1. A bottle of wine
You really can’t go wrong with a good bottle of wine. Showing up at the door with a quality vino that pairs well with just about any dish is a pro-level party move that your host will appreciate.
The best rule for pairing food and wine is to match flavor intensity. That’s why you see classic wine and food pairings like crisp Champagne and mild oysters or bold cabernet sauvignon and rich steak. When it comes to picking the perfect bottle, you’ll probably want to ask your host what they plan to serve to make sure you’re able to find that beautiful flavor balance.
When in doubt, you can’t go wrong with a bottle of bubbles. Sparkling wines can stimulate the senses and seem to elevate the flavors on your plate — it’s a win-win. Cava and Prosecco are often less expensive options than Champagne but still deliver a refreshing and celebratory sip that matches the vibe of any convivial get-together.
2. A fresh bouquet
Flowers are a thoughtful touch, but you want to make sure you’re giving your host a gift, not a chore. A huge arrangement wrapped in tissue paper might be a stunning sight, but having to stop everything to hunt down a vase, trim stems, and make counter space is a less-than-ideal detour for your host to endure in the midst of a large gathering.
Instead, present those beautiful pre-trimmed blooms in a vase. That way, your host can simply plop the fuss-free arrangement down wherever they need to add a little extra color. Not to mention, they’ll be able to use that vase for any and all future gatherings in their home long after those flowers fade.
As an extra thoughtful touch, try incorporating a few springs of fresh herbs into your bouquet. Mint, dill, or rosemary make fragrant additions to any flower arrangement or your host can remove them to a separate jar to keep for future use.
3. Fresh fruit
Like a bouquet of flowers, fresh fruit can be a delightful way to invite color into your host’s home without overshadowing their cooking skills. Whether enjoyed pre- or post-meal, a few bites of crisp produce can be a refreshing palate cleaner during any dinner party.
When it comes to selecting your specimens, there are a few simple tricks for picking the best fresh fruit. The general rule is to carefully examine your produce — look for a rosy hue on red apples, smell the bottom of pineapples and peaches to sniff out ripeness, and look for wrinkle-free grapes sprouting from supple green stems.
As for presentation, that might depend on the occasion. For less formal affairs like brunches or cookouts, presenting a platter of sliced fruit could be a welcome addition to a buffet-style spread. If you’re attending a more formal affair with a plated menu, a fruit basket with whole specimens might be more appropriate.
4. A simple salad
For informal gatherings where grilled meats are the star, a simple chopped salad could be the fresh addition your host is looking for. Salad doesn’t have to be complicated; a few quality store-bought ingredients plus some minimal chopping can result in a refreshing side dish to a meat-centric affair.
When building the best (and easiest) salad, texture is key. Incorporate a variety of greens — like a blend of tender green leaf or romaine for body, arugula for flavor, and endive or cabbage for extra crunch — plus some raw veggies, nuts, dried fruit, and even cheese if you so choose. The culinary combinations are endless and the only limit is your tastebuds.
Another benefit to presenting your host with a curated side salad? Quality control. If you have allergies or are adhering to a specific dietary regimen, providing at least one dish you know you can safely consume will put both your and your host’s minds at ease.
You might be surprised how much you miss simple raw veggies if they’re not present among the appetizer options. Crisp and colorful, a well-plated array of fresh vegetables with a refreshing dip is an easy offering to take off your host’s to-do list.
Most crudité staples like carrots, radishes, and bell peppers are simple enough to toss on a serving tray, but some tougher vegetables might require a little extra prep. If you can swing the extra time, try blanching tougher veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, and sugar snap peas in boiling water for two to four minutes before submerging them in ice water to cool thoroughly. This process, called shocking, keeps their color vibrant and their texture crisp, albeit easier to chew.
When picking out your produce, avoid shopping in the middle of the day. Instead, find out when your local grocery store gets their deliveries and shop when the shelves are restocked.
6. A box of chocolates
Few things were ever made worse by the addition of chocolate. Whether presented as a gift for your host or as a tasty addition to the dessert table, an upscale box of chocolates fits the bill.
Chocolate as a gift should look the part but that doesn’t mean it needs to break the bank. Among some of the best chocolate brands for gifting are affordable options like Lindt’s Lindor truffles and Ghirardelli chocolate squares. Both well-known brands have a long history of confectionary craftsmanship and that experience shows in the final product, even if it is readily available on most grocery store shelves. For a gift-worthy box of chocolates (sometimes with a price point to match), visit a local specialty food store or confectionery shop where an expert might just be on hand to help you pick out the perfect selection of sweet treats to entice your host.
