It’s uncool as a host to tell a guest, “there’s no need to bring anything, just yourself.”
But it’s even more uncool to be told this and then screw it up.
Whether you received a dinner party invitation because nobody can resist your good stories, because you crack good jokes, or because there was nobody else to invite, who cares! You scored an invite. What’s important is how you act and to be considerate, which starts with how you show up at the beginning of the night.
In this post, I’ll help you determine whether it’s ever okay to show up to a dinner party empty-handed, things to bring if you’re unsure, and how you can secure future invitations.
Step 1: Assess Your Relationship With the Host
Are They Close Friend or Family?
If you’re close friends, you can almost count on them to give you clear instructions. If you decide to come empty-handed because they told you to, show up, and be helpful offering to help pour drinks or wash and put away dishes.
If you can’t show up empty-handed because you were taught to never do that in a million years, skip to Steps 3 & 4 for ideas on useful things you can bring for the host instead.
Are They a New Friend, Colleague, or Acquaintance?
It’s always exciting to go do a new friend or acquaintance’s house for dinner. To make a good impression and increase your odds of getting an invite back in the future, don’t show up empty-handed. You don’t need to bring much, but bringing something thoughtful shows that you’re not only there for the free food (which you might be).
Are They a Total Stranger?
If you’re heading to someone’s place you’ve never met before, whatever you do, don’t show up with just yourself. Even if they insist, it’s not a good look.
Instead, bring something you know the host will enjoy. Try giving them a low-maintenance plant, or, some treats from your favorite bakery to enjoy after the party.
Step 2: Plead Ignorance
Gift-giving and exchanging are critical parts of many cultures. Sometimes people are just too polite to ask you to bring something, so they say, “oh nothing.”
Be careful with this!
My mom is Japanese, and I know from first-hand experience that even when she says don’t bring anything, if you show up with nothing, she’ll resent you for it.
When in doubt, go along with their game and say, “I know you said not to bring anything, but I can never come empty-handed. So, here you go.”
Step 3: Things Not To Bring
Don’t annoy the host by bringing useless things (especially when they tell you there’s no need to bring anything), here are some tips:
Avoid overshadowing the hosts’ cooking and stepping on their toes by bringing a dish you expect them to serve that night. Your host has already thought long and hard about what to help, and having something extra to serve will throw them off. Now is not the time to show off how good your cheesecake is. Leave that to the next dinner party you host.
Flowers may seem like a thoughtful gift, but don’t bother unless you bring them in a vase. It takes time and effort to find an appropriate fitting vase, trim the stems, and creates an unnecessary mess in the sink and on the counters.
Tip: If you were thinking about gifting flowers, try dried flowers like these instead.
Anything That Requires Fridge Space
Many of us live in small apartments and houses, and our fridges don’t have unlimited space. With all of the drinks and dinner prep in there (not to mention the hosts’ own food), there will be little space for a bulky six-pack of craft beer.
Be an even better guest by bringing your own drinks with a small cooler box. Or keep it simple by bringing red wine.
Step 4: Things to Bring
Be a respectable guest and bring something that won’t stress out the host even more than he or she is, without spending a fortune. The actual dollar amount doesn’t matter as long as you picked a gift carefully, and it shows that you put in the effort. Even if you would never buy wine more expensive than a two-buck-chuck, remember, this isn’t for you.
Here are some things your host will appreciate even if you were told there’s no need to bring anything, just yourself:
A Bottle of Good Olive Oil or Vinegar
It’s safe to assume your host enjoys cooking. Give them something they can use for an upcoming meal and might not purchase for themselves. Head to your local deli and ask them what they recommend. Your local farmer’s market is also a great place to find some local brands of olive oil and vinegar while supporting local.
If you’re from out of town and are lucky enough to be invited to a dinner party, bring something from home that they almost certainly cannot find there. For example, smoked salmon from Western Canada, a mole spice mix from Mexico City, or an authentic Dukkah spice mix from Egypt.
Or if you live in another part of town, bring something from a cafe or deli that’s special to you.
Maldon Sea Salt
A high-quality salt is something you definitely can’t go wrong with gifting. Maldon sea salt has a light, flaky texture to it and although it’s technically less salty than other salts (who knew?), it’s slightly sweet tastes lends itself to be a perfect finishing salt.
Trust me, everyones appreciates good sea salt.
Tip: This Maldon sea salt will 100% be appreciated if you’re looking for a good quality one you can buy online. If they hate it, please comment and let me know.
A bottle of wine is always appreciated, but why not step it up with a dessert wine or port. The two aren’t necessarily more expensive than wine, and your host would be less likely to buy for themselves, so why not give them some?
A Potted Plant
In Step 3, I suggested you don’t bring flowers. Bring a low maintenance potted plant, instead. And, if you know they have some outdoor space, bring an edible plant or herb which almost always comes in handy.
With your host in mind, bring a couple of freshly baked goods from your favorite bakery or a loaf of fresh sourdough for your host to enjoy the morning after. Thanks to Cupcakes and Cashmere for this tip!
Now You Know
Just to summarize what you should do when a host says, “there’s no need to bring anything, just yourself,” follow these steps:
- Assess your relationship with the host.
- Plead ignorance.
- Don’t bring annoying shit that will make the host more flustered.
- Give useful, thoughtful gifts to be consumed after the party.
When you host a dinner party, please don’t say, “oh there’s no need to bring anything.” Even if you really don’t want anything, ask for something small and specific. You’re doing them a favor by saving them worry.
Do you have any other tips? I’d love to hear from you.