What Hostess Gift Do You Like Best?

costa rican vase with house designMy husband and I host guests regularly and have received our share of appreciative gifts. I do not invite guests in expectation of any gift, and as long as you make an effort to be pleasant, to the best of your ability, you are welcome in my house. If you don’t know what to bring, don’t have time to shop, or are short on funds please don’t worry about it.

We’re a big family and most of the people we host are not going to be inviting us back.

I’ve lived in communities where hostess gifts were not the norm. My mother used to say that there really isn’t a gift that is a fair exchange for hosting, especially houseguests. But even extremely practical hosts like myself understand that people want to show appreciation and feel uncomfortable arriving empty-handed.

Now let’s say I invited you, and you really want to bring something, even though you don’t have to. Really, I mean it. But if you insist, I prefer that you bring some food, preferably homemade. I’ll still be cleaning, making beds, cooking, and shopping, but bringing part of the meal is a gift that will make my life easier. Just tell me in advance so I can plan the rest of the menu accordingly.

If you are in a dormitory or hotel, or don’t keep kosher, or just got off a plane, this may not be an option. So if you still insist on bringing something, I prefer a bottle of kosher wine. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just don’t be offended if we don’t serve it at that meal. Wine is always useful and keeps for a long time.

And good quality chocolate will never go to waste in my house.

Here are some things I prefer not to receive:

  • Fancy bakery cakes. I do my own baking, and those things are just not healthy. Admittedly, with my large family any kind of cake will probably get eaten quickly.
  • Kitchenware, serving pieces, etc. Even if they are pretty, I already have enough that I never seem to use with no room for more. And I keep them just in case but that is my problem, not yours.
  • I enjoy fresh flowers as long as you don’t arrive five minutes before Shabbat.

To those of you who host: Does it bother you if someone arrives without a gift?  What was the worst gift you ever got? What was your favorite?

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Image: vmiramontes


  1. The first time people come to us, we ask them to just “bring themselves.” And mean it seriously. Usually people interpret this as “bottle of wine.” I don’t know why, but I guess I can use it to cook with or (if it’s very nice) bring it to someone who would appreciate it. We don’t drink much wine, but, as you said, it keeps.

    With friends, I have no hesitation asking them to bring something to contribute to the meal. It took me having a second child to get over myself and allow someone to help me out a little.

    I much prefer to bring someone homemade challah (if they don’t bake their own) or dessert or a salad or some drinks if it’s going to make their life a little bit easier. Or going to a candy/nut place (like Oh Nuts!) and making my own platter so I can put in dried fruit and nuts and a little chocolate instead of it being 100% candy.

    Sometimes if we are going to be staying overnight I make something for the kids (or whoever) to eat in the morning before shul–banana muffins or similar–leftovers could be for seudah shlishit, etc.

    I can’t remember any really awful gifts. Maybe I’m not thinking hard enough.

  2. Worst gift/s? Definitely a set of six (six? who ever thought up that ridiculous, useless, number???) heavy, useless bowls, glasses (argh!!!), spice jars or anything I end up passing on (sorry, you unfortunate recipients–no “do unto others” in this realm!). The bowls, by the way, are great for me to now fill with candy, as a gift–if I happen to remember that I have them, hidden away!

  3. We host often as well and I agree with everything you said in the order of preference that you mentioned.
    Worst gift – a “bowl” for olives. The bowl was wide enuf to accomodate the width of 1 olive and you had to line the olives up. Just made more work.

  4. If you get a fancy bakery cake, just send it over here, especially if it has lots of cream…

    Bottle of wine is easy and practical. Watermelon is a thoughtful gift to bring over (pre-cut) if you’re going to a host who doesn’t have a car in the summer.

    When I have energy, my favorite things to bring over when I come for a meal are lemon meringue pie or pumpkin pie as most people rarely have the time and energy to make it themselves so it’s a special treat.

  5. I love the opportunity to bring someone flowers. I usually bring them midday on Friday.

    As for receiving, I like good conversation best. A bottle of wine works well, and I agree, it doesn’t always get opened right away. But no gift is fine.

    Worst gift = bad candy or cookies from a package. Don’t bother.

    Good topic.

  6. Kate–muffins and such are a good idea.
    Missnursing–Six can work if you’re a family of six, or even four, I guess. Good use of those bowls.
    Ariela, that olive bowl is funny.
    TC–you don’t have watermelon horses and wagons in Modiin like we do over here?
    Leora–flowers from a well-tended garden are the best. And the idea is thanks to Mimi from Israeli Kitchen.

