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The next time you’re a party guest, here’s what you should bring



Leigh Fitzpatrick Snead - published on 05/23/17

Instead of an expensive candle or bottle of wine, try these unexpected low- or no-cost gifts from the heart.

Most of us have probably said, “Just bring yourself!” when asked by an invited guest what they can bring to an upcoming dinner party. And we’ve truly meant it — a beloved guest’s company is enough. Maybe the dinner is given in gratitude for help received or for the efforts the guest made to travel to your home. In any case, generally we don’t expect anything from our guests when we invite them over.

Now, here’s where I need to admit that my own love language is gift-giving. I honestly delight in anything brought to me from a guest — from fancy wine and chocolate to a bouquet of dandelions picked from my own front yard. Once, a younger friend who was moving away came over after our kids were in bed to share a bottle of wine and say goodbye on my front porch. She brought a bar of bitter chocolate that was also partially eaten, to give to me, and I was utterly charmed. She hadn’t wanted to arrive empty-handed, but it was late, it was a last-minute invitation, and she was about to move. She gave me what was probably the nicest thing left in her packed-up kitchen. What’s sweeter than that?

I’m sure we’ve all felt the same — we don’t want to show up on someone’s doorstep empty-handed, but we don’t have the time (or the money) to shop. Maybe we don’t even know our host very well so choosing a bottle of wine or a flavor of hand cream seems impossible. About a gazillion years ago I read that giving a host cut flowers for which she must find a vase only adds to the burdens of entertaining, but I personally love receiving flowers at any and all times and I know from experience that chucking the bouquet in a pitcher of water is no big deal — and leaving them on the kitchen counter for five hours won’t hurt them either. Still, I can’t seem to bring flowers when I’m a guest for some reason.

So for the times when you feel stumped, here are a few easy, inexpensive, and maybe unexpected ways to show your hosts gratitude for opening their home to you …

Homemade anything

Seriously. A loaf of banana bread. A crocheted potholder. Your perfected recipe for eco-friendly vinegar-based cleaning solution in a plastic spray bottle. An original poem! It doesn’t even have to be homemade by you. Maybe your cousin gave you a whole case of his famous canned peppers. What about that particularly cute craft your preschooler brought home from school that day?

Fruits of the garden

A close cousin of the homemade gift, something from your garden is always lovely. In August all you gardeners out there will be anxious to unload tomatoes and zucchini. But the best part is that for all of us without a green thumb, it doesn’t necessarily have to be something you grew on purpose. What about a bouquet of the mint that crept over from the neighbor’s yard? The chives that pop up on their own every year can be great on their own or made into a flavored oil, or rolled onto the outside of a log of goat cheese.  

A regift

Regifting gets a bad rap and I understand that but I think we need to free our minds when it comes to this issue. Giving someone something of yours, even if it was originally given to you by someone else, is not bad in itself. Maybe it’s a novel you really enjoyed, but won’t likely read again and maybe your host has a long plane trip coming up and would like a new read to pass the time — a gently read book is a wonderful gift! Maybe your niece, a recent college graduate with a new job and a new apartment, is stretching her tight budget to throw a drinks and nibbles party to show off her new grown up life. All those cosmetics free-gifts-with-purchase and sample packs languishing in your bathroom could have a new life as spa party supplies for her and her gal pals.

Something for the kids

Even if it’s not a party with kids, a few treats for the host’s children are very welcome and should be easy to come by. Balloons, art supplies, a pack of gum. If not the children, what about something small for the elderly parent they care for like a music CD, or even a prayer card. And there’s no need to stick to human loved ones. There are many folks out there that would appreciate a gift for their pets.

A thank-you note

So, either you couldn’t find the cash, the time, or the inspiration for a hostess gift and you did indeed show up empty-handed. Some would say you should offer to stay after and wash the dishes, but in my experience, by that time the host is ready for some peace and quiet and probably doesn’t mind some meditative dishwashing before bed — or in the morning.

Either way, after your first offer of general assistance is turned down, leave it. (On the other hand, calling and offering to come early to help chop, entertain the kids, walk the dog, or answer the door and serve those first couple drinks as the host puts the final touches on the feast might be a very welcome offer — try it!)

An after-the-party gift left quietly on the front porch the next morning would make a wonderful surprise, and even simpler is a real pen and paper thank-you note. In a world of thank-you texts, tweets, and emails, a written note is a treasure. But, you need to know yourself. If you never have stamps or know you’ll get distracted and forget to send the note then pack a notecard in your purse or in your car’s glove box. After the party is over, discreetly write your note and slip it into the mailbox. Your host will be delighted to find it waiting for her the next day.

Anyone with the means can splash out on a fancy designer candle or that highly-rated bottle of red, and really, who wouldn’t enjoy receiving those sorts of gifts? But as nice as they are, the extravagance isn’t necessary. Even with a small gift in hand, remember that the real gift is your presence, your company, and your appreciation of the party or meal set before you. Host and hostess gifts are simply a token of thanks, a physical representation of gratitude for the gift of hospitality you were blessed to receive.

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