5 unique ways to impress Thanksgiving guests

There are two types of Thanksgiving guests: those genuinely happy that you are hosting Thanksgiving and those who see you playing a game of "impress the guests" to their Statler and Waldorf. While I have been in charge of hosting Thanksgiving meals for nearly two decades, I have recognized that some Thanksgiving menu ideas go a long way to add the pizazz critics crave. Others are obsessed by the things they see before even tasting the first of the Thanksgiving dishes. Whether you are dealing with in-laws, new friends, old friends, or his acquaintances, there are five simple ways to impress Thanksgiving guests. Best of all, these ideas do not cost you an arm and a leg.

1. Increase Curbside Appeal

If you want to impress guests right as they drive up to your home, follow PBS' suggestion of cleaning up the yard and walkway. Rake the leaves, wash the windows, and put some fall flowers into planters. Add some Thanksgiving decorations, such as orange pumpkins, scarecrows, and wreaths. Opt for real leaves and hay whenever possible, and avoid the plastic dollar store stuff at all costs.

2. Plant a Thanksgiving Garden

Have you been eying your front yard landscape with sadness? Would you love to add some color to the brown and ochre of dying vegetation? Add Northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) for blue, winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) for yellow, and Russian silverberry (Elaeagnus angustifolia) for red.

3. Set Up a Valet Service

Let the neighbors know that 50 of your closest friends and family members will arrive for Turkey Day. Should your neighbors also be expecting Thanksgiving guests, work out the parking situation to everyone's satisfaction. Your guests cannot help but be impressed if you have organized a valet service to park their cars five blocks down the street. Just make sure that your valet workers, or offspring with driver's licenses, are on hand to repeat the performance when the guests leave.

4. Dress Up Thanksgiving Dishes

Contemporary flavors play well with traditional Thanksgiving menu ideas. Add Asiago cheese to the mashed potatoes, fill the turkey with rice stuffing, or add some tequila to the gravy.

5. Impress with Appetizers and Desserts

Come up with new Thanksgiving dishes to impress guests visiting you for perhaps a second or tenth time. If you have been hosting Thanksgiving for a while, guests have come to expect the brie and cracker appetizer. Do not get me wrong; I love brie! But imagine your Thanksgiving guests having their taste buds tickled by dates wrapped with crispy bacon. Yummy! Then, there are the desserts. Candy and chocolates are wonderful, but cupcakes with whimsical marzipan decorations reinforce the theme and highlight the effort you have put into your meal design.

It is clear that new Thanksgiving menu ideas and out-of-the-box solutions to common problems associated with hosting Thanksgiving must play nice with an exterior makeover. If you are committed to making this type of effort, even the most discerning guests will be impressed.

More Thanksgiving Ideas from Sylvia Cochran