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Host-Hostess Gift Etiquette

{NOTE: In this particular blog post, the photos included are not my own, with the exception of just one. I have given credit for each of the sources.}

It’s the time of year when we begin receiving more invitations to dinner parties, cocktail parties, and open houses. No matter how well we know the person/couple inviting us, I feel we should always bring a token of appreciation along with us to the gathering. And, although the ubiquitous bottle of wine is a good idea, we can be far more creative than that (and if giving a bottle of wine it should not be a cheap wine — don’t forget how much time, effort, and expense the hosts have gone to in preparing for the evening.) You don’t need to break the bank on a bottle but we certainly should not cheap-out. The best gifts are items the host can set aside and enjoy later. The more time and thought you put into the gesture, the more meaningful the gift. I’ll share a few things I feel will help to ensure your gift is well received:

If You Are Invited to a Potluck Dinner

Even if you are contributing to the meal, you should still bring something to show the host/hostess your appreciation for them hosting the dinner. A bottle of wine is quite acceptable, a box of chocolates, or something you have made, for example. It needn’t be anything extravagant.

wine wrapping www.dianeschuller.com

If You Do Bring a Bottle Try This

If you really do want to bring a bottle why not bring a good bottle of Proseco or perhaps a nice Champagne? Or consider an after dinner liqueur such as brandy, port, kahlua, etc. And to make it even more special, wrap it up with a beautiful tea towel tied with a ribbon. I make my own labels that I print out on card stock and hang on the neck of a bottle so they know who it came from, plus it simply looks more like a gift that I gave thought to assembling. Or simply wrap the bottle with a wide velvet ribbon — that looks so luxe! Wouldn’t your host feel special knowing you put such thought into it? Oh and if your host asks you to bring your own refreshment, sure do that, but still bring a second bottle of wine for them to enjoy after the party. Whenever we’re invited to a gathering and we are asked to bring our own refreshment, we always bring two bottles: one for us, unwrapped and one for the host nicely wrapped and sporting a gift tag.

Gifts are Not Intended for Use at the Party

We should never arrive with a gift of food or alcohol and expect it to be used for the party (unless the host/hostess has specifically asked you to contribute to the meal — but that is NOT a hostess gift).  If you are arriving with alcohol or food it should be with the intention that it’s  for the host/hostess to enjoy after the party and if you label it or include a notecard with it, you won’t be putting them on the spot. For instance, you could gift them with breakfast for the next day (fresh scones, homemade jar of marmalade, banana bread or such). Or perhaps you could bring a nice bottle of port with some local cheeses and loaf of artisan bread they can enjoy the next day/evening.

That said, the host/hostess may choose to serve your wine or food to the guests (that you intended for them for future) — if so, that’s their choice, and consider it a compliment. I have attended dinner parties where a guest had brought desserts she intended for and wanted everyone to try — it was awkward for the hostess and incompatible to the meal the hostess had put together. Don’t do it.

Breakfast for tomorrow. Photo: Anna Williams

Breakfast for tomorrow. Photo: Anna Williams

Please Do Not Insist or Suggest the Gift be Opened Right Away

Whether it’s a wrapped gift or not, this can be very awkward both for the hostess as well as other guests. What if other guests didn’t bring a gift, for instance, this could be quite embarrassing. Either discreetly hand the gift to your host or hostess or, if there is a console table near the entry, simply leave it and the card there for the hostess to find and open after the guests have gone home.

Flowers are Not Always Appropriate

I know, many people consider flowers as their go-to hostess gift. Take these points into consideration:

  • If you bring cut flowers your host/hostess then has to take time away from last minute prep in the kitchen and/or greeting people at the door to locate a suitable sized vase, arrange the flowers, and find a place for them.
  • INSTEAD 1: Bring flowers already in a vase or in an arrangement but immediately let the hostess know they are intended for his/her pleasure after the party and that it’s not necessary to put them out tonight. Flowers from your garden are perfect, but bring them already arranged in a vase or other container (even a mason jar is cute). Or, better yet, bring a beautiful long lasting potted plant such as an orchid and your host/hostess will remember you long after the party for leaving them with such a pleasurable gift.
  • INSTEAD 2:  Bring a gift certificate from a nearby florist tucked inside a notecard. This way the host/hostess can go out and choose exactly what they want after the party and will take great pleasure in your thoughtful gesture.
Image: rubybeets.com

