How to choose the perfect hostess gift

June 27, 2014

birthday-gifts“Have hostess gifts gone by the wayside?” a friend asked me the other day?

Maybe they have, along with all the other courtesies and manners that Amy Vanderbilt wrote about back in the day. Like RSVPs to events. Or couples who actually ask to bring a stranger to a wedding reception, as happened to me. No not, a house guest, just one of their good friends. I was speechless. Manners are heading down a wrong-way street these days.

But back to hostess gifts. Just the term sounds very 1950s, doesn’t it? But it’s a concept that never goes out of style. And shouldn’t.

Choosing a hostess gift is, well tricky. So, I’m here to provide suggestions about how to choose a hostess gift. And–to give you ideas for hostess gifts. Now, there are two levels of hostess gift. One is when you visit someone for dinner and the other is when you’re a house guest, as I am from time to time.  The gift you choose should fit the occasion.

When friends in my circle come over for dinner they usually bring a bottle of wine. This is, after all, California, and wine is a way of life here. We know a little about the wines of our region and it can be fun to get a bottle from an unfamiliar but good vintner as a hostess gift. Or even some champagne!

But are there alternatives to wine?

So glad you asked. Because it’s been on my mind all year as I try to come up with creative alternatives to the same old thing.

serving plate hostess gift

When I visit friends overnight, I always bring a hostess gift or two or even three. When I stayed with a friend last winter, I sent wine and port ahead and also brought a few easy-to-carry things in my baggage.  After all, I was staying at their house for almost a week–I wanted to say thanks in a tangible way.  And that led me to think about the kinds of hostess gifts my friends would enjoy. Because part of giving is keeping the other person’s needs, wants and taste in mind.

The cute serving plate above is the kind of thing I wouldn’t buy for myself, but it sure would come in handy when entertaining. And while most of us have a whole bunch of serving platters from our youth, it’s nice to freshen things up with something new. And that would be one really nice way to do that, as long as you know it’s their taste.


martini set

I saw these cute napkins with their own basket and a metal charm at a little shop in the wine country. If I were going to dinner at a friend’s house –one who enjoyed cocktails–this, accompanied by either a couple of martini glasses or a bottle of vermouth or even gourmet olives, would be a perfect replacement for wine.  Something cute, creative and a little different.

dots bowlsYou’d have to know someone really well to pick some cute bowls like these. I don’t have many friends who would like them. But they’re to my taste, for sure. And not too expensive.

pastry macaron

Sweet and pretty pastel macarons are usually a welcome gift. Just not for diabetics.  I’ve brought them to parties and they’ve been the one item most people ask about.  Delectable.

pear candles in dishesAnd then–candles. I have pear candles, myself, although these are part of a store display I saw. But a set of three would be a lovely little thank-you for a dinner with friends.

cute pink pkgHere’s a side-trip: My sister-in-love wraps packages so creatively the wrapping itself looks like a gift. I don’t have that talent and admire those who do. If that’s you, wrapping cute makes any gift more fun.

Back to hostess gift ideas.

coffee hostess gift
A pound or two of special coffee is a wonderful hostess gift and if your friends like to hang at coffee shops, so is a gift card. Especially today, when so many of us at midlife prefer consumables rather than clutter.

When a girlfriend came to stay not too long ago, she came armed with tons of consumables. Special beans from our hometown. Fabulous peanut butter biscuits for Riley. A cookbook that I could use often. And so much more. Her suitcase was like the clown car that keeps discharging clowns. Except in her case it was wonderful products. It was such a great idea because I think of her every time I use something she brought. And Riley gobbled those delicious biscuits right up.

8009839753_400958151b_zOne of my girlfriends loves books. Actually, more than one. And I do know their taste, which is a MUST if you are going to give a bag of books. You can’t give a friend books YOU would like.  A perfect hostess gift for the literati among us is a few great new books in a cool bag like this –which (if they’re books I would like) I think is way more fun to get than a gift card to a bookstore. But that works, too. And nothing to carry in luggage!

Giants txTickets to something you know friends will enjoy are a wonderful hostess gift if you’re staying a while at someone’s home. At today’s prices a ball game is probably  out of the question, but movie tickets for a local movie theatre? A different–but sure-to-be-appreciated gift if you’re staying with friends or family.

kitchen setUnless you know your friends really like styles like this, stay away from things that aren’t classic.  These are cute and colorful, but if a gift is not to your hosts’ taste, it would fall flat. And they probably wouldn’t re-gift them, either.

tiny ramekinsOk, so I love these. Who couldn’t use a set of six or eight of these cute and inexpensive ramekins? They’re useful for so many things: nuts, cooking, mini-desserts….and super-affordable.

sprinklesCupcakes you made–OR from a great local bakery–can be a great hostess gift if you’re going to someone’s home for dinner. On the other hand, so many of us are reducing our sugar intake.  My sister-in-love makes an excellent blueberry bread–to die for, really–that she mailed to us once and even though it was hugely sinful we had to have it. So if you’re famous for something, bring it!

seize day coffee donut
Attention Rochesterians: you can always send me Flying Saucers from Donuts Delite.  Chocolate, please, no nuts. Thank you.

How about a special bottle of wine with a lovely wine cork and a carafe or a couple of crystal stems?  This would be such a wonderful gift for someone you’ve stayed with.  And while I know plenty of people who carry wine in checked baggage, I wouldn’t dare. I always send this stuff ahead.

