The etiquette of dinner party gift-giving

25th February 2013William Share:FacebookTwitterShare

William Hanson is an etiquette and protocol expert, and one of the members of our blog network. We're delighted that he's popped over from his fantastic blog to share the proper social conventions behind taking a gift to a dinner party.

We all love receiving gifts and most people are very good at this but, when it comes to giving, it can be slightly more tricky. The key is putting thought into the compatibility of the recipient and the gift.

For many years I did not drink, yet good friends would bring me bottles of wine when showing up for dinner. The habit of bringing a bottle is not really to be encouraged unless you know the host's wine preferences inside out. It can also place the host in the position of feeling obliged to serve what you’ve brought. Still, it’s better than nothing!

The concept of showing up to dinner with a present for the host is a relatively new concept to British shores. It started in the 1950s, having been imported from America. As a nation, we weren’t sure about all this present-bringing, and so decided only to adopt the habit of giving chocolates. We loosened up eventually and started bringing more than just some tasty pralines, namely flowers and Champagne.

Speaking as a host of many dinners and drinks parties, receiving flowers, chocolates and alcohol is really lovely. However, sometimes it can seem a tad uninventive.  The Victorian middle classes would often turn up to tea with a hard-backed non-fiction book when calling at good friends’ houses; a novel custom. To ensure you stand out from the crowd, why not browse gift websites like Rex London and pick something your host will be surprised with - in a good way!

Once you’ve selected your gift – mundane or marvelous – make an effort to present it with good taste. Wrapping paper, bows and ribbons can make even the most pedestrian of gifts look enticing. Gift bags are a lazy way out, although they are acceptable for bottles.

After a gift is handed over to the host, do not expect to see it again, especially if it’s a consumable; it is not required for the host to serve or eat your gift during the course of the evening.

 Remember that giving should never be ostentatious. Monetary value should not be of too much concern - worry instead about compatibility and novelty.