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Tara Wilson’s Thanksgiving Entertaining Tips

Nov 02, 2011 08:03PM ● By Anonymous

Make this Thanksgiving special and stress-free with party-planning guru Tara Wilson’s top tips for entertaining friends and family on Thanksgiving. The owner of her own full-service event design and coordination company, Wilson has a passion for entertaining, a trait she got from her mother. “She always threw such fun parties, and she did it with such ease and grace,” Wilson says. “Everyone always seemed to have such a great time.”

Wilson took some time to speak with us from her home in Texas, giving us a few pointers on how to host a successful Thanksgiving, including which signature cocktails to serve, how to get out of cleaning up afterward, and what to do if things go wrong.

  • Create a theme: The very first thing you need to do is choose a theme, Wilson says. “What I mean by that is decide what you want your key elements to be,” she explains. Is it all going to be about the food? The wine? The décor? For example, if you choose to focus on the décor, select a central element that helps you connect the dots—an acorn, for example, can be used as a decorative element on the dinner table, as well as a small graphic on the place cards.
  • Invitations: You might be celebrating Thanksgiving with only family and very close friends, but it’s still appropriate to issue an invitation for the dinner, Wilson says. Let your guests know with a handwritten note, rather than a formal invitation, that you’re so looking forward to them coming to your home. This sets the tone of your gathering.
  • Don’t feel obligated to cook everything: “I always tell people to keep it relatively simple,” Wilson says. “Don’t feel obligated to cook everything yourself.” This is the time to ask people to bring their favorite dish—just make sure you keep track of it so you don’t have both your mother and mother-in-law bringing Green Bean Almondine.
  • Par down the choices: You don’t have to make 30 different dishes for a Thanksgiving dinner. Like the old saying goes, “quality over quantity.” Wilson recommends choosing around six dishes instead.
  • Limit the bar options. Don’t feel compelled to have a full bar, she recommends. Stick to red wine, white wine, and a signature drink—Wilson likes to serve a French martini made with Chambord, and for a warmer drink, apple cider spiked with champagne or Prosecco. “Put a cinnamon stick in it, and people will think you slaved in the kitchen over it,” she says.
  • Add a “wow factor”: A “wow factor” doesn’t have to be something extravagant or expensive, Wilson explains. It’s simply something that’s unusual that guests might not have seen before. “For example, I love to put quote cards on the table,” Wilson says. “Cheeky quotes about food—that really starts a conversation.” These quote cards could actually be the place cards with the guest’s name on the front and the quote on the back. “James Beard actually said, ‘A gourmet who counts calories is like a tart who looks at her watch.’ That’s the cutest quote, and it’s so true,” Wilson says.
  • Don’t fret if things go wrong: “I like to serve a beef tenderloin crostini with a horseradish sauce on top,” Wilson says, relating her own hostess mishap. “One year, I noticed a lot of people were putting it down and not eating it. It turns out I had bought the extra-hot creamy horseradish and not the regular,” making her famous beef tenderloin crostini inedible.

    “Here’s the thing,” she says. “Things are going to go wrong. You plan the best you can upfront, and once the doorbell rings and the first person arrives, you have to put everything else aside.” If you, as the hostess, aren’t relaxed, your guests will be able to tell.
  • Don’t want to clean up? Enlist help: It’s perfectly acceptable to hire staff or servers, even if it’s just one to be in your kitchen to help you in the kitchen. However, if you don’t want to spend the money, get help somewhere else. Wilson suggests cohosting a party with friends and divvying up the chores. Once the party’s over, everyone gets into the kitchen and dishes about the party—who wore what? Did you hear what she said? Make this a time to chat about what worked and what didn’t.