Want to be a good guest? Bring good gifts, thoughtful gifts.
Whether it’s a small indulgence brought to a dinner party or a larger treat reflecting your gratitude for the weekend at the beach house, cabin or ski lodge, a host gift amplifies (although does not substitute for) the usual thank you note.
These used to be called hostess gifts, probably because women were presumed to do all the work involved with entertaining. Some people still call them that. But times have changed so I’m going for “host.”
Oh, and single guys aren’t off the hook for bringing something. “No matter what the occasion, a gentleman never arrives empty-handed [emphasis in original],” notes Raymond at The Art of Manliness blog.
Well, sometimes he can. In certain parts of the country, a host gift is given only on truly special occasions, according to the Emily Post etiquette website. “While you don’t have to break the bank, your gift should be sincere, thoughtful and personal,” the site advises.
Your choice of a gift also depends on where you live. At a Manhattan dinner party, the gift might be something from one of the city’s many gourmet shops. A weekend at a buddy’s fishing cabin might cry out for his favorite craft beer; a ski lodge — gourmet hot cocoa.
Rather than fall back on the usual wine or flowers, why not get creative? These suggestions are grouped into general categories. There’s something here for just about everybody and every type of place:
Food, food, glorious food
Obviously you’ll need to tailor your gift to the host’s preferences and/or potential health issues. You wouldn’t bring summer sausage to a family of vegans or whole wheat bread to a host who’s gone gluten-free. Focus on indulgences/ingredients that people would love to have but may not buy for themselves. Such as…
1. High quality maple syrup
If this is a weekend stay (not a party), is it the kind of place where it makes sense to have a big pancake or waffle breakfast in the morning? Bring some really good syrup and then maybe also offer to be the breakfast chef one morning.
2. Artisan cheese
Only if you’re familiar with the host’s tastes, though. Don’t give a stinky round of Epoisses de Bourgogne to someone who’s more interested in mild cheddar. Add a box of fancy crackers or flatbreads and maybe a jar of pickles.
No further explanation needed. Mail order some indulgent pork products or visit the best butcher in your area.
4. Fancy nuts
Not a jar of Planter’s peanuts, but rather something like Marcona almonds or good quality pistachios or macadamias (not the kind you pick up at the drugstore).
5. Olive oil
The really good stuff that your host might not be able to justify buying but would love to have.
6. High-end coffee
Indulge your host. And if he or she really prefers Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, then wrap up a few bags of beans. Can’t go wrong.
Ask a chocolatier for a recommendation, or just pick up some of your friend’s favorite bars, whether that’s Godiva or Hershey’s.
8. Fancy fruits
Get a nice selection from the greengrocer or send a gift box of exquisite pears or citrus.
Raymond from The Art of Manliness suggests an assortment of peppercorns, sea salts or ethnic-cooking spices like turmeric, saffron or coriander.
10. Regional foods
Spending New Year’s Eve with a great host who’s a New Orleans expat? Mail-order a king cake. Has an old pal from Philly invited you for a ski weekend? Send off for a selection of his favorite Tastykakes.
11. Homemade stuff
Jam, cookies, refrigerator pickles or whatever else you like to cook. My friends and business colleagues go wild over homemade peanut brittle, which is surprisingly easy to make.
For the home
Tread with care, because your idea of decor might make your host double up in pain. Giving something that clashes with the look of the place puts the recipient in the awkward position of having to display something unwanted or risk hurting your feelings.
Instead, choose something utilitarian vs. decorative. Such as:
A specific tool or pan you know the host can use or one that’s made your own cooking so much easier that you just had to share. Not a cook yourself, which is why you like hanging with these people? Give a gift card to a housewares store so your host can choose. (If it’s to be a place like Sur La Table or Bed Bath & Beyond, look for a discounted gift card – your money will go further.)
13. Party goods
Gift and etiquette expert Dana Holmes suggests gifts that can be used in the future. “Tasting games, drink charms or a themed cocktail book are all great additions to their party repertoire,” Holmes says.
