When you’re invited to a dinner party, tradition and good manners say that you should arrive with a gift for your hosts. A bottle of wine is too predictable. A bouquet of flowers isn’t quite enough. You want to give a gift to show that you’re grateful for their hospitality and to mark the occasion, but what can you give? The best dinner party gift ideas are ones that show careful consideration of your host and the occasion.
Manners expert Emily Post advises that “if it’s the first time you’re visiting someone’s home, then it’s a very nice gesture to bring a small gift.” Post recommends that you match the complexity of the gift to match the level of the event you were invited to.
The Casual Dinner Party
When the party is an outdoor picnic or oyster roast, or if your neighbors invited you for a family evening out, a gift is still recommended, unless you frequently dine with your hosts. But remember that the gift can match the occasion and the personality of the person who organized the party.
A simple bouquet of flowers should be dressed up. Discard the cellophane or tissue the florist used and instead arrange the blooms in a vase that matches your host’s interior décor or tastes. By bringing your flowers already arranged a vase, you illustrate to your host that you respect their time in the busy moments at the start of the party.
But if you’re eager to bring something unexpected or more customized to your hostess, then consider monogrammed or printed cocktail napkins, soaps and lotions for guest bathrooms, candles or a picture frame.
Custom or handmade gifts are always especially welcome. Consider taking the time to make a loaf of quick bread, wrapped and personally tagged, to thank your hosts. Martha Stewart says “when done with a little flair, a small gesture is much more meaningful.” Stewart also recommends handmade coasters, vinegar, and cocktail mixers as unique and handmade host gifts.
More Formal Affairs
Champagne is always well received as a host gift for more moral events because of the festive flare. But consider tying a hand-written thank you note on with beautiful ribbon or wrapping the bottle to look like a pineapple—a traditional symbol of hospitality.
If you know your host well, the consider something personal as a host gift. A beautiful display book about their favorite subject will always be welcome, as will a specialized kitchen tool that caters to their tastes. Consider a bottle of your host’s preferred spirits with a beautiful, specially designed decanter, like this one from Crate and Barrel.
But remember, host gifts for a formal dinner party follow a slightly different set of rules. Emily Post cautions against taking a gift to a large dinner party. This is especially true if you don’t know the host well. Additionally, if the party has a guest of honor, then the gift should be for them, rather than your host.
Hostess gifts aren’t meant to be opened publically. When you give your hostess her gift, if it is wrapped, then she may save it to open after her guests have left. Because not everyone will have brought a gift, presents should be saved for the host’s private moment.
If you decide to gift food or wine, don’t expect it to be served at that dinner party, even if you’ve come with your favorite artisanal chocolates you are eager to share. Your host has carefully considered the food and wine choices for the evening, however casual. Adding an extra flavor might not be on her menu.
Your host isn’t required to send you a thank you note for your gift. Because yours was a gift of gratitude, it is too much to expect a written note to thank you.
Bringing a thoughtful host gift to a dinner party is an ideal way to show your gratitude and appreciation for the invitation. It reciprocates your feelings to your host and provides an elegant introduction to a party and maybe new people. But consider your choices and ideas carefully to ensure you match your gift to the occasion and to ensure you will be invited back again.
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