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What Is a Hostess Gift?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A hostess gift is a gift which is given to the host or hostess of an event by guests. A small gift is generally considered appropriate for dinners and parties, while guests who are staying for several days may get something larger. The ideal gift is tasteful and elegant, reflecting the presumed good taste of the host or hostess, and it is also something which the recipient would not personally buy for him or herself. While the gift might seem like a quaint tradition to some people, it is still alive and well, and bringing a hostess gift to an event will indicate that you are well mannered and that you have been raised in polite society.

All sorts of things are suitable for hostess gifts. As a general rule, if you don't know the host of an event very well, you may want to stick with something fairly neutral, such as flowers, as flowers are generally appreciated. Another common choice of gift is wine, although you should be very careful about bringing wines, as some hosts do not drink, and others have very specific tastes in wine. Chocolates and fruit baskets are also not uncommon, along with gifts of fine soaps or lotions.

You should not necessarily expect to see your hostess gift displayed or used while you are present, especially if it is food or wine. Many hosts have planned very specific meals and wine pairings, and while your gift may be delightful and gratefully received, it may not be appropriate for the event in question. As a general rule, you will be kindly thanked and the gift will be put away; it is, after all, a gift, not a potluck item.

A well-mannered host will send you a thank you note within a few days, thanking you both for the gift and your presence at the event. It is also appropriate for you to send a thank you note, indicating your enjoyment of the party and your appreciation for the host's excellent hospitality. The exchange of small gifts and notes between hosts and guests keeps feelings of good will toward each other uppermost, and tends to result in more invitations to events.

You should never pick a hostess gift which is ostentatious or gaudy. The goal is not to impress the host, but rather to please him or her with a small, thoughtful item which reflects your appreciation for the invitation. Therefore, things like jewelry are generally frowned upon as gifts, and you may want to refrain from giving gift certificates as well.

One subset of the hostess gift, the housewarming present, allows for much more leeway. Housewarming presents can include various useful household items, from pot holders to tasteful lamps, and they are often greatly appreciated, especially by people who are moving into their first homes. If you know that your host needs a great deal of equipment, you may want to band together with a group of friends to ensure that the host does not receive eight eggbeaters or a similar excess of a particular item.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon266299 — On May 05, 2012

When attending a confirmation where one is presenting the children with gifts and money, is a hostess gift still appropriate? Also, when there are several families hosting an event together, does one bring a hostess gift for each of the families?

By anon246768 — On Feb 10, 2012

Hostess gifts are to be given to the hostess for use at a later date or time and not to be used at the dinner.

They should be something that the host or hostess can use that he or she would appreciate, and not something that the giver would eat or use, because it is not for the giver and just for the host or hostess.

By anon174384 — On May 10, 2011

Is a hostess gift required or expected for dinners among family? When one is invited to a relative's house for dinner, should a hostess gift, thank you notes, and hostess thank you notes be exchanged?

By cafe41 — On Jan 05, 2011

Sunny27-The ideas for a hostess gift should be something that the hostess would enjoy but it should also be simple.

This is just to express a simple note of gratitude for the invitation and should not be overly expensive because it will make the other guests feel uncomfortable.

I like the idea of a gourmet cake at a local bakery or a nice bottle of wine if you are familiar with wine and what is being served for dinner.

It could also be a set of gourmet cookies. It really should be something that should have a little wow factor but not cost too much.

By Sunny27 — On Jan 03, 2011

Anon28399- I don’t know where it began but I know that it is a tradition that most people practice. Hostess gift ideas include a nice set of philosophy lotions or a small make up kit by one of the major cosmetic lines.

You can also offer a dinner hostess gift or a great bottle of wine and a fabulous dessert.

I know for a Thanksgiving hostess gift, a gourmet dessert is always welcomed because the hostess probably went thorough a lot of expense in putting the dinner together.

Hostess gift etiquette really dictates that you should always bring a gift when you receive an invitation for dinner at someone’s home. It could be personal gifts for the hostess or something that can be shared at dinner.These are the best ideas for hostess gifts.

By anon28399 — On Mar 16, 2009

When and where did the tradition of hostess gift start?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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