Dinner Party Etiquette: Gifts, Wine and Leftovers

What to do when guests bring wine, hostess gifts, and food to your party.

Dear Lizzie,

As a host, how do I handle people bringing things over, whether it’s wine, hostess gifts or contributions to the meal? Do I have to serve the wine? Do I send guests home with items we don’t use? Do I keep the leftovers? Do I write a thank-you note for any hostess gift?

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Hosts and guests certainly do some wonderful dances as they navigate entertaining together. Some of our entertaining customs vary between regions, and others vary between established friend groups, so it can be hard to know exactly what’s expected and what’s the right thing to do. Here are tips on a few of the common host-guest dance routines.


Hostess Gifts

In general, if you are meeting someone or visiting someone’s home (or new home) for the first time, a hostess gift is a nice gesture. It’s a thoughtful way to say, “Thank you for welcoming me into your home.” Once regular get-togethers are established, most guests stop bringing hostess gifts. Among close friends and family our gratitude is demonstrated in many ways, not just by hostess gifts.

Cynthia Lynn Photography, original photo on Houzz

Michael Aram, original photo on Houzz

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However, during the holidays or for a very special party (or sometimes just for the heck of it!), friends will have just the right thing and bring it over as a hostess gift. You do not need to send a thank-you note for a hostess gift if it was given in person and you were able to thank the giver then and there.

If that wasn’t the case, as perhaps at a large party, do call, or email or mail a short note of thanks: “Suzi, your homemade jam is always the best, so thanks for sharing and making breakfast a treat. Delighted to see you Saturday. Thanks for the jam and thanks for coming!”



Whether you’ve meticulously planned your wine pairings with your meal or just grabbed the cheapest bottle you could find on your way home that night, when a guest brings wine to your party, you often feel compelled to open the bottle.

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You may open it if you wish, but if you’ve planned everything so that your wines pair nicely with your meals, it’s perfectly OK to thank the guest for the bottle and say you’re so looking forward to enjoying it another night (with or without your guest is up to you). Upon leaving, the guest does not automatically bring his or her bottle home if it’s unopened. (Check out “The Rye” episode of Seinfeld for a great example of this scenario, in this case with a loaf of marble rye bread.)


ROM architecture studio, original photo on Houzz



When the meal is finished and it’s time to clean up, attention may turn to leftovers. How to handle leftovers is up to the host to decide. Whether or not your guests have contributed to the meal, it’s perfectly fine to offer leftovers, and it’s also equally acceptable not to offer them.

Depending on how much you have and what makes sense, you may change how you handle this from party to party. Most hosts don’t really want a fridge full of leftovers, particularly at a meal to which many guests have contributed, so it’s fairly standard to either divvy them up among the group or send each contributor home with his or her particular leftovers.

One thing that is thoughtful is to try to return any containers or dishes that your guests have brought. Simply freeing up the container or dishware so that your guest can take it back home is definitely thoughtful.

If you’re sending guests home with the rest of a dish they made, it’s fine to just put the leftovers back in the dish it came in. If you’re sending them home with a selection of leftovers, cleaning the container or dish and reusing it is also an option.

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