Decoding “No Need to Bring Anything, Just Yourself”

In this post, I’ll help you determine whether it’s ever okay to show up to a party empty-handed, things to bring if you’re unsure, and how you can secure future invitations by being a great guest.

It’s uncool as a host to tell a guest, “there’s no need to bring anything, just yourself.”

But it’s even worse to be told this and then screw it up.

Whether you received a dinner party invitation because you crack good jokes or because there was nobody else to invite, it doesn’t matter. You were invited.

If you want to secure an invite back, and if you generally care about being a decent guest, start by making a good impression.

When a host tells you, “there’s no need to bring anything…just yourself,” think first about the relationship you have with them, whether or not you actually want to show up empty-handed, and then explore useful things to bring that the host will use and enjoy.

Follow these suggestions and you’ll be well on your way.

Emma chatting during a Second Degree dinner party

Determine Your Relationship With the Host

Is the host a close friend or family?

Your friends and family know you well enough to give you clear instructions without feeling awkward or bad. If they say, bring nothing, and if you decide to come empty-handed (which is fine!), show up and be helpful.

Offer to help pour drinks, clean up dirty plates or empty bottles, or wash and put away dishes. Even though you’re not bringing anything, you’re contributing by helping them enjoy the party they’re hosting.

Is the host a new friend, colleague, or acquaintance?

Just like going to a new restaurant that recently opened up in town, getting an invite to a new acquaintance or friend’s place for a dinner can be super exciting. To make a good impression and increase your odds of getting a future invite, I highly advise not showing up empty-handed. You don’t need to bring much and you don’t necessarily need to bring anything physical, but by giving something small, it shows that you’re not just freeloading.

Just interested in gift ideas? Check out this What to Bring to a Dinner Party post.

Is the host a complete stranger?

If you’re heading to someone’s place you’ve never met before, I suggest not showing up with just yourself. Instead, bring something you know the host will enjoy and use. Try giving them a low-maintenance plant or some treats from your favorite bakery to enjoy after the party. It’s the thought that counts.

Cultural Gift-Giving

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.”

My mom is Japanese, and I know first-hand that even when she says don’t bring anything, if you show up with nothing, she might 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.”

Some people don’t need more stuff: One commenter suggested, some people mean it when they say there’s no need to bring anything. A card with a handwritten note inside that promises a future dinner party or meal on you, is a thoughtful way to show you care without adding more clutter to a hosts’ home.

Avoid giving flowers because it will fluster the host
Flowers may seem like a good gift, but they can often create even more work for a host.

Gifts to Avoid

Don’t create more work for your host by bringing something that requires them to drop what they’re doing to deal with your gift. Especially, when they tell you there’s no need to bring anything. Try and avoid:

An Edible Dish

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

Flowers may seem like a thoughtful gift, but don’t bother unless you bring them in a vase for them to put directly on a table. It takes time and effort to find an appropriate fitting vase, trim the stems, and creates 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.

Anything Scented

People have very different tastes and preferences so avoid buying something that they could potentially be allergic to or just toss the moment they get it. This means avoiding gifts such as heavily scented candles, perfume, and room spray.

Wine from a nun in Columbia
We picked up this unique bottle of wine produced by nuns from a small town in Colombia. Even though it wasn’t amazing wine, it made for a great conversation starter when we brought it over to a friend’s place.

Gifts to Give

You can be a respectable guest and bring something nice, without spending a fortune. Here are some ideas 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. Or, if you’re strapped for time, buy this online.

✅ A Foreign Surprise

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, coffee from Colombia, a mole spice mix from Mexico City, or an authentic Dukkah spice mix from Egypt.

Or if you live in another part of the city, 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.

✅ Dessert Wine

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.

✅ A Potted Plant

Earlier in this post, I suggested to avoid bringing 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.

✅ Breakfast

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!

✅ An I-Owe You

If you’re not into bringing a material gift because you’re unsure the host will like it or have space for it, try giving a card and including an I-Owe-You inside. It could be a simple message saying, “I’ll get dinner next time,” or “a dinner party at mine in the next two months,” or a handmade gift certificate to show you care.

CBD Infused Dinner table
Our CBD infused dinner table, one time it’s appropriate to bring nothing (because we paid).

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:

  1. Assess your relationship with the host.
  2. Be weary of cultural gift-giving.
  3. Don’t bring annoying stuff that will make the host more flustered.
  4. Give useful, thoughtful gifts to be consumed or enjoyed after (not during) the party.

A Final Request

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.

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    7 thoughts on “Decoding “No Need to Bring Anything, Just Yourself””

    1. Hi- I found your article to be interesting, but noticed in Step 1 regarding the host being a perfect stranger you say to bring something you know they will like. If they’re a perfect stranger, how will you know what they would like? Just asking.

      Reply
      • Hey Vee! Great question. Try bringing something that most hosts would enjoy such as a nice bottle of olive oil, a low-maintenance plant, or some non-perishable goodies from a nice deli (a small assortment or jarred olives, tapenade, or chocolates/caramels). They might not drink alcohol so maybe avoid bringing wine or anything alcoholic. Hope this helps!

        Reply
    2. I kind of disagree. When I say don’t bring anything, I mean it. I don’t need more stuff but I do want to spend time with friends! If they want to give me a “gift”, they can host next time or pay for a meal at some point. Or not. I think it’s weird to base your actions off the possibility that some passive agressive people might say they don’t want anything and then they’re angry if you don’t bring anything. A lot of people genuinely don’t need more clutter.

      Reply
      • Hey Laura, thanks for your comment! I agree that some people don’t need more clutter. I loved your suggestions about offering to pay for a meal or hosting a future dinner party and actually added these to the post! Even though many hosts say don’t bring anything, arriving empty handed in some cultures (like my Mom’s) is frowned upon so I thought it’d be important to mention. 🙂

        Reply
    3. Good suggestions . We host dinner parties frequently and when we say “don’t bring anything “ we mean it . We don’t want clutter . And we certainly don’t want house plants !
      What we do appreciate is a return invitation or a lunch or dinner out , or take out , because we do recognize that not everyone can host a dinner , nor want to , and it doesn’t have to be one for one . Some of us simply enjoy hosting.

      Reply
    4. This was helpful I always wonder how to deal with the people who say… let me know what I can bring…. when I am hosting a party. I get that frequently and I find it a bit disingenuous… if it were a potluck, I would say so and am I supposed to tell people what to bring? I was taught to never go to someone’s house empty handed so I follow that rule.

      Reply
      • Thanks for your comment, Margaret! If you don’t mind what people bring, I don’t think you need to be specific when you say it’s a potluck. But, some people appreciate a bit of guidance, especially if they don’t cook much. It could be helpful to ask your guests to bring a veggie side dish or salad or dessert. Hope this helps!

        Reply

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