It’s nearly holiday party season, which means it’s also peak season for wine sales. During the colder months, party hosts buy bottles to serve the guests gathered in their living rooms, and those guests more often than not bring a bottle of wine as a party contribution. But for those wanting to be a memorable guest (in a good way!), there are often far better “thank you” gifts than wine.
“I think people tend to bring wine to parties because they see it as chipping in, but that’s not what a host gift is really about,” says food and drink writer Julia Bainbridge. “You’re not bringing something to the party (unless it was requested); you’re thanking your host for his or her hospitality.” With this ethos in mind, we asked a few experts for suggestions on gifts for the holiday host that venture well outside the bottle.
Prioritize your host
Remember: This gift is for the host, and not for the party. “If you’re hosting a party, chances are you’re a little bit stressed,” says DeVonn Francis, who hosts parties professionally with event and production company Yardy. The 2018 Eater Young Gun says CBD oils and tinctures are welcome gifts; he likes the ones from Plant People or Cordial Organics.
Typically, a gift for a party host doesn’t need to be more than a small token of your appreciation, but if you’re spending the night, or if your relationship to the host and budget make sense for it, Molly Yeh, cookbook author and star of the Food Network’s Girl Meets Farm, suggests giving a high-quality apron, which will be useful far beyond the day of the party. Yeh recently collaborated with British linen brand Enrich & Endure on two apron designs. “There is no such thing as too many aprons and these are beautiful and built to last,” she says.
Consider gifts for the home
Given that holiday parties are often hosted in someone’s home, Bainbridge likes to bring party hosts a bundle of dried sage and a few sticks of palo santo, packaged together with a note in a small linen bag. “If your host is already familiar with [smudging], then he or she will be happy to have fresh bundles to burn,” she says. “If not, then it’s an opportunity to tell him or her that smudging is meant to energetically cleanse a space and invite in positive energy. You could even make a joke about his or her home needing cleansing after the party’s over.”
Questlove, the musician, author, and apparently excellent party guest, brings a gift for the host to enjoy that evening, as well as long after. “Nine times out of 10 I bring jazz records,” he says. “You can never go wrong with classic dinner music.” The author of Mixtape Potluck, a cookbook inspired by his own “food salon” dinner parties, lists five albums (in no particular order) that are top of mind for great dinner party vibes: John Coltrane’s Coltrane Plays the Blues; Miles Davis’s Nefertiti; the Hank Jones Trio, Have You Met This Jones?; Bobby McFerrin’s The Voice; and Larry Young’s Unity.
Non-boozy drinks are never a bad idea
Even if you decide to go with a more traditional “thank you” gift, wine may not be the best choice as people increasingly look to nonalcoholic beverage options. Bainbridge, who has written extensively on the topic, first recommends making it clear that you don’t expect the bottle to be opened at the party. Rule No 2: “It should be elegant enough to qualify as a gift,” she says. “A case of Spindrift won’t cut it.” Bainbridge is a fan of Proteau, a new line of nonalcoholic aperitifs from John deBary, the former bar director for Momofuku and an advocate for hospitality workers. The Ludlow Red looks like a bottle of wine, but is made with blackberry, violet, black pepper, dandelion, and fig vinegars. “Who knows? Maybe you’ll turn your host on to something new, and they’ll serve it at the next party,” Bainbridge says.
Tea is another option, and one that Yardy’s Francis always appreciates. “It’s nicer when you just go to a little spice shop and pick out dried stuff — or dry your own,” he adds. Francis keeps an eye out for dried goods like tea and spices to bring home for friends when he travels.
Make it festive
When in doubt, realize that there’s no time like the holidays to indulge in ample desserts. “Bring over cookies for dessert in a cookie box that you can gift your host,” recommends Yeh. Yeh uses a box from Pie Box designed specifically for the task. While Yeh’s cookies are potentially more giftable than the cookies most of us bake, remember it’s the thought (and taste) that counts. Including a decorative box (or another creative wrapping) along with the holiday treats may encourage the host to pay it forward by bringing cookies to a party once they’re the guest.
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