A gift for your host or hostess is a lovely way to thank them for their hospitality and is always appreciated. It doesn't have to be elaborate or expensive; simply consider the nature of the occasion and local custom when making your choice. In some parts of the country, a hostess gift is considered obligatory, while in other places a gift is brought only on special occasions. If it's the first time you're visiting someone's home, then it's a very nice gesture to bring a small gift. If you have a few extra minutes to wrap it, even if you only use tissue or a decorative bag, it adds to the gesture.
Wine, flowers, specialty food items, and small items for the house all make good hostess gifts. Flowers are terrific too, but if you want to go beyond Etiquette 101, bring them in a simple vase (a Mason jar is fine). You could also offer to put them in water yourself when you arrive so your host doesn't have to arrange them. If you bring wine, don't expect your host to serve it that evening- the wines may have already been chosen for the meal. And don't bring food for the meal unless you've been asked to. Otherwise you risk putting your host on the spot and upsetting the menu. Here are a few tips on what to bring when:
Casual dinner party
Dinner party guests usually bring a hostess gift unless they are close friends who dine together frequently. Gift possibilities include wine, Champagne, flowers (preferably in a vase), a potted plant, chocolates, specialty food items such as jams and jellies or other condiments, fancy nuts, olives, olive oil or vinegars, or items for the house, such as cocktail napkins, guest soaps and lotions , a picture frame, or a scented candle. A CD or book is also appropriate if you know your host's taste.
Formal dinner party
Gifts aren't usually taken to large, formal dinners, especially if you don't know the host well.
When there's a guest of honor
If it's a birthday, anniversary, graduation, or shower, bring a gift for the honoree.
When you're the guest of honor
Bring a gift for your host or hostess, or send flowers before the party. After the party, send a thank-you note.
It's customary to bring a gift to a housewarming. It doesn't have to be expensive, but it should be something lasting for the house. Possible gifts include guest towels, a houseplant, a patio or garden plant, glasses, dish towels, a picture frame, specialty foods like a great olive oil or preserves, or a cheeseboard and/or cheese knives. Update an old-fashioned housewarming tradition of giving salt, and bring fancy sea salt and/or a saltbox or saltcellar. If the housewarming is for a neighbor new to your town, consider putting together a welcome kit containing area maps, the town paper, restaurant menus, bookmarks from your favorite bookstore, transportation schedules, and information on local parks and recreation facilities- anything that will make it easier for her to feel welcome and at home in her new community.
Either bring or send a gift. Your gift of choice will depend on the length of your stay and how elaborately you're entertained. While you don't have to break the bank, your gift should be sincere, thoughtful, and personal.