It’s that time of year when we are visiting people for the holidays, often you are invited for a meal or some type of dining will take place while you are visiting friends. Should you or should you not take something to the hostess? That is the question.


It is considerate and sometimes expected that you bring a hostess gift to a holiday party. Although the standard gifts of flowers, food or wine are usually appropriate for a meal invitation, even these can be offensive if not chosen and presented with care. The key point to remember is that it is always appropriate to inquire, “Is there anything you would like me to bring?” If you are the hostess don’t be afraid to say no, especially if you have your menu planned. If you do say yes, ask for something that you will need to complete the meal or if all you need is a bag of ice say that.

Dawn Bryan, author of the best-selling “The Art and Etiquette of Gift Giving” says, a gift of food should also be selected or prepared with the recipients’ tastes, needs and family situation in mind. Bringing a surprise dish which is to be eaten at the event and which requires immediate oven warming, refrigeration or freezing, or a special bowl or platter can upset the kitchen, the menu and the cook—and possibly all three. On the other hand, your well-loved special raisin cookies or sweet potato pie will be welcome gifts for later consumption, especially if presented in an attractive reusable container.

Be aware of others’ religious beliefs and taboos as well as their food preferences (vegan) and allergies (if possible). If you are going to be a houseguest, bring a small token of appreciation when you arrive, then purchase a gift during your stay or wait until after the visit to select a suitable thank you gift. This works especially well if this is your first visit to someone’s home.

I have found that cooking for someone while you are a guest in their home or taking them out to dinner is appreciated. If you take them to dinner and/or an event, you should also handle the reservations, obtain the tickets and pick up all of the expenses, including tips and transportation.

Bryan also says, flowers brought to a formal dinner can create confusion while the hostess or others search for a suitable container, and then attempt to integrate the flowers into the design and color scheme that has already been chosen. However, if you know the hostess well, tell her that you would like to provide a special floral arrangement for the occasion and ask if she has a color scheme. If you do take flowers be sure they are already in a suitable container. You can also send flowers or a plant with a thank you note the following day (having seen the decor).

I try never to go empty handed to a party. I attempt to take a gift that the hostess will like, something just for them. This is the time of year to stock your gift closet or drawer. Often when I buy something for myself, if there are multiples, I will buy one to set aside for a gift to give later.

(E-mail the columnist at debbie­

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