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Showing up empty-handed to dinner

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Okay, here's a Miss Manners-type question. Would you show up to a dinner empty-handed if you had asked the host/hostess what you could bring and s/he had said "just bring yourself?" Personally, I can't imagine showing up without a bottle of wine or flowers, unless perhaps, the host/ess is your best friend and it's a casual last minute "come on over for dinner" invite. What do people think?

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  1. I would not show up empty-handed. I actually keep a small stash of 'hostess gifts' on hand in case I can't get to the liquor store or flower shop. Examples of these gifts include small travel books that I buy on sale (e.g., Gardens of Portugal) or sometimes notecards purchased on a trip.

    Just the way I was brought up, and yes, many of my friends laugh at me for this compulsion. Not the friends getting the gifts, of course...

    1. I have always brought at least a bottle of wine or some flowers. When I was invited to my sister's in-laws for Thanksgiving, I brought a small orchid in a cute little pot. I never go to someone's house without something.

      On the other hand, my SO had no idea this was the polite thing to do until we started dating. We were headed to a friend's for dinner and I told him to stop at the store on the way. When I explained, he was dumbfounded and asked me if he'd been rude all those years. I said 'yes.' He's still with me years later and is the first to grab beer or wine when we head to a party/dinner.

      1. I'm frequently the hostess who has replied, "Oh, nothing, please! Just bring yourself," to that inquiry. And I really mean it when I say it, especially if it's one of those just-before-dinner calls saying, "We're on our way. Anything you need?" I've already planned what wine I'm going to serve so I really don't want wine. And, if I wanted flowers at my dinner, I'd probably already have those arranged, too. Having to stop what I'm doing when a guest arrives with a bunch of cut flowers can interrupt the kitchen flow: you've got to trim the stems, find and fill a vase, arrange the flowers and make a place for them where they can be seen. An arrangement in a low bowl or vase, already set up, would be preferable, I think, if you must.

        On the other hand, I have also put in a request for, say, a wonderful loaf of bread if I know that a stop at a particular bakery is convenient for my guest - but ahead of time, not at the last minute. Or, if I've discovered that I've run out of something that I need for some part of the meal and the market is on the way and it's a really good friend, then I'll ask them to stop and pick up some whatever-it-is.

        If you're going to ask, then I think you should trust your host/hostess to tell you the truth and go along with the answer. At most, if you absolutely can't stand showing up empty-handed, maybe bring some chocolates that he/she can opt to put out with after-dinner coffee or some interesting jarred gourmet item that can go into the pantry after the appropriate oohs-and-aahs. Or something entertaining-related, like pretty paper hostess towels for powder room.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Deenso

          I agree. Even though I usually like to pick up a bottle of wine, an app, or dessert on the way to someone's house, there are certain people (like my SO's mother) who truly find it unnecessary or even inconvenient to receive a hostess gift. In cases like that, where the hostess insists, I try to be respectful of their wishes. Instead, I always try to send a thank note after the event to show my appreciation.

          1. re: Deenso

            I understand what you mean re: having to cut/arrange flowers, but I believe any wine that is brought is a gift to the hostess, and shouldn't expect to be used before/during/after that particular dinner. Although I know that expectation of it not being used at *that* dinner party doesn't always jive with whoever's giving the wine. :-)

            1. re: Deenso

              I totally agree. I like to cook enough that everything is planned. When someone brings wine I feel obligated to serve it, and it may be inappropriate for the dinner I have prepared.

              I agree with someone's specialty that fits with the meal, but I will ask. Especially baked goods and desserts.

              I like the chocolate idea. Chocolate goes with any dessert or after dinner libation.

            2. I think it's always nice to bring a little something when invited over for a dinner. However, it's important to bring items that will not inconvenience the host or hostess, especially if they're preparing something elaborate. I think sometimes even a bouquet of flowers isn't the best because then the hostess has to go and find a vase, cut the stems, and arrange them right there. Bottles of wine are great, but don't expect it to necessarily be opened that night - if the food has been carefully planned, chances are the beverages have been too. I personally would find it odd to receive a book or notecards as a hostess gift for a dinner party. A thank-you note after the fact would be even better.

              I think most people do feel the need to bring something, so the smart hostess should plan for this by having an answer ready to the inevitable question - 'What should I bring?'

              9 Replies
              1. re: keslacye

                When I bring flowers, they are already vased or if I know the person well enough, I'll take care of them when we arrive.

                1. re: mojoeater

                  I used to bring a bouquet of flowers. And then, years ago, on Chowhound I read someone's post about the host/ess having to stop, find a vase, etc... And I realized that it was probably pretty annoying to them. And now that I've started entertaining a lot more in the last few years, I really realized that the flower thing was annoying when someone brought them to me!

                  I would never go empty handed, though. Now that I have small kids and we often go to other people's houses with kids, often I will just bring something small for the kids. My friends usually do the same.

                  1. re: valerie

                    Funny about the flowers. At one of our seders last week, two separate guests brought flowers. They were really beautiful and very much appreciated BUT you're right, I had to stop everything, find a vase, cut them down, throw away the loose leaves and display them in the dining room. I wouldn't dream of complaining about getting flowers but having them already vased - or doing it yourself when you arrive with them would be the very best of both worlds. I will remember to do that next time I bring them somewhere. (Mental note to self: buy a few plain glass vases at second hand shop and have them on hand for just such an occasion.)

                    1. re: Nyleve

                      I got some at the 99 cent store!

                      1. re: mojoeater

                        Darn... I can give the her some for free just because we have so many vases... probably from our guests! :-)

                      2. re: Nyleve

                        Certainly I wouldn't complain because it's a nice gesture, BUT, the other thing about flowers is that when I entertain for a holiday dinner, I get flowers for the center of the table. I like to arrange them they way I like to arrange them! I have a variety of nice vases or sometimes I use little julep cups down the center of the long table (when did I become Martha Stewart?!)

                        Plus right now we live in an apartment so just have one living room/dining room. There really isn't a helluva lot of places to put another vase filled with flowers so they end up getting stuck in the kitchen, where nobody really goes anyway (if I can help it!).

                        1. re: valerie

                          I would assume your guests know your space limitations and would bring something else then.

                          1. re: valerie

                            also, re: flowers

                            if i'm going to put flowers on the dining table, they will need to be cut and arranged so that their height is low enough so as not to prevent the guests sitting on opposite sides of the table from seeing and conversing with each other.

                            without coming beforehand, most guests can't scope out what kind of flower arrangement could work for this. also, if you've set the table with a color scheme in mind, most guests (unless they're prescient) can't coordinate the flower colors.

                            although i'm not the most artistic table-setter, some of my friends are, and they will come over beforehand to help me get the table all arranged. the other guests are not really helping me by bringing over additional flowers or other table decorations.

                  2. For me, it depends on your relationship w/the host/hostess and the type of gathering.

                    I have simple dinners @ home for friends/family who live in the vicinity (<1 mi) a couple times a month (a gathering of 6-10 people). For these dinners, it's so casual, a hostess gift really isn't necessary (unless they want to supplement the meal w/dessert or drinks).

                    Otherwise, hostess gifts are always welcome (though not expected). And in return, I reciprocate in kind.