  7. We too host on a very regular basis and do not expect or request any sort of a gift but receive them fairly often, in particular from guests who are not ‘friends’. From our friends where we exchange meals, the whole gift pretense has thankfully been dropped in many cases though we often offer one another to cook part of the meal or pick up some drinks or the like.

    Wine or flowers or chocolate are our favorites, hands down. Though I must say, the soldiers we’ve hosted who have brought along soda or juice as a treat are nice. And several of the ‘grandparent’ types from town who we host bring along speicla things for the kids which is great as they figure that is the biggest help – and the kids adore getting a bag of chips (and I have no objection from time to time)

    What I HATE are store bought cakes (especially of the non-bakery sort – which is what we almost always get) since i am a big time baker. I wind up donating all the store bought stuff to Pitchon lev on Sunday morning if I can hide it before my husband tries to politely open it (which means it winds up getting thrown out since few people take a piece of store cake when there is a variety of homemade cake, cookies, pies on offer).

    When I go out, my offering depends on who is hosting – if its one of my many non-baking friends, I bring hallah and/or dessert. (For some reason most of our friends in town who invite us don’t bake). When its someone who does bake, either i bring flowers or wine, depending on their tastes – or for out of town travels, i often bring chopped liver (yes really!) from this amazing takeout we have in town on fridays.


  8. Of course, hostess gifts are not required, so anything people offer is just a gesture rather than “payment” for the meal. Worst hostess gift we ever got were some inedible cookies decorated in tacky Jewish style — lots of white and blue, magen davids and such. They are actually not cheap, but they taste terrible, and are not even in good taste with respect to appearance. I am not much of a candy person, though I do appreciate good chocolates. When we get jelly beans and candy corn, we usually throw it out. Dish type things that are not my style are stashed in storage.

  9. I think it’s good manners to bring a gift, but I don’t care if people don’t. Especially with friends, I usually just tell them to bring themselves. Sometimes they’ll bring salad, which is nice. My husband likes to bring fruit salad when we go somewhere.

    When we get host gifts, wine is ok, but we could really live without it. Only my husband likes it, so it goes very slowly. And I feel bad not opening people’s wines immediately. At the moment I think we have three open bottles of wine and one grape juice in our fridge, which is annoying.

    Kitchenware is also ok, but not more than that. Bakery cakes and cookies are usually not popular in our house — store bought or homemade usually go over better.

    My favorite gift was nuts. Really truly! Nuts are expensive and I go easy on buying them most of the year. So it is a lovely treat for us when someone brings us nuts. But mostly they bring us wine or cookies.

    I think the worst gift we got was wine without a kashrut certification. Eventually we offered it to a Christian carpenter who did some work for us.

  10. We don’t tend to host or be guests too often, except at brother-in-law’s house. For them, seeing our kids is a treat (don’t understand that myself, but it works for them). But I would tend to take a bottle of wine (maybe checking first if they drink it). If we’re invited to a friend’s then we’ll generally offer to make part of the meal.

  11. i actualy like kitchen stuff (if its not weird like a long fish shaped platter (with 2 smaller fish dishes) which is my strangest gift gotten), i have 2 dishes i got from ‘jameela’ (one was given as mishloach manot with food on it) and they are named after her (her real name not jameela). my best friend makes pottery and she doesnt get it that i love when she makes me something (when i had my last baby i asked her to make my husband a big coffee mug with all the kids names on it instead of buying us something). the point is if you give me something useful i will think of you with a smile whenever i use it.

  12. Fun topic! We just received our worst gift ever a few weeks ago- a very unattractive vase. U.G.L.Y. I wonder if the couple had received it as a gift, couldn’t stand it, and so regifted it to us. I’m going to give it to the local charity shop. SOMEONE’S bound to buy it!

    Best gift we ever got was a large assortment of Max Brenner chocolates- a real expensive gift package that we would never buy for ourselves. YUM. They were absolutely amazing.

  13. The worst gift we ever received was actually received by my parents when I was a teenager. They used to host singles, visitors etc. during the year but especially on Seder night. One Seder night we received a rather hippie-ish American girl who obviously had no clue at all about Pesach. She turned up just as we were about to start the Seder with one drooping flower and … a bottle of whisky! My parents were dumb-struck. My father stammered out a thank you and took the bottle and ran down to the sukkah in the garden where we stored our chametz and shoved it inside.

