By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor
When you’ve been invited to a dinner or party, most of the time, it’s customary to bring a gift for the host or hostess as a way of showing your gratitude for having made the short list of guests to attend out of all the people they know.
There’s definitely an etiquette to picking the perfect hostess gift, and the gifts people most commonly give, sadly, are on the worst list instead of the best list.
Flowers, food and wine, with a few exceptions (that I’ll explain), are all on the worst list.
If all the usual gifts aren’t the ones we should be giving, what is on the best list?
I’ve got you covered! I’ll share examples complete with links to the items.
Plus, there are certain moments and methods for giving the gift that will help the host remember your kind gesture fondly and make sure that other guests who didn’t bring a gift don’t feel awkward.
And once you know the easy etiquette of how to pick and give the perfect hostess gift, you’ll arrive at parties knowing you’re showing up at your best!
The Etiquette of When and How to Give and Receive the Hostess Gift
1. Be discrete. Not everyone at the party will bring a hostess gift, so you’ll want to offer yours to the hostess as soon as you greet her without bringing undo attention to the gift. You could say something like this as she opens the door in the quick private moment you share as she greets you: “Merry Christmas, Charlotte! Thank you so much for inviting us this evening. This is for you!”
2. Say the best thing when you’re given the gift. If you’re the host or hostess, as you take the gift say something along the lines of, “This is so kind of you Brad and Angie! Thank you! I look forward to opening it later. Come in and let me get you something to drink and introduce you to Patrick, my brother. He’s visiting from the Seattle area.” The host actually did several gracious things in those few sentences. You can find out more about it in this post, The 5 Manners of Great Christmas Party Conversations.
3. Don’t unwrap the gift. Unlike most other gifts, hostess gifts are NOT opened in front of the giver, so that people who didn’t know to bring a gift don’t feel awkward. The hostess should set the gift aside in an inconspicuous spot or a different room and open it after the party.
4. Thank the giver, but not with a thank you note. Thank you notes are NOT sent for hostess gifts, since they are thank you gifts. People would be sending thank-yous for thank-yous, and, well, it would all be very confusing and the circle would never stop.
However, people like to know that you know what they gave you. (Did the card fall off and now you have no idea who brought you this fantastic set of embroidered napkins?) For that reason, it’s nice to send an email, text, or call to say thank you. The hostess can do this the day following the party, or later that evening if the party took place during the day.
5. An exception: Don’t you love how there’s always an exception!
Any-who, if there is no one around at the time you are given the gift, or if the opportunity arises and you can ask the guest(s) who gave you the gift to join you for a moment in the other room when no one else will be in eyeshot, you may open their gift in front of them so that you can thank them in person!
When it can be done discreetly, this is a gracious way to handle the situation. It’s usually easy enough at small events; when the party is a large one, I wouldn’t even try, because Murphy’s Law will take over and someone will see you.
If you do open the gift in front of the giver, this post, The 7 Manners of Opening Every Gift, will have you prepared for what to say no matter what’s in the box or bag!
Flowers, Food and Wine As Hostess Gifts
A bouquet of flowers: Flowers, unless they’re delivered the day after the party, are not a good choice for a hostess gift.
Why not flowers?
It’s because if the hostess is given a bouquet, she has to stop what she’s doing and: find a vase, make a fresh cut on the stem of each one, fill the vase with water, arrange them, and find a place to put the flowers so that they’re on display while you’re there.
It takes a lot of valuable time when she’s busy greeting and seeing to the needs of her guests, plus trying, I hope, to enjoy her own party.
Flowers delivered before the party: If flowers are delivered before the party, she’s saved from having to arrange them quickly, but she still has to have them on display so as not to be rude to the giver. Maybe they don’t match her decor, or she just can’t find the right place for them. While that might not bother her at all if she weren’t having guests over, she properly wants everything perfect for the party. And the flowers, although they are a very nice gesture, have put a dent in her decorating.
Flowers delivered after the party: Sending flowers the day after the party is a different story. She can display the flowers wherever she wants, even if that’s in her bedroom or master bath. When in doubt, send a potted orchid! They last longer than cut flowers, are elegant, and go with any decor, especially if you send a white orchid.
Giving wine: Wine can be given as long as you follow one rule. As you hand the hosts the bottle, say something like this: “This wine is a favorite of mine, and I thought you and Stephanie might enjoy it some quiet evening in the coming weeks.” What you want to express is that by no means do you expect them to serve the wine you brought during the party. The reason? The hosts have put thought into every item on the menu; if they think that you’re expecting them to serve your wine, it disrupts their menu.
