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Party On: Six Host Gifts for Any Occasion

When I host a party, I never expect my guests to bring anything other than themselves in good spirits. However, I’m lucky enough to have generous friends who usually call to ask if I need anything or bring over an unexpected treat, and I respond in kind when it’s their turn to host later. It used to be that such signs of appreciation were par for the course, but proper etiquette has become a bit lax these days. 

Because there’s less of an emphasis on politeness, especially with close friends, it’s hard to know what, if anything, guests should bring. Regardless of the occasion, bringing a gift for the host as thanks for a fun evening is always a nice gesture. As for what that gift should be, that depends on the host and the occasion, but there are possibilities with universal appeal. With host-gift ideas like these, being known as the perfect guest is a piece of cake. 

Pick up the Phone
“Is there anything I can bring to the party?” can be music to the ears of a frazzled host. Even if he or she doesn’t request anything, simply asking is a gift in and of itself. But all too often, there are small things even the most seasoned of hosts forgets, such as extra ice or beverages to keep on-hand just in case. More than one party of mine has been saved by a friend making a quick stop at the grocery store beforehand. The host may not need your help, but he or she will be grateful for the offer nonetheless. 

Give Treats for Eating and Imbibing
If you’re attending a potluck, an extra gift isn’t necessary; whatever food you’re bringing is contribution enough. But if it’s a dinner party and the host hasn’t asked for a particular dish (or has requested people not to bring dishes), don’t show up with appetizers or dessert as a surprise. While this might be done with the best of intentions, it’s actually considered rude because it interferes with a host’s planned menu. On the other hand, bringing something for the host to nibble on later—chocolates, cookies, or fancy nuts are surefire pleasers—is perfectly acceptable. Homemade foods gifts that can be enjoyed down the line, such as homemade baked goods or jarred preserves, are especially meaningful. 

A nice bottle of wine is the go-to host gift for many people, but for those who don’t know much about wine or aren’t sure of the host’s preferences, there are many other beverage options. For example, champagne is a safe bet, liquor-wise. In the non-alcohol realm, hot chocolate or an assortment of teas is a great idea. 

Provide the Next Day’s Entertainment
After prepping for the party and cleaning up the mess in its wake, the last thing a host wants or needs to worry about is the next day’s meal. Why not cover that for them by throwing a few breakfast items together in a basket? You can bake a coffeecake or a frittata and include a bag of freshly ground coffee beans and voilà—breakfast is ready and waiting! If cooking’s not your thing, make it easy and stop by a bakery. 

Along those lines, offer to take the host out to dinner or treat him or her to a movie as a show of gratitude for providing the night’s entertainment. If the party is more formal, gift certificates work as well. Making sure hosts have stress-free tomorrows is a unique, fun way to thank them for all the hard work they put into giving guests a great night. 

Get Green with Potted Plants or Flowers in Vases
Showing up with a beautiful plant or bouquet of flowers will put a smile on any host’s face … that is, until he or she has to interrupt the party to scramble for a vase or pot. When people complain about receiving flowers, this is usually the reason. Otherwise, they make great, festive gifts and, barring any unknown allergies, are liked by most people. If you bring flowers or plants, make sure they’re in a vase or container and already watered. This gift is optimal for a host you don’t know that much about. Potted herb plants are a nice spin on this gift tradition, especially if the host is a gourmand. But even if not, a small basil or rosemary plant gives off a pleasant odor beyond its culinary functions. 

Bring Hosting Helpers
People who throw parties or have guests over frequently would probably love items specifically for soirees, such as extra guest towels, elegant serving utensils and bowls, and so forth. When it comes to design, try to keep it classic and minimal, unless you’re familiar with the host’s decorating style. A collection of spice rubs, gourmet salts, or high-quality oils and vinegars are usually well-received, too. They can be broken out at parties or used by the hosts for everyday cooking. If the host likes to end parties with board game sessions, he or she will love a gift of group games like Taboo or Cranium. 

Try to steer clear of kitchen knick-knacks like salt and pepper shakers, napkin holders, and other similar items. Unless you know that the host is in need of these things, chances are they will create needless clutter around the house. They’re cute in theory, but might not be of much actual use, which is important when it comes to host gifts. 

Take Precaution with Pampering Gifts
Candles and lotions are often named as appropriate choices, but scents are very personal; a Cinnamon Apple Pie candle or lavender aromatherapy lotion might smell wonderful to you, but end up buried in a host’s closet. If you don’t know his or her favorite scents, pamper your host with entertainment-themed presents or something he or she could pass around at another gathering, like chocolates or beverages. 

Ultimately, bringing a gift to a party isn’t a requirement, but it is friendly and courteous. Don’t get bogged down in the acceptability of certain gifts—in this case, it really is the thought that counts. This is just a guide to some of the more common and universal options out there, but use your best judgment and go with what you know about the party and its host. Remember, showing your appreciation doesn’t even have to mean spending money on a gift. Just saying thank you and offering to pitch in with set-up or cleaning could mean a great deal more to him or her than flowers or food.

Related story: When Should Celebs Stop Partying?
 
Updated December 9, 2010

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