The DOs and DON'Ts of Great Hostess Gifts

Whether you’re attending an evening soiree or crashing in someone’s pad for a week, you’re likely to find yourself in a position of needing a gift for someone you don’t know that well this holiday season. Giving a good “thanks for hosting” gift isn’t necessarily about spending a huge wad of cash or about DIY-ing until you drop, but by being thoughtful in your gift selection process. A little host gift etiquette can go a long way. (See also: How to Be a Host With the Most)

DO: Learn About Your Host

When choosing an appropriate host gift, you’ll need to know a little bit about your recipient. If you already know your host well, you’re ahead of the game, but what about parties or get-togethers where the host is a complete stranger? Then it’s time to do a little Host Recon, my friend. Ask around. Find people who know your host or hostess, and ask what kinds of small gifts might fit into their lifestyle. Are your hosts voracious readers? Get a gift certificate to a local book store.

DO: Make Sure the Gift Fits the Occasion/Setting

The scale of your gift should be proportional to the amount of effort that your host has expended on you (or saved you from). Just like there’s no need to bring an ornate flower arrangement and French champagne to an NFL party, you don’t want to skimp on a gift if someone has hosted a fancy party or allowed you to stay as a houseguest.

A petite potted rose is a nice gift for a hostess who has spent hours making a prime rib dinner for an at-home party. A potted plant would be cumbersome, however, if the party was being held at a fancy hotel or restaurant. In that case, send or deliver the gift to the host or hostess's home the day after the party. Crashing with someone for a week? You’ll want to up the ante — think fancy soaps and an artisan crafted soap dish, or a gift certificate to a fancy restaurant. Consider what you would have spent on a hotel, and plunk down at least ¼ of that on your gift.

DO: Consider an Experience-Based Gift

Most of us have spent the recent economic downturn learning how to make do with less stuff, which means that giving items is less fashionable now than giving someone an experience. This can be as simple as a gift certificate to your hosts’ favorite restaurant or as decadent as two tickets to the opera or whale watching. Just be sure to give gift certificates that offer flexible scheduling, so as not to inconvenience the recipient.

DO: ALWAYS Follow Up With a Thank You Note

Even if you knocked it out of the park with your gift, you should follow up within a week of the event (or your stay) with a quick note showing gratitude for your hosts’ effort. It’s not only polite, but it’s also a good networking method, because it makes you more memorable than the other schlubs who came to the party (but who never wrote a thank you note).

DON'T: Assume Booze Is a Safe Bet

A nice bottle of wine is often enough to make your gratitude known to your hosts, but this obviously doesn’t hold true for hosts who have religious objections to alcohol or a history of substance abuse (which you would hopefully learn about during your Host Recon).

DON'T: Feel Obliged to DIY

Giving a gift to someone you know well, and want to make your prezzie stand out a bit? If you are not naturally inclined to making things, then there’s no shame in a little store-bought something. That said...

DON'T: Be Afraid to DIY

If you already have a cocktail mix, salt rub, cake-in-a-jar, cookie platter, or handmade candle recipe down pat, then by all means, give your host a handmade gift. It’s a sweet gesture, and most hosts will be flattered. Check out Myscha’s article on holiday-themed foodie gifting goodness inspiration.

DON'T: Be Offended by Potential Regifting

Giving a regiftable present is actually a good thing, because it saves your host the trouble of finding an appropriate gift the next time he or she is heading off to a cocktail party. This isn’t to say that you should aim to give such hideous gifts that your host can’t help but part with it immediately, but if your host is more of an acquaintance than a friend, avoid overly personalized presents.

I sometimes include a little note with a hostess gift that says something like, “Feel free to regift; my feelings won’t be hurt!” It takes the pressure of the host to find another place to store yet another knickknack or doodad, and might make their holiday party attendance a little easier. Similarly, if you receive a gift that was obviously regifted, be gracious. If you hate it, you can always donate it to charity or pass it along to someone else.

Are you an expert gift-giver? What tips do you have for ensuring that your holiday hosts feel appreciated?

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Guest's picture

Definitely learn about your hostess (or host). There are many reasons (other than religious objections and substance abuse) not to give alcoholic beverages. Some people are very picky about what they like. Some people just don't like the taste of alcohol (like me!). Same goes with coffee related gifts (gift cards to coffee shops included) and similar things.
I was also recently taught not to give cut flowers without a vase to a hostess. This places a burden on the hostess, as she has to stop what she's doing (greeting guests, last minute prep, etc) and deal with the flowers. And that makes sense. Flowers already in a presentation ready vase are okay.
When my sister's kids were younger and I stayed with them on work trips, I always volunteered to watch the kids at least one evening (or weekend afternoon when I was working odd schedules) so that my sister and her husband could go out without the kids. Everyone won in that situation, as my sister got free babysitting and my nephews and I got to spend some time on our own (I may or may not have fed them sugared cereal for dinner and led Nerf wars around the house.). This, obviously, assumes that you're close enough with the parents and comfortable enough with the kids to do this.

Andrea Karim's picture

Great advice, thanks! I figure that a bottle of booze, unless offensive for philosophical reasons, can always be re-gifted. Is it obvious how much I like re-gifting? :)

Guest's picture

Yes, thoughtful tips. However, regarding the coffee shop gift cards, I am also not a huge coffee lover, but I find that I can usually find an enjoyable non-coffee beverage on the menu at a coffee shop. And, as the writer says, these could also be regifted. Unless you know your hostess dislikes coffee, I would say it's a safe bet.