    We still laugh about that incident. đŸ™‚

  14. We host regularly as we’re an NCSY in a small community and we don’t just take teens (between 5 and 15 most meals on Shabbat) Considering the number of guests we have, we don’t actually get so many gifts – but I always keep thank you cards that we have received – I have an opaque empty vase put aside for flowers that arrived after Shabbos (or even too close) – they get popped straight in and nobody is the wiser (if I get to know them well, I’ll let them know later on) – I got a gift certificate to a beauty salon across the road recently – enough for a manicure – it’s not my kind of thing, but I thought it was very sweet. Books for the kids have also been a very sweet gift, but usually from people who know us well by now. Someone bought me the best big serving trays once – I have used them a lot. She was an example of someone who looks out for what they think is lacking… I’m also a home baker, and I almost always “accidentally forget to serve bought offerings, but I do give them to the kids later. I’ve had a lot of packets of teas, and once, a big shoe horn from a very proper gentleman who obviously thought that we were lacking. I’m not mentioning any truly bad gifts, because I think that everything we’ve received has genuinely been meant well.

  15. Mrs Belogski says

    Good gifts: Chocolate/sweets, wine, flowers ( not plants!). We have one of those long olive dishes too – my kids enjoyed lining up the olives, once! also some of those fish dishes – we like them for serving fish/sushi on. (Why don’t they make meat plates shaped like a cow? We have always wondered)
    Worst gift – possibly a Michal Negrin Hamsa? Matza holder shaped like matza – holds about 6 matzos, we are never less than about 10 on Pesach…

  16. It’s interesting that you prefer homemade food.
    That can get uncomfortable for us, since everybody has their own standards of kashrus and since many of our guests are students, newcomers, or people I don’t know very well, I often don’t know whether or not they adhere to certain stringencies that we do in our home.
    I never want to hurt their feelings, especially since they ARE keeping kosher, but I’d rather that my guests (for the most part) refrain from bringing homemade food.

  17. Well said. I don’t mind if people show up with nothing – I’d rather have nothing than a gift I don’t like. Wine is always best, I agree. In fact, it’s generally how I keep the wine stocked in my house – from guests!:-)

    So my current dilemma – I’m having my annual Sukkot Open House and people keep asking what they can bring. I’m planning on cooking (chili) and was going to bake for desserts. So what do I tell people and how do I keep track of what I’ve told them, etc. Should I just say desserts and be done with it? So much easier to tell them “nothing” but my husband says that people really want to bring…argh.

  18. my first reaction: these days we really don’t get to host that much, so if we invite someone it means we like them and there company is all we really want
    truth: because of prevalent social customs, i would wonder about someone that didn’t bring a gift.

    when we go to friends we sometimes bring a toy or game for the kids. or food for a meal. (with one friend it is ???? that my wife brings a chollent.) i’ve also done the dishes for last minute invitations when we didn’t have a chance to get anything.

  19. ???? = kavu’a

  20. I don’t mind if people don’t bring gifts as long as the time spent together is pleasant. however I enjoy receiving wine or chocolates.

  21. Hi I have been following your blog all the way from Cape Town for a while and I have to comment!!! We are big on hosting guests. Visitors to our church from overseas, missionary families and just a lone family on a Sunday morning… and we have never asked for or expected a gift and would really rather not receive anything. We have received umm quite a few strange ones but my absolutely worst was when an elderly lady looked through her children’s old toy cupboard and brought a large gift for each child, which we just don’t have room for! – The guys were ok – large vehicles that we popped into the garden… but for the girls: don’t think small memorable toy rather think huge very anatomically correct ratty matching boy and girl dolls from the 70’s with hair half falling out and the old cupboard smell… I said thank-you so much and put them straight into the “too donate pile” only she has become an infrequent visitor and every time she comes over she brings more clothes and attachments… Rescue me!!! My kids are very good about donating toys that don’t fit, match or whatever but their is an etiquette question here…

  22. I think a gift is polite as I was brought up to it.
    We have never ever gotten anything bad.
    Kitchen stuff would be lovely as my serving bowls got broken and we never seem to have enough. On the other hand when someone did bring us something it was gigantic and not useful.
    If neighbors come and want to bring something we ask to bring a salad or desert.

    On the other hand I sometimes forget to prepare something we have when we go out, so I quickly take a bottle of grape juice to bring, or drinks.

    It does not matter what someone brings, it is just a token. If a child comes they might bring a packet of chocolate and that is fine by me.

  23. Seven- that’s hysterical that this little old lady thinks your family is a dumping ground for your unwanted stuff!

  24. Se7en–I agree with Abbi! Thanks for coming out of lurkdom. Another thing that I like is tablecloths, as I never seem to have a nice one when I need it. But of course they can also be too much of a good thing.
    Annie, I know a couple brought an Entenmann’s cake on Pesach. They went to burn it in the back yard.
    f/e–true that you remember the giver when you like something (or not!)

  25. Just tell me in advance so I can plan the rest of the menu accordingly.
    This is a very important point. Also, when guests offer to prepare something, I especially appreciate it when they give specific suggestions. After all, when someone says, “Can I make something?” – I inevitably find myself replying, “No, thanks, it’s not necessary.”

