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Bring family and friends together for a backyard tailgate. 

Park City event planner and owner of Wish Boutique Emily White lets us in on the play-by-play for hosting a casual fall bash that’s all about tasty yet simple food and drink, family, friends, and, of course, football.

For some, the autumn season signifies changing leaves, costumes, and hunkering down for winter. But for Emily White, fall means one thing: football. “I’m a Southern girl at heart and grew up going to college football games every Saturday with my dad—it was just a way of life in my small hometown in West Virginia,” says White, owner of Haute Hostess, her Park City event-planning business, and Wish Boutique, a chic party décor store in Park City’s Redstone shopping center. When she moved out west to Park City and the Beehive State became her new home, the University of Utah’s Runnin’ Utes became White’s new team. “I know the game inside and out—I’m a woman who loves football,” she says. So, what better excuse to celebrate with friends and family than by throwing a backyard football bash? (For a list of resources mentioned, check out the slideshow. For recipes, click here.)

Set the Scene

If you ask White, fall is the most desirable time of year to entertain at home in Park City. “The air is crisp, the leaves are starting to change, and there’s a sense of urgency to get in one more day outside before the weather turns cold,” she explains. Rather than cram into the living room and huddle around the TV, take the football party outside: set up food and drink stations, arrange a comfy seating area, and watch the game alfresco on an outdoor screen. And don’t forget to include some festive décor. The palette for this football-themed fête? Red, white, and black, of course—U of U team colors. “Everything from the flowers, blankets, and pillows to the Coke bottles and striped straws were chosen according to the theme and colors,” notes White. For extra cheer, she purchased balloons and megaphones at the University of Utah campus store and a custom-made U of U cornhole game on Etsy.    

Serve a Signature Cocktail

White hired Jack Rose Caravan to roll up to the her at-home tailgate and park in her driveway. “This mobile bar is genius—it adds so much character and charm to an event,” she says. The darling bar on wheels, housed in a cool converted vintage camper, brings the booze to your bash; bartenders serve up everything from wine to local craft beer in seasonal flavors to custom cocktails, like this Apple Cinnamon Sangria, created with a nod to fall and the U of U’s color palette in mind. Don’t leave teetotalers or designated drivers out of the fun: “Always offer a nonalcoholic version for nondrinkers,” White advises.

Keep the Menu Simple

When it came to planning the menu, White drew inspiration from the many tailgates she’s attended. “A big pot of homemade chili is a no-brainer; it’s filling, it feeds a lot of people, and it’s easy to keep warm,” she says. Another no-brainer? Hiring the pros at Culinary Crafts to cater your shindig so you don’t have to slave away all day in the kitchen. Owner Mary Crafts-Homer and her talented team loved the idea of catering White’s football party—after all, as the contracted caterer for the University of Utah stadium, they tailgate with Utes fans at every home game.

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A Culinary Crafts game-day spread with all the fixings.

Culinary Crafts took White’s notion of chili up a notch with an interactive chili bar. “We used beef brisket and three types of beans to elevate the traditional recipe but keep the flavor suitable for children,” explains Crafts-Homer. On the side, they set out small dishes of condiments including sour cream, shredded cheese, and fresh sliced jalapeños. “This allows everyone to customize their chili to their own taste, but you can still serve adults and kids from the same pot,” says Crafts-Homer. Her team also dished up individual loaves of cornbread with fresh whipped honey butter—a fun alternative to cornbread muffins—and a comfort food favorite: pigs in a blanket made with pretzel dough and served with wholegrain mustard and cheese sauce for dipping.

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Jack Rose Caravan

All in the Details

“For this kind of casual dining, you’re not just feeding guests but also entertaining them and creating an experience,” notes Crafts-Homer. With that in mind, she says setting up food stations, like the chili bar, encourages people to mingle and get up and move rather than staying seated the entire time. She also suggests including creative extra touches to elevate the event, like swapping expected ceramic bowls for mini cast-iron skillets or opting for bamboo utensils over plastic. She wrapped the utensils in red and white flour sack–style napkins and secured them with twine.

To add a dose of floral finery to the event, White called upon local florist Kati Wagner of Tulips & Thyme to create vibrant flower arrangements. “I wanted to complement the family-friendly setting with a bright, bold punch of color,” Wagner explains. She included local dahlias from Copper Moose Farm, ornamental explosion grass, red ranunculus, blackberry scoop scabiosa, scented geranium, and petite umbrella fern. “Naturally, red and white were the winning colors, and wooden vessels completed the relaxed design,” Wagner says.

Hands-On Sweets

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No treat lends itself to an autumn backyard gathering more appropriately than s’mores. White rounded up the roasting sticks and fired up the flames on her outdoor firepit so the kiddos and adults could gather around and get their s’mores on. But rather than serve basic store-bought mallows, she asked Culinary Crafts to create individual s’mores packages complete with custom tags featuring homemade marshmallows cut to fit fresh-baked graham crackers. “They’re the most magnificent s’mores you’ve ever sunk your teeth into,” says White. For an extra dose of dessert, and as a nod to the home team, Culinary Crafts used their U-shaped cookie cutter to create soft, chewy sugar cookies decorated with red frosting. “People go gaga for them,” says Crafts-Homer. The secret? Her grandma’s heirloom sugar cookie recipe. 

A Game-Day Standby, Elevated

Handheld munchies are a must when watching the big game, so White came up with the idea of a self-serve popcorn bar. She set up a bench in the backyard topped with baskets filled to the brim with four different popcorn flavors—bacon bourbon caramel corn; white chocolate and red M&M’s (another homage to the Runnin’ Utes); chili lime; and savory rosemary and sea salt—again, courtesy of Culinary Crafts. White placed individual scoops in each basket and set out small popcorn boxes lined with parchment paper for a cute takeaway.

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Touchdown! Snacks, blankets, and an outdoor screen provide the final touches for a great gathering.

Game Time

“What better way for a crowd to enjoy the big game than gathered around a big screen in your own backyard?” asks White. Her outdoor projector, screen, and audio system were installed by Trevor Brown with Utah’s TGBAV Audio Video. “It reminds me of the old drive-in movie theaters and everyone loves it,” White says. Don’t have a set-up like White’s? Consider renting a projector and movie screen, or do it the old-fashioned way by hanging a white sheet on the side of your house or garage. To create a cozy atmosphere and keep chilly autumn temps at bay, provide a stack of warm blankets—in your team’s colors, of course—for guests to wrap up in while watching the game. Light candles and outdoor lanterns to cast a warm, inviting glow. And keep the fire roaring and the s’mores roasting until the final touchdown. 


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