As plans for cocktail parties and holiday dinners begin to take shape, it’s not too early to give some thought to gifts for your host or hostess. If your mother taught you that you should never show up at someone’s home empty handed, she was correct. A hostess gift is a thoughtful way to thank the party-giver for all of their efforts and for including you in the holiday fun.
Here’s a look at the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to hostess gifts to take to your next holiday event:
The best gifts are items that the host can easily accept from you shortly after your arrival, set aside and enjoy later so they can get back to their hosting duties. The more time and thought you put into the gesture, the more meaningful the gift. Don’t forget the presentation; wrapping paper, clear cellophane and a ribbon will add a special touch.
Here are a few winning ideas:
- A bottle of wine or favorite after dinner liqueur. To succeed with this classic hostess gift, first find out your host’s favorite drink. Perhaps, something that the host and hostess can sip after guests are gone. Or, one they may pour over their holiday pound cake at their next event. Avoid gifting a chilled bottle of wine, as this implies you are asking the host to open and pour you a glass.
- A good quality wine bottle opener or clever wine glass charms are thoughtful additions. Add a set of monogrammed napkins and surely there will be some part of this gift that your hostess will love. Paper or linen – your choice.
- A book on your host’s favorite subject. If you don’t know your host well, a coffee table book on a topic of broad interest – for example, the story behind their historic neighborhood or something that directly applies to them.
- Fresh produce from your garden. If you have a green thumb, bringing something homegrown from your garden in a basket with a beautiful tea towel will be appreciated.
- A bag of gourmet coffee beans or specialty tea. Add some home baked goods, or a dozen cookies from your local bakery and write a note, “To enjoy tomorrow morning for breakfast.”
Unfortunately, a hostess gift can easily take a wrong turn. The usual culprits: a lack of thought, limited knowledge of your host or hostess, and zero advance planning.
- Anything that remotely resembles a “re-gift.” While a re-gift is not always a bad choice, it has to be something you feel strongly the host will enjoy. It shouldn’t look as if you grabbed it from your re-gift closet on the way out the door.
- A dessert that you expect to be eaten at the meal. Don’t bring your host a confection that you intend for them to serve at the cocktail party or holiday meal. The menu has already been carefully planned and executed, and an additional food item may not be welcome or appreciated.
- Flowers without a vase. This breaks the first rule of “Hostess Gift 101,” never send or give something that forces the host to stop what they are doing to attend to your gift. Nice thought, but re-think the flowers, unless you send them ahead of time by delivery.
- Body lotion. This gift is too personal; unless you know the host very well, chances are good that your favorite scent may not be theirs.
- A houseplant. While a gardening buff may be thrilled, others may have no interest in caring for a houseplant. The same goes for orchids; you either love them or will cringe at the thought of having to care for a plant that will soon be gone without a green thumb.
- Thoughtless food items. Gourmet spiced nuts could be delightful… unless the recipient has a severe nut allergy. Chocolates are sweet, but may not be appropriate for a family with a diabetic child. Do a little homework before purchasing decadent goodies.
- Religious items. Unless you are positive that the gift will be warmly received, choose option B. It’s difficult to know a person’s religious views and the last thing you want to do is insult your host after you have been invited to such a lovely affair.
Sometimes a gift just sends the wrong message, and there’s no putting a positive spin on it. For example:
- A bottle of ketchup for the table. Yes, it has been given as a host gift in the past! Last year a friend gave a bottle of gourmet ketchup to place on the holiday dinner table as their gift to the host to “go with the prime rib”. While there may have been some thought that went into this ill-fated gesture, expecting the host to plunk a big bottle of ketchup in the middle of their perfectly set holiday table is a definite “no”.
- Overwhelming scented candles. There are some scents that have a fairly wide appeal, such as fresh pine, peppermint or a fresh cranberry. Unfortunately, I happen to love the fire scent, but many people have a terribly allergic reaction to the smell. Without having prior knowledge, avoid anything that may bring on an allergic reaction. This could include overly smoky, excessively flowery or too overpowering. And definitely bypass the air freshener aisle at the grocery-store with scented candles because those are specifically designed to mask unpleasant odors.
- A workout DVD. Unless your host is a workout fanatic or specifically requested this item, leave it behind. There are far too many insinuations that come with an exercise DVD and the same goes for any book about diet plans. You don’t want your host to get the impression you think they should shed a few pounds.
Admittedly, some of the bad may be your favorites (like the hot dog rotator I received last year that I happen to love), and some of the good may be your ugly. This list is a loose guideline, based on feedback from readers, viewers and clients. For more helpful tips, refer to my Holiday Hostess Gifts board on my Pinterest page, and please don’t shoot the messenger!