I’ve had a few messages asking about whether or not to give a hostess gift and, if so, what to give. The answer is my least favorite to hear: It depends. Ugh. I know. I’m too type-A for gray areas, but alas, that’s the answer. Allow me to explain!
For a dinner party, flowers are truly ideal. We’ve gotten to giving wine or chocolates, which is perfectly fine for friends, but there’s the dilemma of: do they drink? If so, is this a wine they will like? Do they feel obligated to serve it at this dinner? In my personal opinion, the last question is the biggest. They’ve prepared a meal to which you’ve been invited, and now the hostess feels obligated to serve the wine you brought, regardless of whether or not it “goes” with the meal. So, solution: gift wrap. Easy enough. If the wine (one you know they will like) is given wrapped, the hostess will not feel pressured into serving it that evening. While, theoretically, they shouldn’t feel pressured into serving it, in the back of their mind, they’ll wonder if you also know the proper etiquette. SO! Until Etiquette By Emily can reach everyone, assumptions will be made that not everyone understands social protocol.
If you are the guest of honor for said party, sending flowers ahead is preferred.
Some other options can be themed according to the party: cocktail napkins (cocktail party or housewarming party), gourmet foods, wrapped homemade goods (meant to be consumed at another time).
When should you bring a hostess gift? Preferably, if you are having dinner at someone’s home for the first time, it is quite appreciated. Additionally, if there’s a particular reason they are hosting, it is considered polite (Christmas party). If the dinner or cocktail party is small, but not all are close friends, it’s a good idea.
This is an area Emily Post really doesn’t go over much. I’ve called on other EE’s (etiquette experts). Please let me know your thoughts! Do you appreciate receiving a hostess gift?