Coming up with hostess gift ideas can intimidate even the most socially-savvy. Sadly for those of us who enjoy entertaining, too few people understand the etiquette surrounding the hostess gift and simply decide to skip it, passing by an opportunity to thank their hostess properly and make their presence memorable.
Why Give A Hostess Gift?
What a hostess gift signifies. Simply put, a hostess gift is a tangible way to say “Thank you for inviting me”…one which, unfortunately, is becoming a lost art. Those who’ve ever thrown a dinner- or cocktail party know that, large or small, there is a LOT of work involved: the planning, cleaning, shopping, and cooking beforehand; the attention and replenishing of drinks and edibles throughout; the cleaning (and occasional smoothing of conflict between different yet beloved guests) afterward. A hostess gift commends that effort.
Isn’t my presence at the party enough? Most people who invite others into their homes and entertain them do so because they enjoy it, or because they want to honor an occasion, or both. So, yes, in a sense your acceptance of the invitation and attendance of the party is a gift in itself. That said, only an egotistical idiot or major celebrity would think they’re entitled to an party invitation and need not recognize it beyond simply walking through the door.
Hostess Gift “Dos”
In most parts of the world, it’s customary to bring a small gift for the host/hostess every time you visit, and not following this unspoken rule is a good way to ensure you’re never invited back. (In India and some parts of the Middle East it’s customary to bring gifts for their children, too.) In the United States, where the custom varies by region and social group, you can’t go wrong by bringing an appropriate gift. That said:
•Always bring a gift to a home you’ve never visited. If this is your first invitation to someone’s home, or the host/hostess just moved into a new house, bring a gift.
•Give a gift that matches the occasion. Overnight guests should always bring a gift, unless they’re family. For shorter visits, the more formal the party, the more formal the gift, and vice versa. A candlelit, formal dress dinner calls something more special than a set of snarky refrigerator magnets, though those might go over well at a BBQ party — especially mine!
•Gifts that make entertaining easier are good! Aprons, nice coaster sets, napkin rings and the like are all ways to recognize your host/hostess’ flair for throwing a party and will no doubt go to good use. (See the rule about flowers and booze below, though!)
•Gifts that show you know your host/hostess well can be quite thoughtful. A framed photo from a party you and your host/hostess attended can be a thoughtful, touching gift… assuming you aren’t going to offend his/her spouse. If you know your hostess loves tea, give a nice tea pot or assortment of teas. Book- and music-lovers always appreciate the latest release by their favorite authors or musicians.
Hostess Gift “Don’ts”
•Don’t bring loose flowers. While flowers can be a very pleasant gift to receive, they can also be a burden if the hostess has to stop what she’s doing to hunt down a vase, trim the things, and get them into water before they start wilting. If you want to give flowers, pick up an arrangement that’s already in a vase… or give a potted plant, which will last longer.
•Don’t expect wine to be served that night. A nice bottle of wine or fine scotch can be a wonderful gift, particularly if it’s beautifully packaged. But more likely than not, your host has already planned what wines or cocktails he’ll be serving for the occasion, so don’t expect to see your gift passed around the party. (Not to mention, your hostess may want to hold back that bottle of 2005 Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley Reserve to enjoy while soaking in her post-party bath that evening!)
•Don’t give anything that requires you to know the right size. No slippers, sweaters or other clothing items. No, not even a dress. (Yes, someone gave me one as a hostess gift once. No, it didn’t fit. Yes, I was terribly embarrassed… for them.)
•Don’t bring a gift that might offend other guests. Few things are more miserable than having guests who don’t get along. So even though your hostess may have a ribald sense of humor, don’t give her a naughty salt and shaker set at a party where her parents, pastor, fellow PTA members or others of sensitive temperaments might be in attendance. (And if you do give such a gift, wrap it up and ask her to open it later!)
•Don’t give purely decorative items. Really. The thing about purely decorative items is that, even if you don’t like it, you have to display every time the gift-giver visits, since decorative items don’t wear out. Don’t be that guest. Yes, you can give something decorative but make sure it’s also useful; that way, even if your taste doesn’t match your host’s, he can still get some use out of the item and might not hold it against you.
•Don’t overlook food allergies. A gorgeous basket of delicious treats won’t be a welcome gift if it sets off your hostess’ nut allergy. Check your labels and, if in doubt, skip it.
Hostess Gift Ideas
Before anyone grumbles about how I’ve filed this in the “Save Money” category, let me just point out that giving your hostess a thoughtful gift will more likely than not get you invited to her next fête, thus getting you two free meals/nights of cocktails instead of just one. Sound cheap? Well, then, consider the real answer: I didn’t know where else to file it. Hah!
Remember when giving your host/hostess a gift, they’re opening their home to you because they want to enjoy your company. So, yes, bring a gift but remember to be on your best behavior the entire time you’re there. And don’t forget to reciprocate the invitation!