Three Things Every Guest Should Bring to a Dinner Party

There's more to it than a bottle of wine.

Laughing couple preparing pizza together with friends in kitchen
Photo: Getty / Thomas Barwick

Not sure what to bring to that dinner party you've been invited to? A nice gift for the host is a good place to start—but what you bring to the table (literally and metaphorically) should go beyond a bottle of wine. Things like a good attitude and sense of time are equally valuable.

When it comes to selecting the right gift, we turned to etiquette and lifestyle experts for their top tips. From board games to the perfect candle, they shared their favorite tokens of appreciation—and explained why contributing to the celebration and knowing when to head out will be just as appreciated as the physical things.

A Token of Appreciation

Rather than bringing along an unexpected dish, the best thing you can bring to a dinner party is a token of your appreciation. "When someone is kind enough to extend an invitation, you should be kind enough to bring along a hostess gift," says etiquette expert Jodi Smith of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. "Do keep in mind that unless it's a potluck and you brought your assigned item, an edible gift may not be served. It may not match the flavors and theme of the meal, or the host may want to save it for themselves."

Smith suggests instead bringing along a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates, or gourmet cookies for the host. "If you know the host well, you should cater to their tastes—an elephant figurine to add to their collection or monogrammed golf balls for the enthusiast will also work," she explains. Considering flowers? Smith recommends bringing them arranged in a vase, or sending them in advance via a florist: "You don't want your host to have to stop to find a vase and arrange the bouquet."

"My mother taught me to never arrive at a party empty handed," says interior designer Maggie Griffin, who agrees that a bottle of wine or a candle are good go-tos. "A simple Starbucks gift card is also a great gift, so the hostess can treat herself later."

Your Best Self

Of course, being on your best behavior should should also be a top priority. Lisa Grotts, also known as the Golden Rules Gal, says, "Each guest should arrive with polite manners. It's important to take the opportunity to make a great first impression." Dress for the occasion, take part in polite conversation, and enjoy being hosted.

Smith recommends arriving to a dinner party with a positive outlook, prepared to take part in various conversations. "A good guest at a dinner party knows that sparking conversation is part of the entertainment. Be ready for such obvious questions as, 'What's new?' and 'Tell me about yourself,'" she says. "Remember, dinner party conversation is not a job interview. Your comments and stories should entice and dazzle, but this is not the You Show. Do not monopolize the conversation. Be sure to express an interest in others, and ask questions of them, as well."

A Sense of Timing

Arriving on time is important, but so is knowing when to leave, says Smith. "After dessert, watch your host for clues and cues. Do they turn off the music? Turn up the lights? Stop refreshing drinks? Clear all the food? No need to wait for the host to tell you to leave. Notice when things are winding down to begin your thank yous and goodbyes," she adds.

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