Image: rubybeets.com

Spiced nuts - image ©marthastewart

Spiced nuts – image ©marthastewart

Be Mindful in Selecting a Gift

It’s wonderful if you are thinking of bringing a more personal gift of something useful. Be careful in not assuming they appreciate the same things you do —  you may be gifting them with something they have no use for or simply do not like. It will either sit in a cupboard somewhere, eventually ending up being re-gifted or in their next garage sale. If you know them well then select a gift you know they either need or will appreciate. If you don’t know them well then consider things such as: a gift certificate (florist, local bakery, restaurant); set of linen napkins; wine glass charms; napkin rings; stationery; coffee table book, or celebrity cookbook; rosemary ‘tree’; a trio of live herbs in pots; gourmet snacks (gourmet nuts or popcorn, gourmet spreads) or something you have made yourself that anyone would enjoy (quick bread, box of homemade cookies; marmalade or pickles; anything that you may make that everyone always enjoys!). Keep in mind when selecting a gift to consider what gift would make their life easier or would be a treat they may not necessarily buy for themselves (which is why thoughtful gift cards work so well).

Wrap it Up

Whatever gift you bring, be sure to take some time to wrap it up. This is a gift after all and you want to show your host or hostess you too have taken some time to make this special for them. Gifts become special with small touches like unique packaging and handwritten tags or labels. Besides, if it’s wrapped up with a tag, the host will realize immediately that it is truly a gift.

Avoid giving: gag gifts, scented anything, cheap wine, homemade wine (unless they’ve consumed it before and love it), food for the party (as already stated), knick knacks, anything that may need assembly.

Image ©marthastewart

Image ©marthastewart


I keep a little box filled with a variety of gift items. This way if we receive an invitation and I don’t have time to make something or buy something, I have a few things on hand that can be used in those circumstances. Since I have a variety of items, hopefully there will be something suitable whether it’s someone we know well or not. I tend to pick things up when I’m out and about and happen to see something that I immediately know will make an ideal hostess gift. It’s also a great way to take advantage of sales when buying in advance. Right now in my hostess gift stash are things such as: I have a set of cocktail napkins; a couple sets of dinner napkins; a cookbook (one of my favourites); a coffee table book; a couple good quality bottles of wine; my own photographic art notecards; a set of white condiment dishes; recipe cards; a hand woven tea towel made by a local artisan; gourmet balsamic crema (local); and a variety of ready-made packaging for food items in case I give some homemade baking, spiced nuts, or other goodies from my kitchen.

With just a little bit of thought and a wee bit more effort, we can all be guests who every host/hostess will enjoy having over during the holidays (or anytime of year).

Also on this topic:

Made by Hand for Giving as Hostess Gifts

Easy Peasy Hostess Gifts


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Sherry at Still and All - November 25, 2013 - 6:12 am

A lovely, thoughtful post, Diane, with a plethora of great ideas for the holidays. I love your idea about keeping a little box handy with small gifts. And the bottle wrapped in a pretty tea towel is wonderful. I liked your ideas too some posts back about giving some of your photo note cards. I started doing that this year, along with a nice bottle of wine, and they were very well received. I also find that special jars of honey and jams and chutney are appreciated as well. Here’s to enjoying all your holiday gatherings!

Sherry Smyth - November 25, 2013 - 7:12 am

This is wonderful Diane. You’ve shared ideas I’d never have thought of (breakfast for the next day!) and even putting a simple velvet bow on a great bottle of wine…luxe!

The whole “let’s drink your bottle of wine” with dinner always bums me out — I bring it for the host/hostess to enjoy later and don’t always want to consume it myself. The thought is great and I never argue other than to say — I’m fine with you keeping it for yourself you know — in case they think I expect them to open it then and there. Adding the gift tag would remove that awkward moment! So thank you for that. I think I shall share this post…it’s well worth repeating! xo

Susan - November 25, 2013 - 12:09 pm

Thank you for this wonderful post! I’m usually at a loss when it comes to creative hostess gifts and you have some excellent ideas here…and the correct etiquette to boot!

lisa - November 26, 2013 - 1:59 pm

What great tips, Diane, and thank you so very much for sharing them here.
I wish you a wonderful week!

Candace - November 29, 2013 - 5:43 pm

Great ideas, Diane. I do normally take a small gift but I don’t often wrap it or add those little touches that make it extra special so I will do that in the future.