Traditionally, gifts for party hosts are pretty essential for almost any gathering you might attend. They don’t have to be huge or over the top (in fact they shouldn’t be), but consistently showing up without anything can seem as though you’re taking the host/hostess for granted.
The gift you bring will usually depend on the type of event you’re going to. It’s often best to avoid bringing food unless your host specifically requests that everyone bring a dish. It’s never bad to ask what you can make beforehand and suggest an appetizer or dessert, but if your host or hostess insists on nothing or you’re only bringing chips and dip, then one or more hostess gifts are appropriate.
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If you’re anything like me, you’ll have trouble thinking of hostess gift ideas, especially last minute. Here’s the rundown of safe yet unique hostess gifts for every type of party you could attend!
A Dinner Party at His/Her Home
If your host is making the effort to have you over his or her home and is cooking dinner, you should definitely bring a nice present. Make sure that anything you give is packaged correctly so the host doesn’t feel an obligation to set it out right then. Here’s my favorites:
- A bottle of wine: it’s a classic if you’re really unsure, but don’t buy a clearly cheap brand name and do put it in a wine bag
- Macaroons: high-end only
- Something from your local bakery
- Olive oil and high quality crackers
- An upscale candle
- A potted plant
- Anything interesting but vague like jars of jam. I live near a cheese shop and love to bring an assortment of cheese and bread.
A Party at a Restaurant
If you’re simply gathering at a restaurant for dinner but one person organized it, you can assume that you’ll be paying separately and there’s no need to bring anything. If the gathering is for some sort of event and the host/hostess has made it clear that they’re paying, then something small (like a candle) is always appreciated.
A Party at a Function Hall or Restaurant Private Room
If the event is for a guest of honor, bring a gift for that person. If it’s just to catch up but one person is paying, that person should get one or more inexpensive hostess gifts. If you’re all paying for yourselves, don’t bring anything.
A Holiday Party
If you’re going to a party at someone’s house (or at a venue where the host/hostess is paying), holiday hostess gifts are essential. The trick is to make the gift slightly different from what you’d bring to a dinner party without being over the top or too personal. Remember, this isn’t a holiday present for the host, it’s just a gift to say thanks for inviting you to the party. My favorites are:
- A pretty wine glass
- Wine openers
- Specialty chocolates or desserts (I’m not linking this because it should be something you personally like or know the hostess likes)
- A non-cheesy ornament (only if you have a close relationship and know it’s something they would enjoy. Look on Etsy for ideas)
- A Rosemary tree
- Cocktail mixers
- A tea set
- A breakfast basket (normally including scones and juices)
A Cocktail Party
Cocktail parties can range in formalness but are typically a little more fancy or upscale than a dinner party. Consider that when choose your gift. Otherwise, the same rules apply. I usually bring:
- A unique wine
- A gourmet cocktail mix kit
- An artisan bread and cheese set
- A set of homemade soaps (not homemade by me, but if you’re up for that props to you)
A Casual Party
Casual parties will be very obvious: you’ll dress down and stand around drinking and chatting. This includes any type of smaller event before going to the main celebration, a cookout, a last minute get-together, etc. The invitation will most likely come over the phone or through text. Trust me, you’ll know it’s casual.
This is the one time when you can bring something to be used at the actual party. A traditional hostess gift isn’t necessary. Instead, choose something that everyone will enjoy, such as a pack of beer, a nice dip with chips (it doesn’t have to be homemade although that’s always great), or an easy appetizer. If there’s alcohol involved, it’s polite to bring enough for the amount of people in your group and offer to share back and forth with others.
When it’s made very clear that the meal is a joint effort, you become one of the party hosts and don’t need to bring any hostess gifts. Something small (such as a candle) can be a nice addition if you know the host is planning to make a lot more food than the guests are bringing.
Gift Giving Occasions (Birthday Parties, Showers, Engagement Parties, Graduations, etc.)
You usually don’t need to bring a gift other than a present for the person of honor. Never ever show up to one of these parties without bringing a gift for the person it’s for. Events in this category include Engagement Parties, Bridal Showers, Baby Showers, Graduations, Birthday Parties, Anniversary Parties, Weddings, and other miscellaneous parties that celebrate one to two people. I won’t go into huge detail here since it doesn’t fall in the category of hostess presents, but do put some thought into bringing a personalized gift for the guest of honor.
A Party Someone is Throwing for You
If the party is planned and you know about it, bring something to show your appreciation. Most likely you know the person throwing the party somewhat well (or else they wouldn’t be going through the trouble), so try to bring a gift that is more personalized to them instead of generic; think ideas similar to inexpensive hostess gifts for a dinner party. If friends were throwing a party for me, I might bring some of my favorite hostess gift ideas – a set of pottery tea mugs, a drink I know they like, or their favorite chocolates or pastries. It’s a little more catered to the person but isn’t as large as a gift you would give on someone’s birthday. Creative hostess gifts work well here.
