Polite society, and possibly your mother, says a thoughtful party guest never arrives empty-handed. But that doesn't mean bringing a bottle of wine. Again.
The point of a host or hostess gift is showing appreciation, and when it comes to saying thank you, fermented grapes aren't the only game in town.
Lisa Gaché, author of "Beverly Hills Manners" and founder of the etiquette firm by the same name, suggests something seasonal or associated with the time of the party as a good place to start.
"Think of an item the host might use for a future, similar event," Gaché said, "so if it is a dinner party it might be a set of cheese plates or cheese knives."
Just don't expect the gift to be used, or served, that evening.
"Never bring something that requires the host to remove themselves from the party and have to deal with it immediately," Gaché said. Cut flowers without a vase are a "don't."
"Personally, I suggest a little potted plant," she said, "and it doesn't have to be expensive."
"There isn't a guideline like, 'You should spend as much as the cost of the meal you are being served,'" Senning said. "That would be a truly horrible way to approach it … it's not quid pro quo."
Gaché added: "If I had to put a dollar amount on it I would say not to go above $50. … It's a token of appreciation, not someone's birthday."
"I think it's always nice to offer to contribute something to the meal," said Gaché, and that could be perceived as your hostess gift. "If you're cooking a dish, I don't think you have to feel like you should also purchase something."
A basket of lemons from your tree or something handmade would be equally welcome.
"Get creative," Gaché said, "and, honestly, people will appreciate that more than if you sent your assistant to pick up a gift."
Not the crafty type? Consider treating friends to something special. Think: luxury food items, a jar of artisan pickles, local honey or jam from the farmers market.
"Special soaps are nice, candles … things someone might cycle through that can always be put to use," Senning said. "You're not making a decorating decision for someone, you're just giving them a little something they might use."
For last-minute get-togethers and blowout bashes, hostess gifts are not expected and may even be discouraged. "If it's a very, very large party," Gaché said, "a pile of hostess gifts could take up the entire foyer."
On the flip side, after receiving a thoughtful gift is the hostess required to write a thank-you note for the thanks for having us over gift?
"No," Senning said. "It has to stop somewhere."
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