Whether for a holiday cocktail or dinner party, or for a longer overnight stay, part of being a good guest means bringing a token of appreciation to thank your host for their hospitality. But what should you bring and more importantly, what shouldn’t you bring? How much should you spend? And what gifts do homeowners most want and need during the holiday season? 

Choosing the right holiday host gift 

While it is the thought that counts when it comes to gift giving, it’s worth investing time to make sure that your gift will be properly appreciated. 

“Each host is as unique as the gift given, and it takes skill to put thought and effort into the gesture,” says Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Texas

What are the most popular host gifts over the holidays? “Tried-and-true host gifts include a nice bottle of wine, a beautifully wrapped box of chocolates, cocktail napkins or something you know the host is fond of,” she says. 

Other popular choices include a gift certificate for a local restaurant, deli or coffee shop, board games, cookbooks, and designer candles and candle holders. 

A word of advice on the holiday bottle of wine: make sure that it is appropriate for the household you are going to, as a growing number of households are alcohol-free. 

Also, very popular over the holidays are food gifts, and these are a great idea- with a caveat.   

It’s fine to bring a gift of food, but only if it is meant to be consumed later. If the host has indicated that they don’t need or want any additional dishes at their dinner or cocktail party, and you bring an additional plate, they may feel compelled to serve it to be polite. 

However, baked goods, a food basket or even a pre-made freezer meal (a quick and ready meal solution that is much appreciated over the busy holiday season) are all good ideas that the host can use after everyone has gone home. 

As for how much you should spend, that depends on how long you are staying in the home, meaning that while the sentiment is the same, the gift should be appropriate to the length of the hospitality, according to Gottsman. 

“The gift is the same gesture, but it might be larger in scale,” says Gottsman. In addition to a smaller token gift for the host, the overnight guest might “offer to take them to dinner and contribute to the household in some way with a more substantial offering during your stay,” she explains. 

The conventional wisdom is that in the range of $20-$30 for a host gift for a party is appropriate, and that your budget would be bigger if your stay extends longer 

It’s advisable to steer away from overly personal items, unless you know the host well.  

The good news is that there are dozens of relatively neutral and very usable housing goods and home décor items to choose from that will delight homeowner hosts over the holidays.   

For the host that insists that you don’t bring anything 

paper wrapped gifts with red bow against twinkle lights
Even if the host says not to bring anything, a small token is still appreciated. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

Even if the host says, ‘just bring yourself’, it is polite to still show up with a small token. By saying that it’s not necessary to bring anything, the host may be conveying that the meal or appetizers (depending on the occasion) are covered, so you don’t need to contribute. 

That said, the host would definitely appreciate a small, thoughtful gift that demonstrates gratitude for the invitation.  

Gottsman advises to proceed with your gift discreetly. 

“Don’t say anything, just arrive with a bottle of wine or a small host gift in a bag with your name on it that they can enjoy later. Remember, you are not actually bringing anything for the party, but are showing up with a gift for the host,” says Gottsman. 

Gifts are often most appreciated and authentically thoughtful when they are unexpected.  

Looking for unique holiday host gift ideas? Here is what’s trending. 

Self-care gifts 

Who doesn’t love (and need) a little self-care around the holidays? Your host will appreciate a gift that lets them pause and recharge. 

Shower steamers, hand or body creams, bath salts, a cozy reading throw, essential oils or a collection of positive affirmations are all good choices. 

Food gifts with a twist 

If you are planning on a food gift, think of fancy pantry items as opposed to immediate consumables. Higher- end ingredients add flavor for months after the holiday season and are often things that the host may not buy for themselves during weekly grocery shopping. 

Look for infused olive oils or vinegars, tea or coffee sets, spice sets, meal kits or designer jams, jellies or honey. 

Festive florals 

A lovely seasonal tied bouquet or plant is always appreciated, especially if it comes in a keepsake vase that the homeowner would likely re-use. 

If you are bringing flowers, make sure that they are in a container (such as a vase or flower cup) so that the host doesn’t have to seek out something to put them in when you arrive. 

Or if you are planning on spending a little more on your gift, a monthly floral subscription for a few months means that the blooms will keep coming. 

Help set the holiday table 

white holiday table linens and place settings with champagne glasses
Gifts for the holiday table are welcome. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

Items that might help your host set their holiday table throughout the season are useful, so table linens, festive paper napkins, napkin rings, coasters and festive centerpieces are all good choices. 

Serving tools fall under this category too, with charcuterie boards, cheese knives, unique serving spoons and serving bowls or trays all popular.  

Small appliances 

Chances are your host already has a lot of basic household appliances, so focus on gadgets and tools that they may not have but would really enjoy. 

For example, if your host entertains often, a raclette grill is a unique centerpiece for a fun and conversational dinner party. 

Does your host love movie night? A hot-air popcorn popper with a supply of gourmet popcorn would be welcome. 

For hosts that are coffee aficionados, consider a pour-over coffee maker or a snazzy grinder, with some coffee, of course. 

Socially conscious gifts 

You can thank your host for their hospitality and help your community and/or the planet at the same time. 

Make a donation to a charity on behalf of your host that holds meaning for them (or for you) and include a note highlighting your choice. 

Great eco-conscious gifts include decorative re-usable food containers or beeswax wrappers, organic cleaning supplies, an eco-friendly tote, hand towels or an apron made from sustainable materials or cast-iron cookware.