Let’s Talk About Hostess Gifts, And What Confuses Me About Them

Also, can we come up with something new to call them so it doesn’t sound like I’m going over to Donna Reed’s house?
Publish date:
July 23, 2013
etiquette, alcohol, summer, tips, manners, hostessing, hostess gift, watermelon

I woke up yesterday feeling restless. I wanted to do something but didn’t know what. I live-tweeted this boredom (pathetic, I know) in hopes that someone would tell me a thing to do. Sure enough, my friend Emma (a saint) texted me:

“Hey want to come over to dinner at my sister’s apartment? She’s a cook so it should be good.”

YES. Success. I took the subway to her sister’s neighborhood, with some time to spare for exploring. When I got off the train, it hit me: I DIDN’T HAVE A HOSTESS GIFT.

Emma’s sister Molly is 22 years old. So having two people over for dinner (one of whom she’s never met) is a relatively big deal of domesticity. A hostess gift is de rigueur.

I was raised to bring hostess gifts, but either my age or the modern etiquette has led me to forget/have friends forget occasionally. Thankfully, I had time to spare and there was a grocery store a block away from Molly’s apartment.

But what to buy? The standard hostess gift is wine, or a different alcohol if you know your host/hostess’s taste, RIGHT? That’s what TV has taught me anyway. I’m 18 though, so that's out of the question. What else?

I ended up getting half a watermelon and a container of lemon sorbet (SUMMER FOOD!) which went well with the magnificent handmade pasta that Molly made (for real, that girl can cook). But it made me think about hostess gifts in the post-Miss Manners age.

What are the rules nowadays? Are they different from what they used to be? If you’re going to a dinner with two guests, do you get a bigger/smaller/the same size gift as you would get for a dinner with 15 guests? What are some tried-and-true hostess gifts that aren’t alcohol? How much are you expected to spend for a gift for a casual dinner as opposed to a fancy one?

And FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, can we come up with a different name for them than “hostess gifts?” “Hostess gift” makes me feel like I’m bringing a Bundt cake over to Donna Reed’s house and we’re going to plan the Winter Jamboree Sock Hop after dinner while our husbands smoke cigars.

Do you guys have answers to any of these questions? Are you similarly confused by hostess gifts or is it just me?