Reader Mailbag: Hostess Gifts?

2017 Update: We still stand by this advice on hostess gifts, but you may also want to check out all of our posts on holiday business etiquette.
A few days ago a reader wrote in with a burning question:
As a new associate, I have been invited to a young partner’s holiday “open house” (what the invitation says). Should I take a hostess present (his wife sent the invitations) and, if so, what can I take besides a bottle of wine? I’m guessing a lot of us are having the same issues so a post on this would be great!

We’re sorry to say that we’re stumped on this one. On the one hand, a nice bottle of wine or champagne is never unappreciated. On the other hand, we’ve been to enough parties at partner’s houses that we can see there being a catering staff on hand, which would make the bottle of wine seem inappropriate. Our $.02 is that we’d probably arrive with nothing, gauge the situation, and send flowers after the fact if you think they’re called for. Get two or three other associates to chip in on something really nice, and thank the hostess for a nice time.

Readers, comment away — would your advice be different?

Photo credit: Wine bottles wrapped up, originally uploaded to Flickr by librarykyle


  1. silly putty :

    A nice pair of taper candles has always worked well for me!

  2. I’d suggest bringing something you can fit in your purse if possible. Bring something, and then if no one else has anything, don’t give it. If everyone else has something, you can give it. Of course this all depends on your level of perception and ability to determine. You could leave something in the car and then run out and get it as if you forgot.

    Here are some ideas:,21861,1683690-1689056-1,00.html

  3. I’ve always been taught that you never show up empty handed and I second the candle suggestion. Don’t over think it, bring something simple yet elegant and try to enjoy yourself.

  4. I’m a firm believer in hostess gifts and thank you notes.

    Check out the napkin holders, wine cozys and other gift type items from Mariposa- I love their stuff and find that it makes great gifts.
    I am also a fan of a nice candle or a tin of tea (there is some nice English brand that comes in beautiful tins).
    Finally, I always hit the sales at pottery barn and crate and barrel in January to get some holiday item deals to give as hostess gifts the next year. Last year I picked up some cute star shaped candy dishes and some nice candles.

  5. Please don’t arrive empty handed to the event! Wine, regardless of whether the event is catered, is still a nice touch. Think also about a bottle of Port, Single Malt Whisky or Ice Wine.

    Other ideas include small floral arrangement (already in a vase), beautifully boxed chocolates, candy or nuts. It’s the thougt that counts.

    It’s just as important to send a thank-you note the next day to your host.

    And about that “Chip in and buy something nice” business, forget it! You’re not back in Mrs. Donaldson’s home room. You are professionals acting like ladies and gentlemen who know how to accept invitations, arrive with a gift, and send a thank-you afterward.

  6. I think that bringing wine is not inappropriate – as the intention is for the hosts to drink it later, not serve it at the party.

    And don’t bring flowers with you, as it implies the hostess did not take care of that already. But sent the next day is always nice.

    Also nice is the food item they can use later – spreads, tapenades, flavored salts, teas.

  7. I agree that you can’t show up empty-handed — I tend to go for flowers if I don’t know the hostess at all. I find that flowers are always appreciated, no matter how nice/catered the event.

    City Girl´s last blog post..Limping to the End of NaBloPoMo

  8. I like CJ’s idea the best. An associate giving gifts to a partner is a delicate issue — and you don’t want to seem to be putting your fellow associates in a bad light, which will make you unpopular with them, but also give you the reputation of a suck up w/ the partnership, which is not called for.

    Wine or champagne is very tricky in this regard. At least at my firm, many of the partners are serious oenophiles, and I’d have to spend a pretty penny to get something that they would like — and an expensive gift would be weird and inappropriate.

    Something festive, edible and truly yummy might be in order — less tricky in my mind than a bottle of wine — holiday chocolates, cookies or similar from somewhere creative and ungeneric. That way, the present is truly in the thought and not in a price tag.

  9. You can also make wine a personalized gift without spending a fortune. I typically bring a bottle of wine from my favorite vineyard in the state where I work and tell the host it’s a beautiful place to spend an afternoon. Then it’s not like I grabbed it from Whole Foods on my way to the party but I also didn’t stress over what kind of wine they might like, whether it’s expensive enough for their taste, etc.

    I like the candles idea, I’d never heard that before.

  10. Sorry for the double comment — stop by my blog for a fabulousness award!

  11. Christina :

    I think you should send a gift in advance, something like a cookie basket or wine and cheese basket. Then you don’t show up empty handed, but also don’t compete with the other associates.

  12. I’ve always gone with wine but I now like the ideas of candles and chocolates that I’ve found in these comments. I actually think that a nice box of chocolate/candy is the best idea. The host can open it and leave it on the counter if the occasion is casual, bring it out at the end of the night when the caterers have gone or enjoy it at their next family get together, what ever. It is thoughtful and practical and not over the top, in any way.

  13. Oh, and I hate the idea of sending something ahead of time. They will not be expecting it and it will seem like you expect them to have it out at the party and will seem even more obnoxious than hand-carrying something. The other associates will likely find out that you sent something in advance and assume that you were trying to make them look bad.

  14. I would NOT send something in advance. That’s just strange. I think everyone else here has the right idea, take something small, nice, like candles, edibles, etc…then send flowers/thank you card the next day.

    I have a related/holiday problem. I am also new, and apparently we do secret santas here! Well, lucky me, I drew a partner (#2 on masthead). Limit is $20 and I really don’t know him well. But he is the cool partner who almost always comes out when invited and frequently picks up the tab. So I want to indicate that I appreciate him and his kindness to me…on the other hand I’ve known the dude a month.


  15. Great post. Wine is always my fallback–I order a case of a really delicious zin port from my favorite winery whenever they have a sale on cases, and then I have 12 hostess gifts ready to go. But for an event at a partner’s, particularly a partner who may have very definite tastes in wine, I like the taper candles or festively-wrapped candies idea. The stocking up at Pottery Barn/Crate & Barrel/Restoration Hardware after-Christmas sales is a good idea too.

    Re: CastIron’s question–check out I find that site is excellent for gift-giving ideas when I want to give something unique but not personal.

  16. CastIron – what about a set of nice coasters? I was in a similar situation four years ago and went with those…coasters are something everyone can use, some sets are distincly more masculine looking, it’s not personal, and you can remain within the $ limit.

  17. Glad to see several people piped in and said you should always bring something. Never show up empty handed at a party. Something small like nice soap, embroidered or festive paper cocktail napkines, chocolates, nice jam or jelly, wine, etc. is always appropriate. The host is not expected to serve or share what s/he is given and doesn’t need to open it if it’s wrapped.

    Don’t bring cut flowers. It can rattle the host who has to find a vase and arrange the flowers. The host may already have a flower arrangement as well.

    Do be sure to send a thank you note to the host within 48 hours of the party.