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Oct 30, 2011 10:14 PM

Holiday Cocktail Party Etiquette

Is it ever appropriate to ask guests to bring something to a party? We'd like to collect toys for Toys for Tots at our party, but I'm not sure if it defies etiquette to put that on the invitation.

The party will be nice - fancy cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, etc.

And if its not an etiquette breach, how do you succinctly put it on an invitation? Having writers block on keeping it short and sweet!


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  1. It is appropriate precisely when it is for soliciting charitable donations (cans for food pantries, Toys for Tots) and not for financing the party itself.

    Why not ask the Toys for Tots people how they like to be represented on such event cards? Be prepared for the fact this cannot be readily shortened, so how about:

    This year, we are collecting toys for Toys for Tots, who provide millions of toys to underprivileged children. If you'd like to join us, please bring an unwrapped gift for children ages ?- ?).

    1 Reply
    1. re: Lizard

      Lizard, I think your wording is perfect. And succinct to boot.

    2. My kids regularly request food pantry donations instead of gifts for their birthday parties. They usually word it something like this: "No presents, please, but you are welcome to bring a canned good for the food pantry."

      And the collection is really low-key, so that those who don't bring anything don't feel bad. We usually just put a box beside the door for people to put their cans or boxes in. I've only had one mom complain that we were being self-righteous, but no one else seemed to mind, and there are plenty of other kids who do the same thing for their b-days.

      Since your party is nice, you could decorate a table or box to collect the toys, but be sure to put it in an unobtrustive spot so no one feels bad or cheap if they forget or don't support that charity.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Isolda

        I think that's a great gesture, but the difference is that a child's birthday party usually is a gift-giving event and a cocktail party is not.

        1. re: LeoLioness

          I was thinking along the lines that people usually do bring host/ess gifts to cocktail parties, so instead of the wine or snazzy little crackers, guests could bring a toy. We went to a cocktail party last summer where the host requested donations for a save the wildlife type project. It was discreetly done, so no one felt pressured.

          1. re: Isolda

            That's the way that I approached the OP's question. Since it's a Holiday cocktail party I would expect guests to bring a hostess gift or Xmas present. A toy for Toys for Tots isn't too much to ask for, and probably more fun and easier to shop for. I like Lizard's wording for invitation and your discreet box by the door idea for collection.

      2. Do you want donations for a charity, or are you talking about food items for the party (including wines)?

        We do a lot of themed parties, but are usually talking about food and wine.

        For charity events, we normally have someone speaking, and then the participants are asked for donations. With those, we ALWAYS state the thrust of the event, so that no one is blind-sided on the charity aspect.


        1. I think the OP is having a Christmas cocktail party and thought it might be a nice idea to ask guests to bring a toy so that all the toys can be donated to Toys for Tots which I'm guessing is a charity (which accepts toys for its toy bank and distributes to underprivileged children).

          1. I really do admire the spirit behind the gesture, but I think you have to be very careful with the wording so as not to make this seem "mandatory", particularly since cocktail parties aren't a gift-giving occasion to begin with.

            While it may seem like no big deal to you for a guest to bring a small item, the truth is you have no idea what people's financial situations are and what their charitable giving habits are, especially at this time of year. Your small request could be the 12th one they've had all week.

            Perhaps let your guests know that you will be making a trip to a Toys for Tots center, in case they have any toys they would like to bring? That way it sort of comes off as you doing them a favor as opposed to hitting them up for something.

            1 Reply
            1. re: LeoLioness

              I'm not crazy in favor of asking for toy donations especially if it involves a special trip to the store for some people that don't have kids or kids still at home. I might mind less if it was bring a can from your pantry for a food bank which is easier to get your hands on and doesn't involve having to go choose a toy. My kids are in their 20s so I am way out of the toy loop and would probably agonize for ages about what's appropriate and how much I should spend.

              A can of food is only a buck or less and there is no competition feeling about who spent what.