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 solid guest.
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 exceptional storytelling, because you crack good jokes, or because there was nobody else to invite, who cares! You scored an invite. What’s important is being a considerate guest, which starts with how you show up at the beginning of the night.
To decode a host telling you, “oh, there’s no need to bring anything…just yourself,” you’ve got to think about the relationship you have with them, whether or not you actually want to show up empty-handed, and then look at some things to bring that the host will use and enjoy. Follow these four steps, and you’ll be well on your way.
Step 1: 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, but by bringing something small, it shows that you’re not a complete freeloader.
Is the host a complete 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 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.
Quick note: If the party is a paid event, don’t feel obligated to bring anything.
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 first-hand 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) and try to avoid the following:
❌ 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 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.
Step 4: Things You SHOULD 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. 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, 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.
✅ 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, 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 stuff that will make the host more flustered.
- Give useful, thoughtful gifts to be consumed after 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.