Another welcome hostess gift for those who stay over is a nice lunch or dinner out. Nothing to put away, just your company and good food and drink. Who doesn’t like that?

lip gloss vertical
Don’t laugh. It’s not so far afield.  If you know your hostess is a girly-girl who loves cosmetics, a Sephora gift card assures she’ll have at least an hour of fun playing with — and choosing — makeup, potions or grooming accessories. I always ask for these for my birthday, too!
US flowrs2
A bouquet of beautiful flowers is always appropriate when you visit for dinner. After a visit, a delivered bouquet is always appreciated. During a visit you can actually deliver them yourself.
Who spends $15 for a bar of soap?  Precisely. Luxury soaps are a treat most of us don’t allow ourselves. But these are wonderfully packaged, high quality soaps that would make a great hostess gift.

Not too long ago friends came to dinner and besides bringing dessert, they brought a case of mangoes. OMG, I never would have thought of that! We LOVED them. So, use your imagination when coming up with a gift idea, whether it’s a hostess gift or a special occasion.  Get creative. The sky really is the limit.

And oh! Why not share your ideas below? Have you given or received a unique hostess gift?

44 comments on “How to choose the perfect hostess gift
  1. Meg Root says:

    I loved this post! I am a challenged gift giver and always struggle to figure out a nice way to say thank you for having me. This post had a ton of fun, creative, and useful ideas. I am bookmarking it for future use. I work at a spa and often enjoy bringing something from our shop, but it’s nice to have some fun alternatives.

  2. Karen says:

    Okay, you’d be welcome at my place anyway, but now it’s definite: you are at the top of my list.

    Seriously, though–these are excellent choices, and I agree that hostess gifts shouldn’t be allowed to go the way of the dodo bird.

  3. Wow, what a great selection of gifts! You have an open invitation to my house!!

  4. Wow, this is working out well, all these invitations! LOL

  5. Ellen Dolgen says:

    This is such a wonderful post! Thank you for the great ideas!

  6. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    Wow, what great ideas! By the way, you have a standing invitation here … anytime.

  7. penpen says:

    I’m with everyone else who said they were gift-idea challenged. Thanks for all the positive and colorful ideas–esp your point about consumables rather than collectables [and the clutter they add to already cluttered closets.].

  8. kim tackett says:

    Love your suggestions. Our area (Davis in Yolo County, CA) makes wonderful olive oil, so I try to buy some from the Farmer’s Market (and also other preserves, honey etc). Also, coffee!! Oh, and wine…all good ideas.

  9. joan says:

    I’m always at a loss.. so thanks.. but I normally take the hostess out for a meal and also take my home make challah to them… usually a big hit… Oh ya… with Willow Glen honey for the bread!

  10. joan says:

    BTW…. because I am… some people are sensitive to fragrances… so unless you know…. I’d avoid anything with fragrance ! Often people don’t think of that .. it’s such an “in” thing now…
    Just my word of caution!

  11. Lana says:

    This is an amazing list of great ideas! If you ever stay at my house, cupcakes would be most welcome! We usually take our hosts out to dinner, but I’m definitely going to give more thought to a gift. Have a great weekend!

  12. I love all those gifts above, any time you’re in NJ and want to stop by to hang by the pool, feel free to bring any of those above, LOL. I also think it’s nice to bring those little wine glass trinkety things that people put on their glass so that they don’t get them mixed up in a party (I know there’s a name for them, but it escapes me). And, little serving dishes are a favorite, too. I’m always so touched when someone gives me a little token of appreciation when I have a party, or have them over, and am glad that it’s not a lost art (like thank you cards, which my mother would be mortified to know that no one seems to write them anymore).

  13. Great ideas and will you come stay with me for a week? xo

  14. Roz Warren says:

    THANK YOU SO MUCH for this post. I do not excel at coming up with thoughtful gifts and need all the help I can get.

  15. Love your hostess gift ideas and I’m so glad to see that I’m not the only one who still brings them.

  16. Okay so maybe it’s tacky but lately I’ve been showing up with a copy of my latest book. It’s something I MADE and that I’m proud of so how can that be less than good…oh, and because I live in California I ALWAYS bring a bottle of wine too!

  17. Carol Graham says:

    How long would you have to stay at my house to bring all those gifts? THANK YOU for the ideas. I am terrible at thinking of things to bring and I stay in a lot of homes when I am on a speaking tour. Sometimes a different house every night and I run out of ideas, (Love Sephora) I have to bookmark this – loved it

  18. Lynne says:

    LOVE these ideas!!!! Now I want to go shopping!! And, stop by any time 😉

  19. Great ideas — so creative. Books and macarons are the top of my list to give or receive.

  20. Oh wow–I would be THRILLED to receive any one of these items as a hostess gift. Nowadays people always bring the same thing—a bottle of wine. Don’t get me wrong, I love it….but something out of the ordinary would be very nice every now and then!

  21. Kathy says:

    I am going to visit and stay with some relatives in Phoenix in August. I was trying to come up with some creative suggestions so this was very helpful. Thanks for sharing.

  22. wendy says:

    The polka-dotted bowls and pear candles: exquisite.
    As Karen says, you’re always welcome at mine, but if you bring either of these two items, hearts will flutter and wine will be flowing!

  23. Some wonderful ideas – thank you!

  24. mindy trotta says:

    Love these ideas!!! The coffee would be great for me (de-caf, please), and I think the Sephora GC is genius! BTW, we are moving in a month and will be 15 min. from NYC. Our guest room (and bathroom) will be available after that! 🙂

  25. Haralee says:

    This is a very thoughtful list. You have to be the best dinner/houseguest ever! I know you were just in Portland, but next time?
    I usually bring something I made from the garden, jam, tomato sauce, pickles etc. if I think they will like it. This winter I made some hot fudge and put that in jelly jars and it was a big hit. I am with you, I send ahead if I am flying. My sister made some coasters and I bought a bunch and actually didn’t keep them all and gave some of those too.

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