The Art of Giving the Perfect Hostess Gift

In the spirit of Festivus  and the “Airing of the Grievances” I am going to declare that I hate hostess gifts.

What’s turned me bah humbug are years of receiving tokens that feel more like obligations than thoughtful gestures.

I can tell you bought those dip dyed neon carnations at the deli downstairs.  I know I’ve seen that candle in your bathroom before and we all know you almost opened that bottle of Chianti the last time we were together for pizza (the price tag is in the same place).

If I’ve invited you over for dinner, all I want is you and your sparkling company, not more junk stuff.

But I realize I’m in the minority, and I too never like to go to someone’s home empty-handed.   So, knowing that giving hostess gifts are as much an extension of your personal style as they are a gesture of appreciation, I would like to propose a few considerations for raising the bar, building on some old school Emily Post advice.

  • Think about why the recipient would like what you’re giving and why it’s just perfect.  If you tell me that the bottle of Chianti reminded you of the wonderful times we’ve had together over pizza, my heart will melt.  (Just don’t expect the host to open it during the dinner).
  • The gift shouldn’t require immediate attention from the host, like flowers without a vase.  If you like to send flowers, or bring them in casual.
  • Do not bring food for the meal, unless specially asked.  Putting your box of Trader Joe chocolate covered biscotti next to my homemade chocolate mousse is going to make me slit my wrists with a butter knife.
  • Keep it relatively hearth, home and food based.  Now is not the time for Chanel 5.
  • Think about what can makes their life easier, OR adds value in a way they wouldn’t do for themselves.  This is why I like fancy food stuffs, like truffle butter.  Never would I buy it for myself, but my God does it elevate a baked potato.
  • Homemade anything is always lovely, as long as it’s not expected that it be consumed at the party.  Even if I hate, the fact that you made it for me is special.
  • The size of the hostess gift gesture depends on the type of party; you are not expected to give a gift for formal dinners.  If there is an honoree, you give a present to that person, not the host.  If you are the honoree, then you give a hostess gift.  Visiting for a weekend or so requires a slightly larger gesture.

Need some inspiration?

1. Top Shelf Booze.  Heck ya, but this all depends on what they like.  People either love or hate champagne, and if you’re giving wine, make sure it’s something you know that they’ll truly enjoy later (like Pinot Noir for me).  My favorite boozy gift item though are spirits.  It’s unexpected and not many people buy the good stuff for themselves, like an excellent sipping tequila, Armagnac or scotch.

2. The Corkcicle. Speaking of booze, I don’t know how I lived without the Corksicle before.  It’s basically a cork stopper for white wine that keeps it chilled instead of hauling out a wine bucket.

3. Breakfast for the morning after, like fresh ground coffee, babka, scones, croissants, sticky buns, etc.

4. Fancy sugar, like fresh macaroons, handmade chocolate or home-baked cookies. Macaroons have had a moment since 2010 and I can’t explain why tourists line up around the block to get into Laduree on 70th & Madison for what’s essentially a French Oreo.  But, these pretty delicacies come wrapped in a lovely gift box that makes for a charming gift.  I also like La Maison du Chocolate and Levain for cookies.

5. Really great soaps, home scents or candles. There’s something special about a Diptyque candle and the minis are a lot more affordable than the big ones.  Another brand I like is Life from Space NK.   They smell natural, not like over saturated potpourri from the 1980s.

6. Excellent snacks for last minute entertaining.  At the beginning of the holiday season, I love having an arsenal of snacks at the ready.  For instance, Williams Sonoma peanuts, popcorn, anything they can pull out and use later.

7. Special ingredients. truffle butter, wakaya ginger, honey, olive oil, vinegar, you name it.  Try Williams Sonoma, Dean & Deluca and Oprah.

8. A wonderful book.  Depending on what they’re into, it can be fiction, a cook book, coffee table book, you name it.  The trick is knowing what the host would appreciate because the wrong title can have regift written all over it regardless of whether you’re guilty or not.  I try to think about what they fantasize about and pick one that stokes their imagination.  For pure escapism I love almost anything from Assouline or Taschen books.

9. Fancy dog treats!  If your host is bananas about their pet, nothing beats pet treats from Bouchon Bakery

10. Lovely note cards. My apartment is covered in Post It notes, so when I recently got a gift of fancy FYI notes I was tickled.  Somehow it elevates my grocery list or note to my son’s teacher into something more magical than just an errand.

What are some of the worst hostess gifts you’ve received and/or what do you consider the perfect hostess gift?