Giving food: Food can also be given as long as it’s not homemade and not something suitable to serve at the party. Gifting a basket of items for a lovely breakfast or tea is fine. Bringing your delicious scratch-made coconut cake (or even one from a bakery) is going to make the hostess feel like she needs to serve it while you’re there, even if as you hand it to her you say, “This is for your dessert tomorrow night!”
The fact that it’s fresh now is going to put a lot of pressure on her to serve it during the party. She’s going to have to gather serving utensils, eating utensils, and other things she hadn’t planned on, not to mention that if your cake is the hit of the party, it’s going to make the dessert she planned less than stellar.
What you could do is tell her when you arrive at the party that tomorrow you’re going to drop off (fill in the blank) for her and the family to enjoy! That takes away all the pressure and gives her something delicious to look forward to for dessert tomorrow!
What’s The Difference Between a Regular Gift and a Hostess Gift?
The gift you bring to the party is traditionally called a hostess gift even though it can be something that’s appropriate for the host and/or hostess.
The gift you bring as a hostess gift differs from what you might give the same person for, let’s say, a birthday. A birthday present can be a personal item: perfume, a new novel by a favorite author, costume jewelry, a new sleeve of golf balls, or such. A hostess gift by definition is something a host or hostess would use in the course of entertaining. It could be entertaining for just their immediate family (a breakfast gift basket) or for a future party (place cards, coasters, guest hand towels, a serving plate, a candy dish, a tray, or such).
If the party you attend is one in which whole families were invited, then you might want to give a gift the whole family will enjoy and can use during their next party, like a board game or something fun for the pool or game room.
Giving a Christmas tree ornament as a hostess gift for a holiday party is fine as long as you’ve seen their Christmas decorations before and know that yours will match with their tree’s theme and color scheme, or that their theme is eclectic enough that anything will look great, or that the item you give is neutral enough to blend well.
Can You Show Me Some Specific Examples of Great Hostess Gifts?
I’d be happy to assist! I either own or have bought each of the following items as a hostess gift. Anyone you’d give one of these items to would be happy to receive it!
(Please note: Click on the link instead of the photo for more information. Also, the following links are affiliate links. That means that at no extra cost to you, should you purchase anything from the following list, I would be paid a few cents on each dollar.)
This water pitcher and diffuser is wonderful. Add your favorite fruit(s), mint, cucumber, or whatever you wish, and your water has the wonderfully subtly infused flavor of whatever you’ve added.
I knew this book would be a treasure the moment I found it, and it is! Write down your menu, guest list, and other details of your parties. It helps in organizing your best ideas and menu items. Plus, it’s the perfect memory book of all your special occasions. Not only helpful, it’s a beautifully designed book inside and out. It was also one of Oprah’s Favorite Things of 2018!
Everyone likes candy, and this modern, beautiful steel bowl would be perfect as a candy dish. Add a bag of wrapped chocolates so the hostess can fill it right away! Your kindness will be remembered every time she sees it.
Using place cards shows your guests that you’ve prepared a spot just for them! Plus, you can separate guests that might not see eye-to-eye on certain subjects and start a war of words at your table. These reusable place cards look lovely on formal or casual tables, and they’re also great to use on buffet tables to identify what each dish contains. There are so many uses for these that you’ll want more than one set of six! A perfect hostess gift!
To protect furniture, each guest needs a coaster. Most hosts don’t have enough for each guest, and that’s why they make great hostess gifts. Marble is the “in” look now, and these classic marble coasters by Godinger are sure to please for years to come! They’re so pretty, I bet the host keeps them out all year!
I thought nothing in the world could smell better than the candles from the Ritz Carlton Hotel Chain line of candles. Then I bought one of these in a boutique on vacation. They’re wonderfully fragrant! “Front Porch” is my new favorite, and everyone who comes to the house comments on the lovely aroma. These long-lasting candles burn clean for about 60 hours! They’re beautifully made and perfect for year-round use!
No one wants to dry their hands on a towel someone else just used. Place these paper linen towels in the bathroom for guests. They feel great, absorb wonderfully, and look great, too! They’re available in several colors and patterns.
More Items to Help You Choose the Perfect Hostess Gift or Other Gift!
The above items are a sampling of hostess gifts. On the Manners Mentor site, I’ve curated a selection of items for you and your home and perfect gifts for many of the special people in your life! You can check out the product categories that interest you and see what I’ve chosen by clicking on any of the following links:
Until next time, give the world what only you can give, the gift of you at your authentic best!