So you’re invited to a dinner party and are stressing out about a gift for your host or hostess. Maybe you just don’t know what to take or maybe you’re strapped for cash and can’t think of a suitable gift that won’t bust your budget.
Relax. There are plenty of great gifts that will make a favorable impression. But before we talk ideas, let’s review gift etiquette. After all, if you’re going to give a great gift, you should do it in style.
Host or Hostess Gift Etiquette
Given the wrong way, a gift can cause more stress than pleasure, and as the gift giver, that’s something you want to avoid at all costs. Here’s how to make sure your gift is well-received:
1. Give It for the Future
Don’t show up with a food or alcohol gift and expect it to be made available immediately. For instance, your host or hostess may be serving a light meal that the heavy red wine you brought is simply not a match for. Though wine/food pairings may not matter to you, they could matter very much to the other guests.
Likewise, if a Greek food menu is planned, and you arrive with an apple strudel, it could ruin an otherwise well thought-out meal. Rather than make your food or alcohol gift a source of stress, present it so that your host or hostess knows it’s meant for later.
2. Don’t Wreck the Decor or Add Work
On the surface, bringing flowers sounds like a great idea. But the reality is it could mean stress in two ways:
- If they are cut flowers, your host or hostess will need to take time away from greeting people at the door or making introductions to hunt down a vase to arrange the flowers in.
- Your host or hostess may be particular about the decor and if you don’t know the color scheme or theme in advance, you could bring something that clashes. If you want to give flowers, think about sending a gift certificate to a florist a couple of days in advance. It can then be used to select theme or color appropriate flowers for the party.
3. Don’t Insist Your Gift Be Opened Immediately
If you’re taking a wrapped gift, don’t insist that it be opened right there in front of the other guests. This might embarrass the guests who didn’t bring a gift. Instead, discretely hand over the gift and let your host or hostess open it at their own discretion.
4. Select the Gift with Your Host or Hostess in Mind
Don’t assume that your host or hostess loves the same things you do – unless you already know this. For example, the gourmet cupcake tins you present as a gift may become next year’s garage sale fodder if your love of baking isn’t mutual.
Make it a point to learn what you can about the recipient before you select their gift. If you’re already good friends, this is easy. But if you’re attending a party with people you don’t know well, check out some of the more generic gifts below. Remember, a host or hostess gift should delight the recipient – not the gift giver.
Unique & Creative Host or Hostess Gift Ideas
I’ve compiled a total of 14 gifts below – all reasonably priced, many personalized, and some even “free.” But the variety is endless and all it takes to gift something great is some consideration for the hobbies, personality, and preferences of your host or hostess beforehand.
1. Home Bar Enthusiast or Mixologist
If your host or hostess has a bar or is in the habit of serving cocktails, think about a gift in that area. You can put together a collection of bar tools, such as cocktail strainers and shakers, corkscrews, citrus pressers, or wine bottle stoppers. Then, pair them with an ice bucket or some unique cocktail napkins.
In addition, there are many interesting coffee table books on the art of making cocktails. Just as foodies have come into the spotlight lately, so have cocktail mixologists and wine enthusiasts. In other words, if your host or hostess falls into this category, you have lots of great gifts to choose from.
2. Grill Enthusiast
Some people spend most of their cooking time outdoors. If this describes your host or hostess, you will have a wide selection from which to choose. Such a person might appreciate a stainless steel grill set, a simple grill brush, or a digital thermometer (one of the best thermometers out there is the Thermapen).
But if you want to get more creative, check out the “Danger Men Cooking” sign; there’s even an apron for it. If your grill expert is a woman, think about putting together a basket filled with grilling accessories and tools, including various rub flavors, such as Asian Rub, Western Red Cedar grilling papers, Maple Chipotle Grille Sauce, and Limon Pepper Rub.
3. Personalized Gift
One thing almost any host or hostess will appreciate is a personalized item. Imprint their name and the year on a personalized coaster or give them a wine cork trivet kit. Another idea is a mug with a picture of the two of you or perhaps the host’s family.
Personalized photos are a great way to show appreciation for your host’s or hostess’s hard work. For a nostalgic twist, dig up an old photo of the two of you and frame it in something that matches their home decor. Ideally, it might be a photo of a special occasion or one that elicits warm memories. You can be sure that no one else will give them the same gift!
