A Man's Life, On Etiquette

A Gentleman Never Arrives Empty-Handed

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Raymond.

It’s a sultry summer night, and you’re on your way to an elegant dinner party given by your boss and his charming wife. You arrive at the appropriate time, impeccably dressed in casual evening wear and greet your hostess with a smile—and nothing more.

Imagine your mortification and horror when you pass a table in the hall loaded with bottles of wine, flower arrangements, gourmet coffee, and other small gifts. You search your brain…is it the host’s anniversary? A birthday? Did someone retire?

Although the party might be a celebration of one of those occasions, it’s far more likely that guests with better manners than you brought thoughtful tokens of appreciation for their hosts.

Like thank you notes, the giving of gifts to your hosts is becoming a lost art. When we do remember to bring a nice little something, it’s invariably a bouquet of flowers or a bottle of wine from the corner liquor store. Really, can’t we do better than that?

Gone may be the days of bringing your hostess lavish crystal or a pair of mourning doves when you arrive at the manor for a weekend stay, but we haven’t become complete savages. Your hosts have expended a great deal of time, effort, and expense to provide you with an evening (or weekend) of food, drink, and entertainment. The least you can do is thank them with an appropriate gift.

Summer is here and with it a bevy of seasonal social obligations: barbeques, picnics, dinner parties, and weekends away. Never arrive at someone’s home without something more to contribute than your personality, as stunning as it might be. Take this opportunity to man up and accept this simple rule: no matter what the occasion, a gentleman never arrives empty-handed.

The Rules of Appropriate Gifting

A hostess gift doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should be thoughtful. Consider the types of activities your hosts enjoy, and gift accordingly. As a general rule, your budget should be around $15 to $30, depending upon the formality of the occasion.

An important rule to remember is that you should never bring anything that makes more work for your hosts. The best example is that of flowers: If you bring a cello-wrapped bouquet, your hostess must stop what she is doing, find a vase, trim the ends from the flowers and greenery, arrange the bouquet, and find a place for it. If you’re giving flowers, be sure to bring a bouquet that is already arranged in a vase.

Likewise, never bring food to add to the menu unless your hostess has specifically requested you do so. If you’d like to bring food or drink as your gift, make sure your hosts understand that the gift is for their enjoyment, and you don’t expect them to share it with their guests.

Give Thoughtfully

Although wine and flowers are traditional hostess gifts and will always be appreciated, why not challenge yourself and come up with something a little more creative? Try one of these suggestions:

  • Gourmet coffee. Always opt for whole bean coffee (if they’re the kind of people who will enjoy coffee as a gift, they’re likely to have their own grinder). Skip the fancy flavors and select a medium brew from a recognized brand, not the mystery bag you find on the shelf at Ross.
  • Fine chocolate. For a gift of chocolate to be a hit, it must be unusual and special. Visit an upscale department store or chocolatier for a small box of exquisite truffles.
  • Posh spices. If you know your hosts enjoy cooking, visit an upscale market or boutique for a selection of interesting peppercorns, cinnamon, or other often-used spices. A set of sea salts will likely be a big hit. You might also consider a small assortment of spices for ethnic food, such as turmeric, saffron, or coriander.
  • Scented candles. Yes, these are overdone, but there’s a reason for that—most everyone enjoys them. Opt for something well-crafted, not a Glade candle from the supermarket. For a host, try a candle with a uniquely masculine scent–like one that smells like a barbershop.
  • Kitchen gadgets. Hosts that frequently entertain will always enjoy adding another tool to their party arsenal, like retro metal cocktail skewers, linen kitchen cloths, or a set of unique coasters.
  • Fresh produce. If you happen to garden, bring a small box of your garden’s bounty, packaged so that it can go straight into the refrigerator. Even if your hosts are carnivores, they’ll delight in your interesting gift. Skip this option if you don’t garden or settle for something simple, like a large basket of succulent road-stand strawberries.

Avoid overly personal gifts, such as perfume, bath products, or articles of clothing. Although etiquette guides disagree, skip the houseplant unless your hostess has a renowned green thumb; otherwise, you put her at risk of worrying if she’ll kill it.

Although it may seem terribly clever, resist the urge to develop a “signature” gift, such as a particular bottle of wine you bring each time you visit. You might think your hosts delight in receiving your special brand of manliness, but in reality, they’re probably chuckling about the fact that you’ve brought the same bottle of poor quality chardonnay to their last three dinner parties.

Let the Gift Match the Occasion

Your hostess gift should reflect the occasion. An elaborate flower arrangement isn’t appropriate for a pool party, just as a six-pack won’t do for a formal dinner. Consider the tone and nature of the party, and gift accordingly.

Occasions that demand hostess gifts include dinner parties, pool parties, weekend visits, extended stays…basically anytime you’re foisting your presence on someone in their home.

Although Peggy Post, descendent of etiquette doyenne Emily Post, says that it isn’t necessary to bring a gift to a cocktail party or open house, what could it hurt? Who doesn’t want another bottle of premium vodka for their bar? Who would be offended by a simple flower arrangement? It’s far better to err on the side of graciousness and bring a little something, regardless of the occasion.

Wine, Beer, & Spirits

All this talk of flowers and scented candles aside, most men prefer to bring liquor to events they attend. Yes, as we’ve mentioned it’s not very unique, but it’s well-received, it’s easier, and it’s something many men feel more comfortable buying and giving. Appropriate to nearly every occasion—except if you’re visiting a “dry” house—alcohol can be a thoughtful hostess gift if you think a little before you purchase it.

Take wine, for example. If your hosts are oenologists, don’t insult them with a bottle of two-buck Chuck. Visit a real liquor store and purchase something in the $20 range, like a nice chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon. Or you could exercise a little creativity and select an interesting sauvignon blanc, viognier, zinfandel (red only, please), muscat, or shiraz from a more unusual wine region, like Alexander Valley or Chile. If you are helpless around wine, ask the proprietor for help.

Fine liquor makes for another excellent hostess gift. Unless you know your host has specific tastes in spirits, stick to the basics, like brandy, fine gin, flavored vodka, or top-shelf tequila. Jagermeister, Goldschlager, and flavored schnapps are never acceptable.

You might think that beer isn’t an appropriate hostess gift, but you would be wrong—provided you give it at the right occasion. As previously mentioned, a formal dinner is not the right event for beer, unless, of course, your host is a microbrewery aficionado. In that case, opt for something unique and interesting, like something you’d order from a beer club. For more casual occasions, pick up a six-pack of good beer, like a stout or an IPA.

Giving the Gift with Style

Although it isn’t necessary to stick a bow on your sixer or your wine in a fancy bag, you should take care to present your gift with style. Non-alcohol-related gifts should be wrapped or otherwise artfully presented, with the price tags removed and the store bag left in the car.

When you arrive, don’t thrust the package at your host the moment she opens the door. Say hello, walk inside, and only then present your host with your thoughtful gift. Make certain she knows that she is under no obligation to share; the gift is purely for her amusement and enjoyment.

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Raymond is a beer enthusiast and casual blogger. Currently he writes about beer for BeerClubGuide.com, a site that reviews and rates Beer Clubs.


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