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 properly and make their presence memorable.
Hostess Gift Ideas and Etiquette
WHY GIVE A HOSTESS GIFT?
A hostess gift is a tangible way to say “Thank you for inviting me” — one which, unfortunately, is becoming a lost art.
There is 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; cleaning (and occasional soothing of conflict between guests) afterward. A hostess gift commends that effort.
ISN’T MY PRESENCE ENOUGH?
Only a narcissist or celebrity would think they’re entitled to a party invitation and need not recognize it beyond merely walking through the door.
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. But, unless you’re the guest of honor, the invitation is a gift of sorts, so it’s polite to return the gesture.
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. 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.
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 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 alcohol below.)
Gifts that show you know your host/hostess well are thoughtful. A framed photo of a party you and your host/hostess 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 lovely teapot 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 charming gift to receive, they can also be a burden if the hostess has to stop what she’s doing to put them in water. 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 a wine gift to be served that night. A nice bottle of wine or fine scotch can be a wonderful gift if it’s beautifully packaged. But your host has already planned what he’ll be serving for the occasion, so don’t expect to see your gift passed around the party.
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 once gave me a dress as a hostess gift. It didn’t fit, and the incident was awkward for everyone involved.)
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 wicked sense of humor, don’t give her a naughty salt and shaker set at a party where her parents, pastor, or others with sensitive temperaments might be in attendance.
Don’t give decorative items. The thing about purely decorative items is that they don’t wear out. So, even if you don’t like it, you have to display every time the gift-giver visits. Don’t be that guest.
Don’t overlook food allergies. A gorgeous basket of 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
Most of the hostess gift ideas in the clickable list below are $20 or less, so you’re sure to find one perfect for your favorite hostess!