried-chicken chain added a Big Bo Box in late summer, a large-sized carrying container designed specifically for tailgating during the football season. Customers can fill the Big Bo Box with eight, 10 or 20 pieces of fried chicken.

McAlister’s Deli has packaged two of its signatures—sandwiches and sweet tea—into a Tailgate Collection. That highfalutin tag applies to an assortment of club-style sandwiches sold with one bulk side and 2 gallons of the sweet tea, though patrons can also choose lemonade as the beverage. As add-ons, the fast-casual chain offers a tray of mini cookies and a Spud Bar, a collection of bacon-and-cheese-topped baked potatoes.

The tailgate offers are in addition to a number of shareable items listed on the brand’s regular menu.

A direct rival for sandwich business, Jon Smith Subs, similarly offers a sampler of sandwiches, in either 4- or 6-ounce sizes. The array is touted as being ideal for “tail greating,” or tailgating indoors in front of a TV.

Not all of the stabs at feeding more football fans are coming from chains. Local Yocal, a restaurant-retail hybrid that’s about to open in Columbia, S.C., plans to feature several items aimed specifically at fans of the local University of South Carolina Gamecocks. The tailgating specials include a tray of deviled eggs, a party-sized serving of pulled pork and an array of salads.

A local rival, Village Idiot Pizza, is hoping to turn the heads of Gamecock fans with a $60 weekend special consisting of 50 chicken wings and a pair of two-topping pizzas. Large sizes of other signature items, including lasagna and baked ziti, along with salads, are also offered.

The restaurant’s sales pitch for delivery business: “Don’t be an idiot.”

Photograph: Shutterstock

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