It’s party season and you’re ready for the fun.
Intimate dinner parties. Grander gatherings with a wait staff and mixologists at the ready. Cocktails. Charity events. Potluck. Business. Weekend getaways. Old friends. New friends. Dress up. Dress down. Dancing shoes…
You can’t wait.
And then, before you’ve tasted your first hors d’oeuvre, one bothersome question threatens to take a bite out of the joy of the season — do you bring a hostess gift?
Not necessarily. A guest does have some obligations, but a hostess gift isn’t one of them. People who host parties do so because they love parties. You’re invited because they crave your company. Or if they don’t know you well, they want to. You are never expected to “pay your way” with a gift.
A guest is expected to respond quickly, arrive on time, dress appropriately, hold up their end of the conversation, mix with the other guests and offer to help clean up or serve if there is no staff to do that job. Unless this is a very informal gathering of close friends, the hostess typically refuses such offers.
When the party is over, send a prompt thank-you note. Let the method of invitation be your guide on what sort of note to send. If the invitation is printed and arrived by mail, send a handwritten note. If the invitation came by phone, text or email, you may send a thank you by email.
It is never wrong to send a handwritten thank-you note. Old school? Certainly. It’s also rather elegant and sophisticated. If you have personalized stationery all the better, but of course that isn’t necessary. In any case, don’t wait longer than three days to say thank you in writing and then reciprocate in some way.
All that said, a small remembrance, discreetly handed to the hostess when you arrive, is a time-tested nicety in the South. These are gifts for the house really — food, drink, books, nothing too personal.
If you’ve been asked to bring wine, beer, bread, veggies, dessert, chips, dips or any other thing that expands the meal, forget the gift. Otherwise, enjoy finding a small, thoughtful present. Here are some things to consider when selecting a hostess gift.
- bring anything the hostess must tend to that minute, such as cut flowers that must be put in a water-filled vase. Orchids and bromeliads are nice flowering plants to bring, or have delivered before or after the party.
- expect the hostess to open the gift that minute. Remember your gift, including wine, is for the hosts, not the party. Hostess gifts are intended to be used at a later date by the hosts for their own pleasure, not shared or necessarily even shown to the other guests.
- consider the age and experience of the hosts. If the hosts are just starting out and haven’t yet acquired all the nice party things more seasoned partygivers have collected, consider such things as small trays, monogrammed cocktail napkins, the newest cookbooks, wine glass markers, ornate wine stoppers, cheese knife sets, etc. The list is infinite. Veteran hosts probably don’t need — or want — more “permanent party stuff.”
- explore sparkling wines such as Champagne or take a right turn and offer balsamic vinegar, premium olive oil or other pairings of interesting oils and vinegars; the combinations are endless and interesting.
- bring gourmet muffins, jam and exotic coffee for the host’s breakfast the next morning. Or try artisan breads, cheeses, relishes, pretty tins of candied nuts, elegant cookies, homemade candies, interesting coffees or teas, or dried fruit.
- remember the pets. Dog lovers will appreciate gourmet treats, fancy bowls and other pet items.
- memorialize the occasion with a photo if you can. Not everyone is a cracker-jack photographer, but if you are, then use that skill. Take a photo of the hosts and send it in a small frame after the party. Or you might expand this idea by including photos of the guests, the table, the pets and the dinner in a small photo album sent later along with a thank-you note.
- wrap it. Use a pretty paper, stuffed gift bag or a satin bow, but do make your gift look like a present.
The idea is to be thoughtful. So, go. Enjoy. And fret not. You’ll get it right.
Mary Rogers is a freelance writer. firstname.lastname@example.org