How can I be the "perfect stranger" at a dinner party?
October 10, 2010 9:50 PM   Subscribe

I was invited to a dinner party, but don't know the host. What do I bring to thank them for inadvertently having me?

An acquaintance of mine has invited me a Autumnal themed dinner party, which I'm very much looking forward to attending. Aside from the mild feeling of awkwardness since I'll only know the person I'm going with, what do I bring the hosts to show my gratitude? From what I've been told, they are true gourmands who will be serving up a delicious coursed meal, and therefore a food offering seems wrong. I'd try to choose a nice wine/beer, but am unsure of the menu, besides the possibility of it being Oktoberfest-esque. Please help, as I do not want to be that guest. TIA!
posted by patientpatient to Human Relations (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Champagne. Goes with everything, everyone likes it, it's festive.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:53 PM on October 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'd bring a New Belgium limited-edition Lips of Faith beer, myself.
posted by liketitanic at 9:54 PM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

They probably have the wine selected as well. It doesn't matter, you can bring them some nice wine and they can save it for some other time.
posted by grouse at 9:54 PM on October 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Or you could bring a wine for them, as a gift, regardless of whether it pairs well with the meal.

Flowers are also lovely.
posted by Sara C. at 9:55 PM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

The gift to the host doesn't have to be consumed during the dinner. A bottle of wine is pretty much the default. Go to the wine store and tell them you want something nice and autumn-y. Buy whatever they tell you buy and when giving it to the host repeat whatever they told you about why it is autumn-y.
posted by griphus at 9:55 PM on October 10, 2010

(Unless of course you don't know your ass from your elbow w/r/t wine, in which case just keep your mouth shut and tell them the guy at the wine store thought it would be a nice pick if asked why you chose it.)
posted by griphus at 9:56 PM on October 10, 2010

I'm voting for a nice bottle of red wine....
posted by HuronBob at 10:14 PM on October 10, 2010

I was just in a very similar situation. I baked a cake, as that is what I do. (I don't drink, so bringing alcohol would be strange.) I always opt to bring baked goods to dinner parties. They don't have to bring it out that night if they don't want to (same with wine). You can always say, "I brought this for you guys to enjoy later!" and they can interpret that as they wish.
posted by phunniemee at 10:16 PM on October 10, 2010

posted by gillianr at 10:30 PM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

As someone who hosts a lot of dinner parties - please, please don't bring flowers! However amazing they are and however sweet it was of you to bring them, they take some work to prep and put in a vase, plus I have to find a vase, and I'm probably cooking, with food around and full counter tops. It's stressful!

Homemade cookies or something would be an amazing gift, wine would be appreciated and totally fine. Don't bring anything you expect to get to eat or drink that night though, the host probably has everything planned out. It's nice to make it clear that what you bring is a sign of appreciation to be enjoyed by the hosts another time.
posted by crabintheocean at 10:48 PM on October 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

We have some friends that almost always send flowers THE DAY BEFORE the dinner party. They are always appreciated and we get to arrange them ahead of time and enjoy them at the party.

I've always thought it was the most thoughtful hostess gift.
posted by Saminal at 11:06 PM on October 10, 2010 [18 favorites]

Wine, always. You can never go wrong with a good Barbaresco or Barolo, depending on your budget.
posted by halogen at 12:13 AM on October 11, 2010

If someone brings food or drink when I'm hosting, I feel a bit odd about not opening whatever it is to share with them - I know that's not what the rules say, but that's how it is. Nice chocolates or cookies (home-made if you're so inclined, but bought would be fine) are a good option. The hosts can serve them with coffee at the end of the meal, alongside whatever they had planned, or they can choose to keep them for later.

Another option, if they're foodies, is a jar or bottle of some kind of interesting oil/vinegar/preserve/sauce - and in that case it will be clear that it's not for immediate consumption!
posted by une_heure_pleine at 1:33 AM on October 11, 2010

You're not obligated to bring them anything. The important thing is to send them a nice handwritten thank-you note immediately after the party.
posted by tel3path at 3:39 AM on October 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

I would never dream of turning up to a dinner party, invited or otherwise, without wine. It may not be opened, but it will be appreciated. Flowers would be lovely but optional.
posted by londonmark at 4:41 AM on October 11, 2010

Wine or something towards dessert are definitely the traditional options. I'll often use some of my homemade jams towards host gifts, too.
posted by Eshkol at 6:06 AM on October 11, 2010

I love getting flowers, wine, baked goods, good chocolate. Whatever you bring, assure the host that you don't want to disrupt their menu with your gift. Your biggest obligation is to be a good guest; listen well, have a few good comments or question ready in case conversation lags, and be appreciative of the meal. Have fun.
posted by theora55 at 6:57 AM on October 11, 2010

If it's Autumn-themed, how about some apple cider and/or a sachet of mulling spices?
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:22 AM on October 11, 2010

I pretty much always show up with a bottle of wine to dinner. even if its not drunk that night.

but you could also say bring a bottle of a 'Digiestif' type drink - more as a gift. ie say a Grappa, Whiskey, Poire (pear style grappa), Jenever, Marc (french grappa), cognac.

Another option would be say a bottle of expensive aged Balasamic Vinegar. or Truiffle oil or something handy like that for Gourmands.
posted by mary8nne at 8:20 AM on October 11, 2010

I think flowers are awkward because you don't know about allergies, etc. and someone has to stop what he/she is doing and tend to the flowers. Nice bottle of wine, etc. but you don't actually need to do anything but have fun, make conversation with everyone and write a thank you note.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:56 AM on October 11, 2010

Frankly I can't afford the kinds of wines you would bring as a host/ess gift. I have relatives who often throw fancy dinner parties, so I frequently find myself in this situation.

I knit and have chickens, so I usually get around this problem by either bringing a hand-knit dishcloth (which they can use as intended, or as a coaster, or a washcloth, or whatever) or a dozen eggs.

In a pinch I'll go to a local farmer's market, food co-op, or produce stand and find something local, ideally hand-made or artisinal. Something special and location-specific. It can be a local cheese, raw local honey, jams, pickles, or even soap.

If you really really get desperate, this time of year you could just choose six of the best-looking apples and put them in a basket. Hey, fresh fruit! Everyone likes apples, right?
posted by ErikaB at 11:28 AM on October 11, 2010

You're not obligated to bring anything, but a short thank-you note afterward is always a nice gesture. Miss Manners would disapprove, but I think it's fine to do this via email instead of a handwritten note unless it's a very formal dinner party. The important part is that you thank them for their effort in a genuine manner.

If you do bring something, remember that host-gifts are supposed to be for the host(s), not the dinner party guests, so you should neither be concerned with choosing something to go with the menu nor expect what you bring to be served with dinner. Some hosts may choose to serve it, but you should expect them not to.

My friends and I tend to bring each other the fruits of our homemade preservation efforts: jams, salsas, pickles, infused alcohol, etc., and they're always a hit. Other ideas suitable for food-lovers:

-Wine (nothing too expensive, a ~$20 bottle is fine, ask a knowledgeable friend or the clerk at the wine shop for recs)
-A box of nice chocolates or caramels
-A nicely-presented bag of in-season fruit from the farmer's market
-A bottle of nice local honey
-Infused vinegar or oil--the good stuff, not from the shelf at Cost Plus!
-A small jar of nice fancy salt or a spice mix
posted by rhiannonstone at 11:43 AM on October 11, 2010

I would do pumpkin beer or flowers.
posted by easy_being_green at 1:01 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

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