Let's set the scene: Your husband has a holiday party with coworkers that, as a good wife, you are required (a.k.a. guilted) into attending. You don't know the host or hostess. Wait, who's throwing this shindig again? You don't know the likes or dislikes of guests. Hold on, is this party alcohol free? You have no idea what food will line the party menu. Is it appetizers of the cheese and cracker variety or can you expect a full meal?
You know you want to bring a small holiday gift to show your appreciation for your invitation, but it’s important to consider etiquette before you start shopping around.
Here are some basic do's and don'ts of giving an appropriate gift for a holiday party.
- Preplan. An appropriate gift can't always be picked up on the way to the party. Just ask me about the time I was "gifted" a disposable camera and Chapstick by one of my dinner party guests. Yes, I did live close to a pharmacy. Yes, I am certain the gift was picked up minutes before my guests arrival, and yes, the moment of gifting was quiet and awkward. Think about your gift in advance. A little preplanning makes a big difference.
- Dig for information. Find out a few important details about your host or hostess. Does she drink? Does he eat meat? Is she a sports fan? Does he have a favorite TV program? Build on what you do know about the person who is throwing the party, and then work to incorporate those interests into your giving.
- Think small. Remember: giving a holiday host/hostess gift is more about acknowledging your appreciation for the invitation to the party and less about the gift itself. Recipients will appreciate your thoughtfulness regardless of the amount spent on the gift.
- pretzels to lollipops to fruit. They are perfect to share with party guests or keep wrapped and saved for a time when the host can savor the treats on his own.
- Be appropriate. Giving your boss or coworker a personal gift may not be appropriate, but giving you best friend something special is. Make certain what you give cannot be taken the wrong way. For example, giving scented soaps to your boss is a big no-no.
Once you have a budget, stick to it! No one likes bringing in the New Year in debt!
- Make assumptions. A bottle of wine or specialty sausage are standard gifts for holiday parties, but only give them if you know your host drinks or eats meat. You don't want to offend, and assuming party goers will be doing keg stands to Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” is a mistake. Find out what's on tap before you stop for the alcohol.
- Spend the big bucks. Take this opportunity to show what a big spender you are. Over the top and expensive gifts may make the recipient embarrassed or uncomfortable. The price of the gift depends on the type of party. For a small and casual holiday dessert party, a small, inexpensive gift is perfect. For a more formal dinner party, look for a mid-priced gift.
- Expect a big thanks. The party isn't going to stop just because you brought a gift. The hostess has many responsibilities. Allow her to finish her conversation, put out more food, and open your gift later in the evening. Your job is to make her job (hosting) easier.
- Limit yourself to common gifts. Based on what you know about your host, chose a unique gift such as a Make Your Own Salsa Kit. Think outside of the places you normally shop and you will find the AK Bullet Ice Cube Tray, or you might even spot a book on entertaining guests. Hosts will appreciate the extra effort you put forth into finding something unique.
Now you are clear on the basic do's and don'ts, and you have promised me you won't stop at a pharmacy for your holiday gifting, right?
One last piece of advice: When shopping for holiday gifts, if you find something you like, pick up two. Having a spare gift on hand can keep you from panicking the night of the party during a busy work week, and you can always return it if you don’t end up gifting it to someone.