If you have yet to reach the Martha Stewart dinner party thrower stage in life, where you spend as much time on your place settings and centerpieces as your meal, you are not alone. Cooking for a group is hard enough, and expensive enough, without thinking through flowers, candles, and accessories that will really make your table "pop." But if you're like me, every once in a while you feel like faking it, particularly on Thanksgiving. So I asked wedding and event designer Ara Farnam of Rock Paper Scissors Events--who recently came up with fun Thanksgiving centerpieces for the Food Network--for five easy, inexpensive ways to dress up your table.
Use Place Cards
Writing down the names of your guests on place cards and arranging them around the table will make it look as though you put a lot of thought into the seating, when really it takes just a few minutes.
Create a Menu
Displaying your menu on or near the table is a nice, easy touch. You can print one out, use a chalkboard, or write it on butcher paper, which you can find at a kitchen store, a paper store, even a Fed Ex/Kinko's (where it's sold as brown packing paper). Use it in place of a table cloth or as a runner down the middle of the table.
Instead of using candlesticks, use tea lights in mason jars, or even jars you would normally recycle--like those for tomato sauce, marinated artichokes, minced garlic, and preserves. Just make sure they're unscented, so your spectacular meal isn't competing with an overwhelming whiff of vanilla.
Pick One Kind of Flower
If you are not a floral design pro, and don't plan on splurging on an arrangement, the easiest thing to do is to get one type of flower, in one color--a trick that will work with deli flowers, too. Hydrangeas, roses, and tulips will all look sophisticated on their own, and if you use smaller flowers like roses or tulips you can arrange two to three each in makeshift vases like champagne flutes. Arrange six flutes in the center of the table and you've got an original centerpiece.
Reuse Your Old Wine Bottles
Do like some restaurants do and serve New York City's finest (tap water) in cleaned, label-free wine bottles.