In elementary school, my mom would drop me off at every sleepover with a gift for my pint-sized hostess. At the time these tokens, which could be as small as a bottle of glittery nail polish, seemed excessive; as an eight-year-old, the idea of hostess gifts was lost on me. It was only later that I realized my mother was reinforcing the old adage, “never show up empty-handed.”
Now, as a moderately social adult in Manhattan, I find myself invited to friends’ apartments for dinner parties, cocktail parties, pregames, and Game of Thrones watch parties. A tradition based on etiquette norms some may consider outdated, host and hostess gifts have become increasingly uncommon, especially among urban twentysomethings. Still, nothing feels better than walking into a party with a coveted bottle of booze just as the supply is running low. Provided you aren’t going to a alcohol-free affair, which I’m assuming, as VinePair readers, you aren’t, bringing a delicious bottle of wine, a great case of beer or a spirit is a foolproof option for securing a follow-up invite.
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The first rule of thumb is to tailor your gift to the event you’re attending. If you’re headed to a cramped apartment party with your college friends, odds are nobody will appreciate that exceptional, dry Cabernet Sauvignon recommended by your local wine store. In these more boisterous party settings, opt for a reasonably priced bottle of tequila. This way, you can contribute to the party’s overall vibe while ensuring there’s something around you actually enjoy drinking.
For more intimate gatherings, it’s crucial to account for the host’s personal tastes. Don’t bring a bottle of whiskey if the hostess doesn’t drink hard alcohol—she can’t enjoy it, and it may send a message that she hasn’t provided sufficient drinking options for you. You should also be sure to bring something that can either be served that evening or stored easily. If you bring a bottle that’s already open or perhaps a punch or sangria that you’ve decided prepare, you force your hostess to serve it that evening, even though it may not pair well with the night she’s planned. Pro tip: a few days before the event, ask the host or hostess what kind of wine or booze you can bring. You’ll be not only prepared, but also helpful.
Obviously, a lot of this depends on your budget for the evening. No one expects you to show up with a Chateau Lafite Rothschild bottle every time you go to a friends’ house; take comfort knowing that when it comes to hostess gifts, it’s the thought that counts. Still, sometimes it’s important to really bring it. One of my close friends—an amateur gourmet chef—often hosts dinner parties at her apartment. Her meals are delicious and generous, and we reciprocate by showing up at dinner time with a bottle of wine in hand to drink throughout the evening. Depending on the occasion, these bottles might escalate in price.
My mom was right: you should always bring a gift when you’re invited to someone’s home. whether you choose to bring wine, flowers, or chocolates (or even a more permanent gift), your host will be touched by the gesture. Just be sure not to take back any unused bottles at the end of the evening; that’s just gauche.
Colette Bloom is a writer living in New York. In the eighth grade, she read the first half of Atlas Shrugged but then it fell out of her backpack and the spine cracked and she figured it would be easier to just watch TV. Follow her on Twitter @cobloom.