14. A throw
Something light and soft but also warm will make chilly ski-weekend guests more comfortable. Choose something nonpatterned and in a dark or neutral color so you don’t clash.
Maybe the weekend host ran low on beach or bath towels during your last visit. Bring reinforcements, with a note that says, “This will let you put off laundry for another week.” (Don’t give guest towels, though: Nobody ever uses them.)
16. A hammock
Because leisure. Not for a dinner party, obviously, but a portable, self-supporting hammock makes long summer afternoons at the lake house that much more luxurious.
Scrabble, chess, Trivial Pursuit, Parcheesi, Apples to Apples, Monopoly, cribbage and the like for pleasant evenings at the beach house. Try for at least one all-ages game along with the more cerebral (or potentially naughty) playthings.
Classic jigsaws or some of those rustic iron tavern puzzles can untie you from everyday cares. Or drive everyone crazy by gifting a Rubik’s Cube.
19. A croquet set
That is, if there’s room to play.
20. Card table
For those puzzles or late-night poker games.
Whether it’s strictly a place of beauty or a small farmstead, the garden is a great place to focus gift-giving. Listen to your friends talk about their landscape and focus on both current and future needs.
Surprise your host with a tool that would make his life easier; for example, one of those wonderful foot-operated devices that pull dandelions and other weeds out by the roots. Or get a replacement for some device that’s on its last legs (e.g., rusting trowels and cultivators).
22. Container garden
No green space? Give a windowsill herb garden or an attractive planter sown with mesclun mix to put on the backyard deck. Or give a boxed amaryllis bulb that the recipient can start later.
23. Flower starts
Maybe your host talks about wanting a sweeping expanse of tulips or a giant rose garden. Sound him or her out about favorite colors and cultivars and send them along. Or just send…
24. A nursery/garden center gift certificate
That way your host can pick out his own perennials, fruit trees or even a fire pit.
In your thank you note, offer to spend a September Saturday helping your hosts put the landscape to bed for the winter. Mention which Saturdays you’re available and follow up.
A gift of multiples
If it was a really swell week at the beach house, consider a gift that shows up more than once.
26. Community supported agriculture
Sign up your host for a month or more of weekly deliveries of the season’s freshest fruits and vegetables. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has links to CSAs around the country.
Order a periodical you think your host would really enjoy: National Geographic for the armchair traveler, Gramophone for classical music fans, The Sun for lovers of interesting fiction, poetry and interviews. (Frugal tip: Order through a cash-back shopping site for rebates of up to 30 percent.)
28. The whatever-of-the-month club
Fruit. Wine. Cookies. Beer. Cheese. Bacon. Jerky. Anything your host really likes.
29. Subscription box
Order up a series of monthly deliveries based on the tastes of the household: cosmetics, gourmet food, pet supplies, crafts, comic book culture or whatever.
Some of these may sound a little odd, but they can help your hosts make their place more welcoming.
30. A tank of propane
The lake cabin’s grill might run out in the middle of sizzling your catch of the day.
31. A bicycle
Got one you’re not using much? Donate it to the beach house/summer cabin for people to use. Tune it up before delivering and include a helmet.
32. Have firewood delivered
For beach bonfires, for the firepit on the deck, for the woodstove, for the cozy après-ski fireplace.
33. Marina gift certificate
After all, the hosts took you fishing. Now they can fill up the tank or buy some little boaty thing they need.
34. Toilet paper
Seriously: Send a crate of the stuff, especially if it’s a weekend cabin that gets a lot of visitors.
35. Slide show
Take pictures while you’re there and create a show, with music. Use the captions to say what a great time you had and how wonderful your hosts are. But again, this doesn’t take the place of a thank you note.
A gift for the host can be sent after the fact or delivered at the time of the visit. If you do the latter, don’t insist that your offering be opened on the spot. That could embarrass guests who didn’t bring a gift, according to Suzanne Kearns of the Moneycrashers blog. Discreetly hand it to the host rather than make a big production of your present.
What’s your best host gift (given or received) ever? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.