Hostess Hack No. 01 - Hostess Gift Etiquette

Welcome to the Hostess Hack series, where we dive into some of the trickier topics and rules of etiquette. Many of us have the basics down - forks on the left, knife and spoon on the right. Don't chew with your mouth open. The table manners our parents taught us. But there are still certain social rules that can throw us off our well-mannered game. Table Set is designed to be your hostess hack and go-to for all things entertaining and gathering. So we're here to give you all the tools and tips to help you be Reese Witherspoon-level confident and graceful when hosting or attending as a guest. We'll also give our opinion on etiquette rules to break.

Leave a comment with other etiquette or hosting questions and we'll take a look at those next!

No. 1: The Hostess Gift

When do I need to bring a hostess gift? Is this still necessary?

This is often unclear and confusing to navigate. "No, don't bring anything!" But mom said to never come empty-handed. What's a person to do?! While it may seem over-the-top, a hostess gift is a token of gratitude for the host's effort. For casual gatherings, it's not necessary to bring a wrapped gift, but instead bring something that adds to the festivities, or will complement the host's efforts (ask what would be helpful ahead of time). See ideas for hostess gifts below.

❌ Breaking the Rules: If this is a gathering with close friends that you see often, feel free to ask if you should bring anything. And if the answer is no, feel okay showing up with either a beverage to enjoy together or empty-handed. They may have everything needed and thought out menu and truly want you to come and enjoy without any effort.

For more formal occasions, you only need to bring a gift for the guest-of-honor. If you are the guest of honor, it's customary to thank the hostess with a card, chocolates, flowers, or even a spa gift card. 

What should I give?

Ask ahead of time if there's anything you can bring, so that your gift might serve a functional or complementary purpose. If left without direction, here are a few of our go-to hostess gifts:

  • A bottle of wine - But make it interesting! Choose a bottle with a story or something more unique the host may not have tried. Perhaps an orange wine, or from a small, independently-owned vineyard that you love to support. We love Sophie James Wine, such a beautiful story and the wine is fabulous!
  • Food - Go in the direction of something to be enjoyed later such as breakfast items or tea, so there isn't expectation that it's served alongside the host's menu.
  • Fun taper candles to inspire the next gathering. Anthropologie usually has fun ones!
  • Unique glassware - We love Moroccan glass lately!
  • Flowers from your garden - When bringing flowers, bring them in a vase so the host doesn't have to stop what he/she is doing to get one.
  • A coffee table book that made you think of the host. Perhaps about their favorite hobby or characteristics. A few that we love - The Stylish Life: Tennis / Designed to Last / or check out The Strategist's Most Giftable Coffee-Table Books list

How do I present the gift?

First, greet the host or hostess warmly and with brief conversation, then give the gift. You don't want to come in too strong with the gift right away, being showy or like you're going through the motions. Be discreet in giving the gift. Another guest may not have brought one and you don't want to make them uncomfortable. 

With beverage or food, make mention that there's no expectation to have it served at that gathering. The host has put thought into their menu and you don't want to throw that off.

As a hostess, how do I receive the gift without being awkward?

"Do I open it right now? Later? Save it or use it now?" This is the point that can lead to some clumsy fumbling over gifts and words. No more!

First, thank the gift-giver and depending on the flow of traffic, choose to open now or later and vocalize if you'll be opening it later. Then give instructions for the next move, perhaps offering a drink or making an introduction to another guest nearby. 

If the gift is unwrapped and edible or drinkable (and if you feel like sharing), put it on the table so everyone can enjoy the goodies. 

Don't unwrap the gift if other guests will see you. You don't want to make other guests feel uncomfortable if they didn't bring a gift. But if in a private setting, do unwrap the gift to give due attention and thanks.

Is a Thank You Note necessary for a Hostess Gift?

Thank the gift-giver in person, but sending a note is not necessary for hostess gifts since it would be a thank you for a thank you. However, people always love to feel that their effort or thoughtfulness was appreciated and received. A simple text, call, or email is appropriate to acknowledge what they gave you.


These are questions we've run into in various social settings, so hopefully this can be helpful to a fellow party pal. We'd love to hear your thoughts on the hostess gift, or the best (and worst) hostess gifts you've received in the comments. 



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