I recently attended an intimate dinner party in honour of my best friend’s birthday. I didn’t really look at the invite thoroughly. I just looked at the date and time and thought, “Yay!” I love this friend. I immediately thought of what to buy her for a gift. A couple days before the party, I re-looked at the invite and realized that on the invite it said, “No Gifts!”
Instead, my friend wanted gift cards to grocery stores for a charity she is starting. That’s the kind of friend my friend is. I was slightly disappointed because I had been planning to buy a really nice necklace for her, though I did love the idea that she was helping out the less fortunate.
But I followed her wishes and bought a $100 gift card to Metro Grocery store. I put it inside a card and wrote about how I really appreciated her friendship and how much she means to me.
But, when I walked into her house, I saw a pile of gift bags by the door. I felt immediately guilty. Obviously others hadn’t paid attention (or ignored) the “no-gift policy.”
I felt horrible. I get a lot of invites that say “No Gifts Please.” But I always wonder if they really mean it. I mean, if I was having a birthday party I’d be like, “Gifts are totally welcome!!” (Ha!)
I asked Deborah Boland, an etiquette consultant, and founder of the website Fabulous After 40, her thoughts on dinner party gifts, on people who have a “no gift” policy on their invites and what guests should do.
When it comes to a dinner party, she says, it’s always polite to bring a small gift such as flowers, chocolate, a plant, wine, cocktail napkins, candles, stationary, or a coffee table book. “Be thoughtful when you are choosing a gift,” she says. “If you know the hostess, or someone in her family, has a nut allergy, chocolate may be a bad choice. Bringing wine to a home where they don’t drink is also a poor choose. If bringing flowers, it’s best to give a small arrangement or a plant so the host will not have to go looking for a vase or be pulled away from guests to cut and arrange the flowers. Hostess gifts, she says, are nice when they are simple are very personal and make for a bit of fun conversation.”
1. She says the “no gift” scenario is one many struggle with. “It’s such a shame we’re left feeling badly about not bringing a gift if it ruins the night for you.” She believes a host should not say anything about gifts on an invitation.
2. When someone requests “no gifts” it also leaves the guest wondering, “Do they really not want a gift or are they just trying to be polite because they don’t want to put me to any trouble?” Boland asks. “The problem is you will really never know the true answer!”
3. She says if the invitation says “no gifts” you are not obliged to bring a gift and should not feel badly about it, even if others do bring gifts.
4. However, if they say “no gifts” and you genuinely want to bring them a gift to show your appreciation (not out of guilt) then you can send along a gift ahead of time with a friendly note. For example, send flowers the morning of the party with a note saying you are really looking forward to having a wonderful time with them that evening.
5. Like me, I did feel guilty. Boland says that I could send a sincere, heartfelt thank you note on beautiful stationary the day following the party telling them how much you enjoyed the evening, or pick up the phone and call them the next day to thank them. “But never send your thank you by email. It’s too casual,” she adds.
6. If you are attending a dinner party where the host and hostess have children it is always kind and thoughtful to bring along a small, inexpensive toy for the children. This could be anything from a cool dinky car, to a princess tiara, to a bug catcher, to a coloring book and funky pencils.”
Boland did make me feel less guilty. And I made the day-after phone call. And, although there was a “no gift” policy, my friend was giving to charity, which, all in all, is a very nice thing to do. And, I think, because she is such a nice friend, I’ll follow up even further by taking her for dinner.