A Housewarming/Move In Party
It should be pretty clear that you have to bring something to a housewarming. As long as it’s neutral or vague and could basically fit in any house, you’ll be good. Don’t bring something that’s modern only to find that the hostess likes rustic decorations. Good ideas include:
- Serving plates for chips and dip
- A Bonsai plant
- Japanese tea kettle set
- A knife set
- A cutting board
- Wine glasses
- Moscow mule tins
- A measuring conversion tool
- A wine chiller
- A cheese board
Of course, if you know the host or hostess well, feel free to choose creative hostess gifts. Otherwise, stick to the basics. You can’t have too many wine glasses, so even if everyone else brings that as well you’ll be safe.
A Weekend Visit
Definitely bring a hostess gift if you’re visiting for a full weekend. On top of a small thank-you present, you should also come with food or drinks to share. Depending on the situation, a few bottles of wine, a large case of beer, or multiple different snacks will work. In addition, you should bring the hostess something similar to a holiday hostess gifts (without the holiday emphasis). Things like a plant, a set of nice candles, a wine chiller, coasters, artisan soaps, bath bombs or scrubs, or a gift basket full of items from your (or their) town all work well.
A Visit Longer Than a Weekend
If you’re visiting for a while, you really should put some effort into not only bringing a nice hostess gift (similar to what you’d bring for a weekend visit) but showing up with a lot of food and drinks to help out over the course of your stay.
Meeting Your Significant Other’s Parents at Their Home
This one is pretty scary, but if you watch the Bachelor or the Bachelorette, you’ll notice that they always show up with something for the parents (the one thing ABC did right) and you should too. If you’re going for dinner, bring a traditional dinner present and clear it with your significant other beforehand to make sure it’s something they’ll like. If you by some stroke of (bad) luck are meeting them by staying overnight for the first time, bring a dessert or snack in addition to a hostess gift. Unique hostess gifts are always good here to show some personality.
Here’s the thing: while writing this article I did a little bit of research online, and found that many of the suggestions out there for hostess gifts are very very bad.
Do not, under any circumstances, bring:
- Flowers: they need to be put in water immediately which causes a huge hassle for the host
- Decorative soaps: they’re typically shaped like roses or something and just never get used. Instead, bring artisan soaps that have a great scent
- A gift card: this might seem like a good idea but just isn’t really appropriate based on what hostess presents are supposed to be
- Anything religious or political (the one exception is if you KNOW your host agrees and will love it)
- A Christmas ornament: unless it’s an inside joke or is particular to your relationship with the host, no one will want to look at ornament holiday hostess gifts that they didn’t choose and aren’t attached to. Definitely not the best holiday hostess gift idea out there
- Anything blatantly decor related: let your hostess decorate her own house. Only bring home-related items if they can fit in almost anywhere
- Anything tech-related: go ahead and give it for their birthday, but anything electronic isn’t an easy hostess gift for a party
- Anything under $10
- Anything over $50
- Anything excessively large
- Never bring anything that will make more work for your host or hostess. Even inexpensive hostess gifts should be super easy and able to be stored until you leave without much fuss.
- Don’t expect your host/hostess to use the gift while you’re there – that’s not the point of it when they already have an event planned.
- Don’t bring anything personal, like perfume
- Don’t bring gag gifts unless you’re sure it will go as you anticipate. In that case you should know the host quite well.
- The formality of your gift should match the formality of the occasion.
- If you know the host/hostess has a specific drink that he/she loves, it never hurts to bring a bottle of that along with another small, thoughtful item.
- Make sure that the wrapping indicates who the gift is from so that it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.
- Be discrete in giving your gift since not everyone will have brought one.
- Don’t expect the hostess to open the gift in front of you. The gift is typically opened later after the guests leave. Occasionally, there will be a chance for the hostess to open the gift in front of you, in which case you can behave as you would during any normal party when giving a gift.
- Don’t expect a thank-you note. You might get one occasionally, but they’re not often sent since the hostess gift is your way of showing thanks for attending the party.
- Don’t expect the wine to be opened while you’re there. If any food or drink you bring isn’t opened, DO NOT take it home. That is one of the worst etiquette faux-pas you can make but it happens surprisingly often. Now you know!
Last thought: when in doubt, anything from Stonewall Kitchen is always amazing. The unique hostess gifts are high quality but actually useful. Happy gift-giving!