7. Artisanal olive oil
Served with bread before dinner or reserved for extra-special use, a bottle of good olive oil is a multipurpose gift any culinarily minded host would be grateful to receive. Every celebrity chef from Alton Brown to Ina Garten has their personal favorite cooking aid, but how do you know which one to pick?
When it comes to gifting olive oil, a high-quality finishing oil is the way to go — those bottles that you save for special occasions like holiday dinners or impressing in-laws. While there may be endless debate over which Mediterranean locale produces the best product (don’t discount California varieties), you’ll want to reach for an extra-virgin olive oil. The difference between extra virgin and regular olive oil is fairly nuanced: Extra-virgin oil is extracted from pure, cold-pressed olives while plain olive oil has gone through an extra (chemical-free) refinement process to remove impurities. This natural purity is why the extra-virgin variety is so often referred to as "good olive oil."
8. Something from your local bakery
Picking up a fresh baked good from your neighborhood bakery is an easy and thoughtful way to let your host know you appreciate their invitation. When it comes to which bakery case goodie to pick, it all comes down to two factors: Your host’s personality and what looks best.
Friends with a super sweet tooth might just appreciate an extra dose of dessert to add to their after-dinner spread. Just consider whether your host would prefer a chocoholic’s delight or if they’re more of a colorful fruit tart connoisseur. Either way, try to pick out something that they wouldn’t necessarily make themselves.
If sweets aren’t their thing, some hosts might enjoy a freshly baked loaf of artisanal bread to serve alongside the main course. If you don’t want to tread on their culinary toes, grab a breakfast item like muffins or bagels for your host to enjoy the next morning after a hard night’s work.
9. Cocktail napkins
Not all dinner party additions need to be edible. Cocktail napkins are likely low on the list of priority items for your host to purchase, so arriving with a stack of quality napkins can help them upgrade their event from fine to fabulous.
While there’s nothing wrong with paper napkins, cloth cocktail napkins are an elegant and eco-friendly alternative to the traditional disposable variety. While you may still want to have paper towels on hand for larger spills, lightly used linen or cotton napkins can be washed and reused for several future parties. And at roughly $20 for a roll of 50, these cloth squares won’t break the bank, especially if you get several uses out of each roll.
Plain, neutral-colored napkins are the safest (and typically cheapest) option for most events, but if you’re friendly with your host, consider grabbing a stack of quote-adorned napkins. From inspirational to cheeky, quotable serviettes bring a lively ice-breaker to cocktail hour.
10. Reusable cups
Dinner party dishes can pile up in the blink of an eye. Help your host avoid extra chores by bringing them a pack or two of reusable cups. Rather than the classic red plastic variety, opt instead for quality, clear cups that they can use right away or for a future get-together.
A quick internet search turns up a wide variety of elegant disposable options, from stemless wine glasses and gold-rimmed tumblers to martini glasses and even coffee cups. Don’t let the sheer number of choices overwhelm you, though. Simply pick out the most multi-purpose vessel, such as a nine to 12-ounce tumbler that works just as well for sipping wine as it does for soda.
If you’re worried about the environmental effects of disposable cups, you can always select the compostable variety. While these eco-friendly drinking vessels are undoubtedly better for the planet, many include large green "eco products" logos that are not quite as elegant as their plain plastic counterparts.
11. Specialty spirits
If wine isn’t in the cards, try gifting your host a more unexpected libation. From aperitifs and digestifs to every liqueur in between, the world of specialty spirits is vast and not one to be overlooked when entertaining a crowd of cocktail lovers.
For a flavorful introduction to after-dinner spirits, grab a tart and refreshing bottle of limoncello. Like a taste of Southern Italy in a glass, this popular Italian liqueur packs a punch and brings a convivial vibe to the otherwise lethargic post-meal conversation. The best limoncello brands are typically imported, but not difficult to find at a local liquor store.
Hosts with a bit more of a sweet tooth might enjoy a coffee-friendly spirit like almond-tinged Amaretto, creamy Bailey’s, or hazelnut-forward Frangelico — also delicious additions to hot chocolate if you’re feeling indulgent. Whatever your host’s tastes, providing a special bottle of something they might not otherwise purchase for themselves is a thoughtful way to say "thank you."
12. Gourmet salt
Whoever said "variety is the spice of life" clearly never enjoyed properly salted food. Treat your hard-working dinner party host to many more well-seasoned meals when you give them the gift of gourmet salt.
Picking the perfect seasoning is not as simple as it may seem. There’s a lot to know about salt, namely its source. The most versatile variety would be high-quality sea salt, sourced from seawater and metal-free, unlike table salt. But specialty salts can run the gamut from pink-tinged Himalayan salt and scarlet-hued Hawaiian red salt to even black lava salt from the Greek island of Cyprus, not to mention the myriad seasoned salts you can find at your local farmer’s market.
