Dining Etiquette Series -The Hostess Gift

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It’s not the gift, but the thought that counts. ~ Henry Van Dyke, American Author & Poet (1852-1933)

Bringing a gift to the host or hostess when you are invited to dinner — from a formal affair to a casual pot-luck and everything in between — is a time-honored custom intended to show a guest’s appreciation to the hostess for the invitation. Although this type of gift is called a “hostess gift,” it’s obviously intended for both genders. A hostess gift can be generic, such as a bottle of wine or candy, or tailored to the taste and personality of the host. But, be sure to consider any allergies, preferences, religious beliefs or ethnic customs.

Cost is often a factor, but your hostess gift need not be costly because it’s the thought that counts. Hostess gifts are intended to be tokens of the guest’s appreciation for the invitation and should not be thought of as “payment” to cover the cost of your dinner. And, they are not intended to be in the same class with birthday and housewarming gifts. There are many charming inexpensive items that a guest can give, and homemade creations are especially thoughtful and appreciated. The suggestions presented in this blog post can be modified to fit various budgets. Moreover, individuals and couples can chip in for a group gift; the gift should be in line with the number of people giving it. For example, if four college students are chipping in on a hostess gift for a black-tie dinner, it should be a box of fine chocolates or a beautiful plant, toward which each person contributed $15 – $20. The gift may be more modest for a less formal party.

When you present your gift to the host at the party, don’t expect – or encourage – her to open it on the spot. It’s awkward to open hostess gifts when other guests are arriving or milling about. And, in the case of wine, candy or other edibles, she might prefer to open them later in private if they do not go with her dinner menu and décor.

The hostess gift may be sent to the host and/or hostess before the party, brought with you to the party or sent as a thank-you after the party. But please keep in mind that when you send a gift before the party or being one to the party, it does not take the place of the post-party thank you call, email or handwritten note (the latter being the preferred form).

Following are a baker’s dozen suggestions:

  1. Flowers: It’s advisable to call ahead to see if flowers will fit in with the theme and décor of the party. Whenever they are presented, however, they should be arranged in a vase to save the hostess the trouble of doing so. Try to find out the hostess’s favorite flowers and if they are in season and fit your budget, that should be your choice.
  2. Candy: Chocolates should be fine chocolates, so it’s better to give a small box of quality chocolates rather than a large box of so-so chocolates. Other candies are popular, as well, and include assorted hard candies, after-dinner mints, chocolate-cinnamon-or-candy stirrers, chocolate covered spoons and chocolate or yogurt covered pretzels.  
  3. Wine: Make sure the host and hostess enjoy drinking wine. Don’t expect it to be served with dinner; the hosts might prefer to enjoy it later, especially if it doesn’t fit in with the dinner. The exception is if you are good friends with the host, have discussed the dinner menu, and agreed to bring wine to be served with dinner. If the party is casual, a six-pack of the host’s favorite beer is a great gift.
  4. Plants: Small, easy to care for, inexpensive plants are usually a welcome gift. But, only give a plant if you know someone will appreciate it and take care of it. It’s not a good way to remember a guest when the plant withers and dies for lack of or inappropriate care!  Be sure that the plant is in an attractive holder and maybe add a bow; include instructions on the care of the plant. Lucky bamboo plants are easy and inexpensive.
  5. Books: A copy of the latest entry in the author’s favorite mystery series, book of poetry, coffee table book, current bestseller (fiction or nonfiction), cookbook, book on napkin folding or entertainment are all good choices, based on your host and hostess’s interests. The book may be in hardcover, paperback or e-book.
  6. Luxury Soaps: Beautiful soaps and other spa gifts are always appreciated. If the host cannot use them personally, he can place them in his bathroom for guests to use. There are soaps that are appropriate for men and for women and some that are appreciated by both.
  7. Clever Coasters and Cocktail Napkins: A host who entertains often can never have too many coasters or cocktail napkins. Clever, unusual or homemade or hand knit coasters are always a welcome gift. And, cocktail napkins with clever designs or sayings can be a hit.
  8. Fancy Dish Towels: These can range from beautiful or modern to clever or funny with amusing designs and sayings. Try to match the décor or at least color scheme of the hosts’ kitchen, if possible.
  9. Candles: Scented candles for aromatherapy or scent-free tapers in various colors for the table are a lovely hostess gift. She might not use them right away if they don’t work with the décor for the current dinner party, but she will find a use for them and enjoy them later. Candle accessories, as well, such a candle snuffer or candle holder, are clever gifts.
  10. Gadgets: These can be very welcome and useful for an informal dinner or casual gathering, and can include a barbecue tool belt, condiment holder for the table, picnic cooler in a wild color or design (plain or fancy), wine accessories (corkscrew & bottle stoppers), unusual napkin holder or napkin rings, stemware tags to allow guests to keep track of their drinks, cooking & baking sets (ingredients to make tomato sauce, cookies, etc., arranged in a cute basket), candle snuffers, fireplace lighters and so on.
  11. Coffee Beans & Tea Leaves: For coffee and tea aficionados, a bag of gourmet coffee beans or fancy tea leaves or tea bags will be enthusiastically received. For an added touch, mix beans – either regular, decaf or half & half, whichever she prefers — to reflect the hostess’s particular tastes; for example, if the hosts like Ethiopian Arabica and Robusta Kona beans you could mix them for a special blend and make up a name for the blend that includes the hosts’ names, such as “Lyn’s Sunrise Startup” or “Paul’s Evening Brew.” The same can be done with tea leaves and tea bags, either presented in a basket, small wood crate or individual tea pot.
  12. Photographs: If you know the hosts well, you can design and make a personal gift, such as a particularly great or meaningful photo of him, her or them – or a place they visited or a beloved pet — placed in an attractive frame, or a frame that goes with the décor of their home. You can also take one or more photos and have them transposed onto cloth napkins. Or you can make up a photo album of dinner-themed photos of the hosts, their friends, families and pets.
  13. Pet Treats: Instead of bringing a gift for the hosts, bring a gift for one or more of their pets. You can make up a basket of dog and cat treats and toys, with a clever card.

A gift tag or card should accompany your gift; if the hostess doesn’t get a chance to open the gift until the next day, she’ll want to know who gave her which gift. When you send your after-dinner thank-you, you can say or write something like, “I had a great time last night; I’ve never tasted anything as good as your Steak Pizzaiola! I hope you liked my little token of appreciation. I wasn’t sure if you would appreciate the joke napkins, but I couldn’t resist them!”

In addition, here are some websites that contain ideas, suggestions and sources for hostess gifts (these are merely references, not recommendations):

Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store – Brooklyn

Wond’rous Things – Briarcliff Manor, NY

Martha Stewart Hostess Gift Ideas

Creative Napkins & Table Settings, by Jimmy Ng

The Key Class: The Keys To Job Search Success, by John J. Daly

Until next time,

Jeanne

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