    But if they say, “What can I make? How about a kugel or maybe a salad? What will help you the most?” – I know that they’re offering things that they like to make, and I feel comfortable taking them up on their offer.

  26. The last gift that I get on my birthday is keyboard for blondes. It was about 7 month ago but I’m still enjoing that keyboard. Watch disss http://www.keyboardforblondes.com

  27. Mrs. S., thanks for sharing. I like to be asked in that way alos.
    Mary, very cute! Thanks for stopping by.

  28. We live about an hour’s walk from shul and outside the eruv, so get few guests and fewer hostess gifts, though I have a couple of family dinners every year (Rosh Hashana &/or Sukkot, Hannukah and the Pesach Seder) and sometimes I get flowers or a bottle of wine from one of the (grown) kids. My m-in-l (who doesn’t keep kosher) usually brings fruit or chocolate.

    All those things are appreciated. What I really like is an unusual wine or Godiva chocolate (other than at Pesach when it has to be both Pesachdik and Cholov Yisroel). Worst gift? Dollar store “toys” for my youngest. Cheap pieces of plastic that break almost instantly and that she doesn’t want to throw away because “it was a present”.

    • Ilana, responding late but I also like nuts. Shevy, thanks for visiting! I also hate those toys. Problem is that I have a hard time throwing them away myself.

  29. When hosting I first tell people not to bring anything, but if they really want to I suggest a dessert – specify that it needs to be Pareve (you could happen to be talking to someone who always has milchig for Shabbat lunch etc) – and that way it’s one course I don’t have to worry about, rather than trying to fit whatever part of the main course they bring into my plans (and especially as they may have a very different idea in their head than I do). A too small/inedible dessert can always be supplemented with fruit and icecream without offending.

    If, when I do a general “anything anyone doesn’t eat?” screen, they mention a very fussy eater, if they then insist on bringing something, I sometimes do say something like “well I will be trying my very best to cook things based on what you have described, but would you like to bring something that you know for sure xxx will eat; I would hate to get it wrong and for him/her to end up without enough to eat (not sure about the etiquette of that, but I really would hate for someone to go hungry). I don’t usually then take whatever dish is mentioned into consideration in my plans, although I do try not to make a competing duplicate.

    Finally, when we are being hosted, I usually ask what to bring, and if they don’t want any part of the meal itself, I usually bring a baked product, something that people keep wanting the recipe for (and pareve to keep it versatile).

    • Rachel, thanks for visiting and commenting with your ideas. I think it is always better to be straight. Most people appreciate it.

  30. Why not flowers on Shabbat? Is it because you might have to cut the stems?

  31. Hands down, worst gift: the non-Jewish spouse of a Jewish seder guest who turned up for the seder with a SIX-PACK OF BEER. We had to ask him to leave it on the porch and take it with him when he left.

  32. Uberimma: Funny!

  33. I have been invited to Shabbat and I would like to take a gift. My hostess is diabetic so wine and chocolate are not healthy for her. If I bring a plant or flowers in a vase with water would I be breaking laws? I am not Jewish but want to be respectful…. is there another suggestion?

  34. Hi Sarah,
    Flowers or a plant are fine. It depends how religiously observant your hostess is, but ideally you should bring it over during the day if you can, or even have it delivered.

  35. When I first came to live in Israel, and was living on a very small budget, I was invited to stay with someone out of town.

    I bought a melon because growing up in England I loved melons and they were an expensive treat. I would have been delighted to have received such a gift myself.

    My host received it with thanks and some surprise and I subsequently realised that melons are really too commonplace to be considered good gifts.

    Oh well, it’s the thought that counts. (And I still like them).

  36. So, I am part of a Reform community and we have a sister city relationship with Haifa. Israeli students come to visit us in September for Simchat Torah and our children go to Israel in February. As I have two children we have hosted twice and I get lovely gifts from Israel, challah covers, home blessings, pomegranate shaped hot plates (we hosted three students each time!). I did e-mail and request a simple gift- some z’atar to make it easy, and got a pile of wonderful spices and cookbooks! Now it is time for my son to go over. I didn’t want to get anything ‘made in China’ and that is tough over here. Judaica seems to be out too… I found, in a gallery of local artists beautifully framed prints of apples ready for harvest. Apples because I am from New England and we are known for our delicious apples and the teens visited and picked apples. They always come during the holiday season and apples are prominent during this time I bake the round challot filled with apples- do you think this will work as a gift?

  37. We will be visiting Israel and will we entertained while we are there. What are some things that would be appreciated from the US? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


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