Rethink Traditional Hostess Gifts

Hostess GiftsTrade in bottles of wine for bottles of uniquely-flavored bitters as your go-to hostess gifts this year.

We’re barreling towards the end of the year now and are firmly in the midst of party season. From the awkward office mixer (are you the one that always brings the light-up reindeer ears?) to the elegant cocktail party your interior-designer friend always throws that you’re never quite sure how to dress for, your dance card is full.

I don’t know about you, but I’d never really considered the “hostess gift” until, frankly, I was asked to write a post about it. It’s not that I show up empty-handed, but that bottle of wine or grapefruit-flavoured Perrier (my drink of choice at the moment!) in my mitts is usually destined for both the hostess’ glass… and mine.

But, last week, I actually thought it out a bit and tried it. My friend Heide hosted Thanksgiving at her house – no small feat – and so I brought along a little present. Not only did it light her face up, it also made me feel good – a little something to say thank you for getting up extra early so that the table would look good, and a thank you in advance for the hours spent cleaning up after we’re gone.

Here’s the thing with hostess gifts, though; I need them to be practical. Space is at a premium in most houses, and the last thing I want to do is hand over another kitchen gadget that clogs up the catch-all drawer. So here are my suggestions for inexpensive-but-useful little presents that not only show your host or your hostess your appreciation, but make you look good, too!

1) Music Mix

This is one of my husband’s favourite gifts. He’ll comb through his top songs of the month, arrange them just-so, and then burn the mix onto a CD. In some cases, he’ll also throw the mix up online on websites like Soundcloud, then build a QR code that links to that page, print out the QR code and stick in on the CD cover. That way the host can also scan the mix onto his or her phone. Heck, so can the guests if they happen to like it! Not only is it something the host can throw on that night, but they’ll think of you later as they listen to it in the car. Plus, it’s a cool new spin on old-school mix-tape exchanges, a tradition I miss heartily!

2) Wine Aerator

I like the fancy-pants aspect of a decanter as much as the next guy, but sometimes you need to open a bottle and drink it toute suite. Enter the little wine aerator that affixes to the wine bottle itself, aerating the wine as you pour! It’s just the kind of thing that no one would think to buy for themselves, which makes it the perfect little gift. Plus, it’ll make your $10 bottle taste even better. Win-win.

3) Bottle of Bitters

If your host is a mixology fan, chances are they already own a bottle of our friend, Angoustura bitters. But how about a bottle of rhubarb bitters? Or grapefruit? Head to a better liquor store in your area and explore the cocktail section. Another good choice? A jar of Luxardo Marasche cherries, what a Maraschino cherry dreams of growing up to be. I never think to splurge on a bottle for myself, which makes them the perfect gift for your Manhattan-addict of a host.

4) Bottle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (the real good stuff)

Someone gave me a bottle of good quality olive oil recently, the kind that costs $35, and it has now become one of my favourite things to give people. There are only a few people I know who bother to buy the good stuff, because let’s face it, spending that kind of money on olive oil in this economy feels like a real luxury. But as a hostess gift? Perfect. Even people who don’t cook know how to rip a piece of good bread and dip it in olive oil. People who do cook will find all kinds of inventive ways to finish their dishes with it, and when they do, you will be on their mind.

5) Pretty Kitchen Towels

My kitchen towels are stained and faded. Should someone give me a small stack of pretty kitchen towels, perhaps from my favourite store, Anthropologie? Well, let’s just say their wine glass will remain topped up for the rest of the night.

I hope that gets your noggin going. Once you start thinking about cute hostess gifts, you might just find yourself stockpiling them, so you can quickly grab something as you walk out the door. Because, and I say this with only a *little* bit of shame: not only will it make your host/hostess feel loved, it’ll make you look AWESOME. The only dilemma? Your name on MORE party invite lists. But managing that is a subject for another day.


Aarti began cooking as a chubby kid, as soon as she realised that in order to satisfy her sweet tooth, she’d have to make dessert. It was only as an unemployed adult that she graduated to cooking other dinner courses, and once she did, she was hooked. Her blog, aartipaarti soon birthed a YouTube cooking-variety show of the same name, shot with her husband in her tiny Los Angeles apartment. After much coercing, she applied for season 6 of Food Network Star, was accepted, competed and won. She now hosts Aarti Party on Food Network, and appears on Cooking Channel’s Drop 5 Lbs with Good Housekeeping, Unique Eats and will host a new show, Taste in Translation, that debuts in January of 2013. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter (@aartipaarti) and Instagram, as well as her blog.