12 Most-est Hostess Gifts
Forget the maxim about never showing up to a dinner party empty-handed. Here’s a more important rule to remember: Never show up to a dinner party with a stupid gift in your hand.
Many hostesses really don’t care whether you bring a gift. Even if they do, they’ll forgive you for this minor lapse in manners. But what they won’t forgive — because they can’t forget — is the tacky gift you brought. It’s still sitting in a closet somewhere with your name and a bad memory attached to it.
Because I’m a lousy dinner guest (more on that later), I always bring great hostess gifts. And because I host a lot of parties (I’m much better at this), I’ve received quite a few as well.
Here, then, are 12 ideas for hostess gifts — both expensive and cheap — that I love to give and receive:
1. Bathroom hand towels
Guest towels are a standing sitcom joke. Family members are never allowed to touch them, and timid guests dry their hands on the backs of the towels so no one knows they’ve used them. Still, they get dirty. And delicate hand towels don’t stand up to repeated washings.
Replace them with a new set. I like these hand towels from Anthropologie because they’re pretty without being fussy. And the pale gray ones won’t clash with your hostess’s color scheme.
2. Next morning breakfast basket
I wouldn’t host parties if I didn’t enjoy cooking and baking. But I’m never in the mood to make breakfast the next day. Guests who bring me a loaf of banana bread or a gift certificate for brunch make me very happy. When I’m doing the giving, I like to make up gift baskets and fill them with homemade pastries and jams.
If you don’t have the time or interest to bake, order some non-perishable goodies from a gourmet shop like Dean & Deluca. I fell in love with Dean & Deluca when I lived in New York and have yet to meet any hostess who didn’t appreciate a selection of their syrups, preserves, coffees, teas and colored sanding sugar — a festive substitute for ordinary granulated sugar.
3. Pet treats
If your host or hostess has pets — and kept them out of the house to accommodate your allergies — bring a gift the cat or dog can enjoy the next day. A basket of better-than-average treats — sweet potato chewies and venison jerky — will please both the pet and its person.
Keep in mind, though, that pets have allergies and special food needs, too. A great pet gift I recently discovered is a food dehydrator. I’d always associated food dehydrators with survivalists and Eddie, Chandler’s temporary, creepy roommate on Friends. But I got excited about them when Julie Hunter, owner of Ultimate Nourishment, told me how easy, inexpensive — and healthy — it was to make homemade dog and cat treats with a food dehydrator.
4. Maid service
Guests are messy. And it’s usually not their fault — they can’t help spilling a drink when someone bumps into their arm. But they can help clean up the mess. Your hostess may decline your offer to help with the dishes or take out the garbage during the party, but she won’t say no to a professional clean-up crew.
I like Molly Maid gift certificates because you can order them online and don’t have to screen candidates for the service. If you forgot to bring a hostess gift — and spilling salsa on the couch reminded you that you should have — you can order a maid service gift certificate online while you’re at the party and take up a collection among other messy guests to help cover the costs.
5. Dry cleaning
Cheaper than maid service, a certificate to a local dry cleaner is an equally thoughtful gift. Everyone hates dry cleaning bills and the feeling is worse when it’s part of post-party letdown. Every hostess appreciates the guest who spared her this expense.
At the end of the night, your hostess wants to get out of her party clothes and change into something comfortable. Some hostesses are happiest in their old sweats, but others prefer to slip into something as pretty as the party dress they just took off.
If your hostess falls into the latter category, BedHead makes pajamas that are both cozy and luxurious. And you can add a note in the card to tell her the pajamas will make her feel like a celebrity — stars of shows such as True Blood and How I Met Your Mother wear BedHead pajamas.
7. Bubble bath
A gift of bubble bath will help your hostess relax after the party festivities. I like this ginger-scented one by Origins, but any brand of bubble bath that doesn’t have a grocery or drugstore label attached to it makes a nice gift.
And nice is the standard for hostess gifts. Rise above the usual wine-or-flower choice and your gift will be well-received. A gracious hostess doesn’t care how much you spent — she cares how much you cared.
I tend to buy extravagant gifts because I know I make a lousy dinner guest. I don’t arrive late, drunk or with extra people in tow. I don’t criticize the hostess’s taste in furniture, discipline a couple’s children or take sides in family squabbles. I listen at least as much as I talk, tell interesting stories, practice good table manners and always leave before someone hints that I should.
So what do I do wrong? I don’t eat — or at least I don’t eat much. The list of foods I can’t eat is long and, if I told anyone ahead of time, I’d never get invited anywhere. So I keep quiet and bring great gifts.
A white chef’s apron is the only practical cover-up for serious cooks — only hardcore bleaching and washing will get them clean. But, once your hostess’s kitchen duties are whittled down to serving, she’ll want to protect her party clothes with something stylish.
I like buying whimsical aprons at Appetizing Aprons, not only because owner Nancy Young shares my love of polka dots, but because she’ll gift wrap items at no extra charge.
Quick, before they stop making them, buy your hostess a book. Don’t know if she likes murder mysteries, biographies or cookbooks? You could buy her a gift card, which I used to do until I discovered Penguin Clothbound Classics.
Titles in their collection include Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Even hostesses who don’t read like the way these books look on their nightstands. For hostesses who prefer word games, Restoration Hardware packages a Scrabble game to look like a clothbound book.
10. Spa certificate
Sending your hostess to a spa could set you back hundreds or thousands of dollars. Unless you’re a really, really bad dinner guest, don’t spend your paycheck on a spa certificate. But some day spas offer services such as manicures for less than $30. And the atmosphere there is usually nicer than at a local nail salon.
11. Movie night
Encourage your hostess to enjoy a post-party night of relaxation. Fill a gift bag with some microwave popcorn, licorice and Milk Duds. And send a RedBox e-card to go with it. For less than $10 — and only $5 if you shop at a dollar store — you will win your hostess’s gratitude.
12. Thank-you note
A handwritten thank-you note — not a text or email — trumps almost any other gift you could give. Few people make this old-fashioned gesture, and it always gets noticed.
A thoughtful thank-you note nearly always guarantees a repeat invitation. And, when the invitation comes and you ask whether you can bring something, the hostess will say, “just bring yourself.”
And she’ll mean it.
Do you bring host and hostess gifts to parties? What are some of the best — and worst — gifts you’ve given or received? Do you feel slighted when a guest doesn’t bring anything to your party? Share your thoughts about hostess gift-giving in the comments section below.
Photo credit: Big Stock Photos