Coming up with hostess gift ideas can intimidate even the most socially savvy. Too few people understand the etiquette surrounding the hostess gift and decide to skip it, passing by an opportunity to thank their hostess and make their presence memorable.
What is a Hostess Gift?
Although men certainly throw parties and entertain guests, the phrase “hostess gift” is still the standard term used. It’s a small gift to express gratitude for being invited.
A Tradition That Deserves to Be Honored
Unfortunately, like sending a timely RSVP, giving a hostess gift is something fewer people are doing these days. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t!
There is, after all, a lot of work involved in throwing a party:
- Planning, cleaning, shopping, and cooking beforehand
- Replenishing drinks and edibles throughout
- Making every guest feel welcome and included
- Cleanup (and the occasional soothing of conflict between guests) afterward.
A hostess gift honors those efforts, and etiquette says one should always say, “Thank you.”
Isn’t My Presence Enough?
Yes and no.
Most people who invite entertain at home do so because they enjoy it, or because they want to honor an occasion — or both.
Your inclusion in the party is a gift to you of sorts: you’re served abundant food and drink, enjoy the pleasure of others’ company, and get a chance to network or meet new people.
Only a narcissist or celebrity would think they’re entitled to that kind of treatment without needing to acknowledge how kind it was for the host to invite them.
Hostess Gift Etiquette
In most parts of the world, it’s customary to bring a small gift every time you visit. Ignoring this unspoken rule is an excellent way to ensure you never get invited again. (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.
DO: Bring a Gift to a Home You’ve Never Visited
Always bring a gift to a home you’ve never visited before, whether you’re going to your Aunt Edith’s new condo in Boca for the first time, or your new neighbor invited you over for a glass of wine. A small gift at such times says, “Thanks for having me.”
DO: Give a Gift that Matches the Occasion
The more formal the party, the more formal the gift. A catered cocktail party calls for a more elegant gift than, say, a backyard cookout.
The length of the visit should influence gift selection, too. If you’ll be a houseguest for several nights, proper etiquette involves not only a small hostess gift but also taking your host out for a meal.
DO: Give a Gift They Can Use Later
Aprons, coaster sets, napkin rings and the like are all hostess gifts which their flair for throwing a party. (See the etiquette rule about flowers and alcohol below.) Just don’t expect them to use them immediately since a good hostess will set your gift aside to open and enjoy later.
DO: Give a Thoughtful Gift if You Know Them Well
If you know your hostess loves tea, give a lovely teapot or assortment of teas. Book and music-lovers always appreciate the latest release by their favorite authors or musicians. A framed photo of you and your hostess can also be a thoughtful gift, assuming you aren’t going to offend his/her partner or spouse.
DON’T: Forget About Allergies
If you don’t know whether your host or someone in their family has allergies, don’t give a gift containing high-risk items. That means skipping food gifts that contain nuts, wheat, or soy. Most stores that put together gift baskets can tell you whether their products contain known allergens. If in doubt, give something else.
DON’T: Bring a Bouquet
If you’re uncertain whether your host has allergies, don’t bring flowers. A hostess gift that makes them sneeze is no gift at all! Otherwise, flowers can be a charming hostess gift if they’re already in a vase. Alternatively, you could bring a potted plant — but see the note above about allergies.
Again, proper guest etiquette says bouquets aren’t good hostess gifts. If anything, they’re a burden since they’ll require the host to find a vase, trim the stems, and arrange the flowers when he or she has guests to entertain.
DON’T: Expect Wine Gift to Be Served That Night
A good bottle of wine or other liquor can be a gracious hostess gift if you know they enjoy adult beverages. But don’t bring one and expect it to be opened that evening — your host has already planned what to serve.
DO NOT be the guest who takes their wine gift home after the party because it wasn’t opened! It’s not a gift if you’re expecting them to share it.
DON’T: Give a Gift that Requires Knowing Their Size
No matter how well you know your host or hostess, etiquette says you must never bring a gift if getting the right size matters. That means no slippers, sweaters, or other clothing.
And definitely don’t give her a dress. (Yes, someone once gave me a dress as a hostess gift. No, it didn’t fit, and, yes, the incident was awkward for everyone involved.)
DON’T: Bring a Gift that Might Offend Others
The polite way of receiving hostess gifts is to thank the giver then set the present aside to be opened later after everyone’s gone. That doesn’t always happen, however — especially if you’re one of the first to arrive.
But few things are more miserable than having to soothe guests’ hurt feelings while trying to keep the party going. So even though your hostess may have a wicked sense of humor, don’t give her a naughty salt and shaker set or other gifts that might offend other party-goers.