While there are seemingly endless variations on food’s favorite seasoning, the key is simplicity. Your goal is to make your host’s life easier not more chaotic, which means that a delicate flaky finishing salt designed to give meals a final gourmet kick ticks all the gift-giving boxes.
13. Breath mints
Garlic might make for a delicious dinner, but its after-effects aren’t so pleasant. Help your host avoid a room full of garlic breath by bringing refreshing breath mints to their next get-together.
While sucking on a mint won’t eliminate the root cause of bad breath, it will help to mask it. The act of sucking or chewing causes your salivary glands to work overtime, flushing out that odor-causing bacteria while the strong mint flavor hides more unpleasant post-meal smells that might be emanating from your mouth.
When it comes to selecting the flavor of your minty gift, it really comes down to personal preference. Spearmint and peppermint have minute differences that each appeal to different tastes. The main difference is the menthol content — peppermint in its natural form contains about 30% more than spearmint, which we perceive as a stronger mint taste. So it really just depends on how much bad breath insurance you think your host might need.
14. A set of wine charms
We’ve all been there: You set your wine glass down at a party only for it to disappear because someone else mistook it for theirs. Help your host avoid unnecessary after-dinner dishes when you arrive with a set of wine charms.
Cleverly designed to hook discretely around the stem of a wine glass, each unique charm belongs to an individual guest to help them avoid losing track of their vino throughout the evening. Not only does this party trick keep wine glasses from getting mixed up, but it also ensures your host won’t have to stock up on an extra set of drinkware for their next get-together.
Go the extra mile by selecting a set of charms that speak to your host’s personality or even to go with a party theme. There are magnetic varieties available as well, but the tried-and-true latch-hook charms tend to work best.
15. Decaf coffee
With so many details to attend to, your host is often too overwhelmed to think about what happens between dinner and dessert. That’s where you come in. Walking in the door with a bag of freshly ground, high-quality beans might just be the lifesaver they didn’t know they needed.
When it comes to coffee, there are dozens of brands from which to choose. Some of the best coffee brands are smaller, local producers or international varieties sourced from further afield. Either way, it’s probably a good idea to provide decaf coffee to avoid any late-night jitters. While decaf beans do contain a small amount of caffeine, it’s not nearly enough to keep you up all night. Not everyone is a fan of coffee but having the option of a freshly brewed cup after a hearty meal can be a perfectly comforting end to a memorable evening, especially when dosed with a splash of an after-dinner liqueur.
16. Wooden cutting board
Not all food-centric gatherings call for gifts but on extra special occasions like a housewarming or anniversary celebration, don’t be afraid to get a little indulgent. Present your host with a gorgeous gift that does double duty as decor and a serving vessel with a handy wooden cutting board.
The best cutting boards are made of quality wood, sturdy enough to withstand knife marks, and provide a juice groove. Look for woods with smaller pores to avoid odors in the long run — larger pores mean more space in which food particles can get caught. Boards made of maple, walnut, or cherry wood typically have smaller pores and are less likely to fall victim to the bacterial growth that leads to odor.
17. A bag of ice
Whether a family-friendly tailgate or a formal affair with a full cocktail bar, a dinner party can never have enough ice. More often than not, it’s usually too late by the time a host realizes that they’ve run out. Help them avoid this food event faux pas by coming to the rescue with a full bag of frozen reinforcements.
When it comes to selecting the perfect drink accompaniment, it turns out that there’s a clear favorite. According to an exclusive Tasting Table survey, the vast majority of cocktail drinkers prefer crushed ice over other more artisanal forms. These results aren’t all that surprising, considering the texture component. Crushed ice’s unique shape is both appealing to the palate and helps to cool drinks more quickly thanks to a larger surface area. So whether your dinner party host is planning to serve Long Islands or just plain iced tea, crushed ice is the way to go.
18. Takeout containers
Just when guests start preparing to leave and your host thinks they’re in the clear, people start asking if they can take home some leftovers. While your host may be grateful to not be stuck with enough food to feed an army, they’re left scrambling for plastic containers, paper plates, aluminum foil, or anything that can hold a bevy of leftover boeuf bourguignon.
Save the day for the entire dinner party when you present a collection of convenient takeout containers. Whether a set of dollar store plasticware or compostable to-go boxes, options for takeaway containers can be inexpensive and easy to transport to the relief of your host and their other guests. Now no one has to worry about leftover pasta sauce spilling on their backseat or returning coveted glass Pyrex containers to their proper home. Bring a few extras to leave with your host in case of future dinner party emergencies.