The Complete Guide to Hostess Gifts for Every Occasion

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The holiday season is here, and that means plenty of parties, gatherings and festive dinners.

But with all the fun comes the stress of making sure you bring an appropriate hostess gift – should it be simple or splendid? Trinket or trifle? Small and thoughtful or fantastically fancy?

Striking the balance on bringing just the right gift can feel like a bit of a minefield.  Fear not! We’ve got the complete guide to hostess gifts for every occasion:

Cocktail Party Guest

Do: 

Bring something they can use at a future party. Hosts are always looking for more reasons to invite people over, so give them one! Tasting games, drink charms, or a themed cocktail book are all great additions to their party repertoire.

Bring something they can use at this party (only if you know they will appreciate it. Some hosts plan every detail and don’t want unexpected additions).

Give something funny if it’s your personality to do so, but don’t be offensive. Save that for the Secret Santa exchange!

Don’t:

Bring something that requires a lot of attention. Anything that requires being put together, or requires a detailed description is off limits here. People hosting cocktail parties tend to be buzzing around and “buzzing” so they won’t have the time or attention span to go too deep with you.

Dinner Guest

Do:

Give them something that will be useful for the meal or that can help them prepare future meals. If you have a favorite kitchen gadget, now is the perfect time to get one for your host! A fun set of cloth or cocktail napkins, napkin rings, or place card holders will be appreciated and used at a later date.

Give them something fun to keep people busy while waiting for the meal to be served, like a box of Table Topics, or a book of parlor games. But only use them at this party if the host gives you the go-ahead. Otherwise, you’ll have to be invited back to see them in action when they’ve been planned into the evening.

Ask the host if they need anything for the evening that you can bring.  There is almost always at least one thing that will make you a hero. Too often, people just show up with wine when what the host really needed as another wine opener, or a cheese knife. It may not be glamorous, but they will never forget how you helped save the day.

Don’t:

Bring flowers. Flowers at worst need a vase and at best need to be worked in to the party décor somewhere while the host is busy tending to her guests and the kitchen.

Bring something that must be consumed that evening.  Meals require careful planning on the part of your host. Showing up with a snack that will ruin everyone’s appetite will not get you invited back again.

Give scented candles and expect them to be used at the dinner table. It’s surprising how often a table is scented by candles that clash with the scents of the food.

Overnight Guest

Do:

Bring something from your home town that they may not be able to get in theirs. I like the idea of bringing local delicacies to share whether it’s local beer or baked goods.  Anything unique to your region is a great conversation starter.

Give something that they can put in their guest room for future guests to enjoy like a carafe and glass set for the bedside table from Crate & Barrel or a fun book to flip through before hitting the hay.

Send a framed photo from your trip to visit them along with a thoughtfully inscribed Thank You card.

Don’t:

Overstep your bounds by getting something too personal like slippers for everyone.

Stay away from scented candles here too, unless you know their tastes very well. If they have a favorite scent and brand that you are aware of, that could be a nice gesture. Otherwise, steer clear.

Weekend Guest (Similar to Weekend Guest But Slightly More Elaborate)

Do:

Bring a collection of things that you can use together while you’re there like midnight snacks, a game, and a movie to watch.

Bring something that they can use after you’ve left like a throw blanket for the guest room or a hammock for the back yard.

Send a plant or tree that they can remember you by. Fruit bearing trees are a fun “gift that keeps on giving”. Be sure to know if your hosts have a green thumb among them before giving this gift. That’s why this is best sent after you have visited.

After you’ve spent the weekend getting to know them, tap into a shared interest that you discussed during your trip. If they love tea, get them a collection from your favorite tea shop. If they love cooking, get them a cool gadget.

Don’t:

Give anything that has to have a size like slippers or clothing.

Give anything that reflects the place you are visiting. They already know about their lighthouses, history, and local flora and fauna.

Do anything elaborate. You hosts most likely have their own idea of what they want to share with you so keep your gift simple and unobtrusive.

First Holiday with “The Parents”

Do:

Your research! Although you have probably discussed his/her parents and heard quite a bit about them, you should ask some questions to make sure that you are giving the right gift when you visit them for the first time. Ask what their house is like, how they like to celebrate this occasion, do they have any traditions that you could get in on like sharing cookie cutters or silly sweaters.

Bring something that shows you would like to come back again but don’t be too practical. For example: give a set of ornaments that you hope to see on the tree each year.

I like to arrange for a centerpiece, arrangement, or plant to be delivered that can help set the tone for the holiday. It’s easy to set up and it means that your presence will be felt even after you’ve gone.

Don’t:

Try to be too out of the box. They may not be hip to you and your significant other’s tastes and interests so don’t assume that they are.

Give anything political. The parents don’t always have the same views as you so steer your conversations and your gifts clear of controversy on your first visit.

This isn’t the time to go for a gag gift that they might not “get” either. It’s ok to want them to laugh, but don’t scare them with something gross, mean, X rated, or terrifying. If you have to ask, the answer is “no”.

What are some of the best and worst hostess gifts that you’ve received?

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