4. Do It Yourself Brew
If your host or hostess is the DIY type, why not open their eyes to the thrill of brewing their own beer or wine? With starter kits priced as low as $15, this great gift may even be the inspiration for another get-together.
If you want more than a basic kit, you can find an assortment of home brewing kits and supplies (e.g. Coopers Brewery DIY Beer Kit). Add some recycled beer glasses to the mix and you’ll have a complete host or hostess gift that’s sure to be appreciated.
Decorative little charms made of glass crystals are a creative way to tastefully “label” each guest’s wine glass so they don’t get mixed up. Since each one in a set is unique, they can also be a conversation starter as guests talk about which charm they got.
The charms come in many different styles and colors, from hobby themes, such as gardening, fashion, and boating, to simpler designs that depict dainty flowers or sports items. They won’t bust your budget either; you’ll pay about $10 for a set of 6 (e.g. Prodyne W-6-M Pewter Stemware Charms).
6. Party Photos
You can also use photos as a way to document the dinner party. Simply snap a few during the event (with your host or hostess in them, of course) and then present them in an attractive frame afterwards. This will be a nice, unexpected surprise. Just do your best to screen out any shots that don’t catch your host or hostess at their best.
Another fun, retro gift is an instant Polaroid camera (e.g. Polaroid PIC-300L Instant Analog Camera). What host or hostess wouldn’t want to take instant photos of the party and have them available immediately? It takes mini-photos that are 2″ x 3″ and designed to fit in any pocket.
7. Gift Cards
Sometimes the most thoughtful gifts are those that help prepare for the party. In addition to the florist’s gift certificate mentioned above, a gift certificate to the local grocer may allow your host or hostess to splurge or to simply make their party prep a little less expensive. One for the local bakery shop, party store, or butcher could come in handy and also take some of the burden off. Plus, since you can buy gift cards in any monetary amount, staying within your budget is no problem.
8. Pampering and Relaxing Gifts
A lot of work goes into preparing for a party as well as cleaning up after it. That’s why a gift of pampering can be ideal. Visit your local manicurist and prepay for a manicure or pedicure appointment for your hostess. She’ll be thrilled when you give her the gift certificate at the party! Or purchase a gift certificate for a cleaning service so your host or hostess can relax as someone else cleans up the mess after the guests have gone home.
9. Something Different
Sometimes you just want to give something a little different. For instance, if your host or hostess is a gourmet cook, give a set of foodie flashcards. Also check out recycled glass bottle platters or robin’s eggs soaps. Have a hostess who is a bit girly? Check out the pie server that’s shaped like a high heel shoe or unique hard cased wine purses that come in silk, animal skins, quilts, and other fascinating fabric.
Or if your host or hostess is a big TV fan, find hilarious cartoons of popular television characters that can be put on cups, tote bags, t-shirts, mouse pads, aprons, or magnets. Find out the show that your host or hostess loves, whether it’s Oprah, MSNBC, Shawn Hannity, or David Letterman, and then select which cartoon you like and have it custom printed on the gift of your choice. These gifts start at about $5, so a tight budget is no problem.
Affordable Homemade Gift Ideas
Let’s further explore some gifts that won’t bust your budget. Remember, when deciding what gift to give, cost shouldn’t be your number one consideration. The amount of time or effort you put into a gift is often worth more than how much you spend. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
1. Gourmet Sugars
Everyone uses sugar, but not everyone can claim to have Lavender Sugar or Rose Petal Sugar in their home. But don’t you think everyone would love to? It’s so easy to make and can be placed in pretty little glass jars with delicately created labels for a custom touch.
- 2 tbsp dried culinary lavender
- 1 cup sugar
- Grind the lavender finely (I use my coffee bean grinder) and mix with the sugar.
- If you want to dye the sugar a soft lavender, slowly add food coloring until you get the right color, then dry it on a cookie sheet or in the oven at the lowest setting.
- Place the lavender sugar in a jar and tie a pretty ribbon around it.
- Make a label and stick it on the front of the jar.
Rose Petal Sugar
- 7-8 cups of rose petals, picked from the garden (Don’t use petals that have been sprayed with insecticide. If you don’t grow roses, some high-end grocers sell edible flowers.)
- 3 cups of sugar
- Preheat the oven to 140 degrees. You’ll need to dry out the rose petals.
