In your 20′s if you asked the host/ess of a party if you could “bring anything” you were probably asked to bring a six-pack or a bottle of tequila and chips. Other guests brought similar items. Things were simple then -before the hostess gift stage of life. Ah, passages. Now that you’re older, it’s customary to bring something to a gathering or party even without being asked. It’s called the “Hostess Gift” a term used back in the days when yes, indeed, women were the homemakers. Now anyone can be the Host (ess).
So, what are the rules, the etiquette of the Hostess Gift, especially during the holidays when open houses and parties are rampant?
Your host/ess probably has the whole party or dinner orchestrated and is very proud of that and wants to create this whole wonderful project themselves, so don’t bring anything to make them feel they would have to open it up and serve right then. They’ve got a theme, a strategy, and if you show up with a slice of brie and say “Here, why don’t you put this on the hors d’oeuvres table” which you have now realized is all laid out like some work of art, then you have messed with the universe.
So, no food to be eaten right then without prior arrangement should be brought. But what about wine? Maybe. Under certain conditions. Don’t bring wine to a planned wine and cheese tasting/pairing party – those are definitely orchestrated.
In a dinner party situation if you bring wine as a gift don’t expect to drink it. It is considered a gift (unless otherwise arranged for immediate consumption). Your host/ess has probably planned that part too, and you don’t want to put them in the position of having to serve a wine that may not go with the dinner.
Guests should oooh and ahhh over the host/ess’ wine selection, not yours, no matter how big of a cork dork you may be. Just say something like “I’ve chosen this for your cellar, it’s quite drinkable now, but will be even better in a few months or years.” If your host wants to pour the wine you brought, don’t try to stop them.
You can also call ahead to see if your wine will go with whatever they’re serving, or even the mood of the party. If the party is casual taco night with sangria don’t show up with that bottle of Opus One. In general it’s best not to get involved with the menu planning. And it’s fun letting the experience the host/ess has planned take you on a journey.
How much and what else?
So what do you bring and how much should you pay? Is that what Hostess Twinkies are for? Sadly, no.
If you don’t know the host/ess well, bring a box of good quality truffles, or cool wine charms you use to ID your own glass. Flowers are fine, but don’t make the host/ess have to go around hunting for a vase. Give a decorative candle or some spiced tea. If your host/ess is into wine then some of those pretty wine stoppers are nice. Fancy napkins are fun; just be sure they’re tasteful.
Bring a bakery item and tell them it’s for the next day (again-no pressure to eat it after dinner) or a bottle of fancy olive oil or vinegar if the host/ess is a cook. Interesting salt and pepper shakers are nice too. A potted plant is good. Or a nice picture frame if your host/ess is a photo bug. And always attach a card.
In the normal flow of this dance, hand the nicely wrapped gift to the host/ess, who thanks you and quickly whisks it out of the way so as not to embarrass those who have not brought a gift.
And if the host/ess does open the gift at the party, they should do it in the gifter’s presence but not in the presence of the other guests. So says Elizabeth L. Post, granddaughter-in-law of the legendary Emily Post.
As for cost – usually under $20, but you can certainly find really appropriate lovely and fun items in all our local shops at any price, even just $5. Be sure to keep checking out our Limelight Deals each day because we have deals on many things that would make terrific host/ess gifts like treats and items for the home, or deals for shops where you can pick out the perfect item for your wonderful host or hostess. That brings the cost down too, especially during our 12 Days of Holiday Deals! Enter here to win an iPad Mini (which you should definitely NOT give as a Host/ess Gift).
Just for fun, keep an eye out for the “recycled hostess gift,” especially if you go to these sorts of parties and see the same circle of people. It’s funny to see a gift you’ve given to one host/ess in the hands of another and in the same wrapper months later.
But don’t say a word. It’s bad manners.