- First, wash them and pat dry with a paper towel. Then, place them on a cookie sheet and into the oven.
- Once in, turn the oven off and leave the petals there for 2 hours.
- Place the dehydrated rose petals and the sugar in a food processor and pulse until blended.
- Finally, put the sugar in a pretty jar and attach a ribbon and customized label.
2. Quick Bread
Even if you’re not a baker, you can probably make a quick bread with little effort because they don’t use yeast to rise. Sweet breads, such as cranberry orange or pumpkin spice, and savory breads, such as zucchini bread or feta with olives, are two options. You’ll find hundreds of recipes online.
Once you’re done baking, complete your gift with a special wrap. Buy loaf boxes at a bakers warehouse and then wrap bread in colorful cellophane before placing it in the box. Tie with twine or colorful fabric and attach a copy of the recipe to the box. Bread makes a thoughtful gift and your host or hostess will know you put time into preparing it.
If your host or hostess is a foodie, a gift of tastefully decorated herbs may be supremely appreciated. There are many ways to gift herbs and you can either use plants from your own garden or buy them from your local nursery.
- Place basil, oregano, and marjoram plants all in like pots.
- Then, wrap the base of the pots in an Italian-themed fabric.
- Group them together by placing in a pretty container and tie with twine. You might even include a few Italian recipes with the gift.
If you have a little more time to prepare, grow a rosemary topiary. This is something your host or hostess would pay a pretty penny for at a store.
- Buy a small rosemary plant (or grow it from seed) and replant in a pretty pot.
- Then, trim off all the bottom branches until you are left with a ball or bush at the top.
- Place a sturdy stick in the pot and tie the plant to it.
- Put it in full sun (6-8 hours) and rotate so it doesn’t grow to one side.
- Continue to grow the plant and trim all branches into the shape you want to create.
- When it’s ready, wrap the base in pretty fabric and matching ribbon, and delight your host or hostess with a gift that will last forever.
4. Homemade Pasta
Who says you need a pasta machine to make great pasta? Not only is it possible to do by hand, but you can create rustic, cottage-style pasta that will make a tasty gift. The key to this gift is the packaging. Make sure it looks delicious by packaging it in a cellophane bag and creating a custom label for it. You can name the pasta after your host or hostess, or whatever else would be appropriate and appreciated.
Homemade pasta is easy to make and doesn’t take much time. Here’s a simple recipe:
- 1 egg
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- Water, as needed
- Mix the flour and salt in a bowl, then make a well in the center. Beat the egg in another bowl and mix together with the flour mixture. The dough should be stiff – if not, add 1-2 tablespoons of water a little at a time until it is.
- Lightly flour a surface, then knead the dough for about 4 minutes. Roll out the dough to about 1/8″ thickness and cut into strips of equal length with a sharp knife.
- Hang over a pasta rack and allow the pasta to dry. If you don’t have a pasta drying rack, you can use a sterilized clothes drying rack, or even wooden dowels supported by boxes on both ends. Once dry, place in your cellophane bag and add your custom label for a one-of-a-kind gift.
5. Custom Tea Bags
Most everyone loves hot tea and your host or hostess will likely enjoy a cup after all the guests have left. Make it more enjoyable by creating a custom blend of loose teas in homemade tea bags. They’re very easy to make.
- Start by creating a custom blend of tea personalized to your host or hostess. For example, combine soothing teas, such as chamomile, ginger, fennel, or mint. You can buy the loose tea in a tea shop or pluck it out of your own home garden. Create a special blend and taste test by combining different variations until you find the perfect blend.
- Next, purchase muslin or cheesecloth and cut into 6″ squares. Put a teaspoon of tea on the area of the square closest to you. Then, roll it up, keeping the tea as close to the center as possible. Once you have the roll, bring the two ends together and tie with embroidery thread.
- Find the perfect wooden box or tin to put your tea bags in and don’t forget to label it. Be sure to include the recipe as well. To make this gift extra special, pair it with a teacup and saucer or a teapot that matches the personality of your host or hostess.
Why show up to a dinner party with the ordinary bottle of wine or flowers when you can easily create a custom gourmet gift that will make your host or hostess feel special? Still, some people love tradition, so don’t forgo the wine and flowers if you know that either of these would be the perfect gift for your particular host or hostess.
Have you ever presented a host or hostess gift that was a huge success? What was it?
(photo credit: Shutterstock)