It isn't a requirement, but a gift for the hostess or host is a gesture of appreciation for someone who has invited you into their home. If you don't want to show up empty-handed, here are some gift ideas to take along:

Bring a dish. Even if the event isn't potluck, offer to bring an item to take the pressure off the cook. Appetizers, salads and desserts are easy to transport and can be prepared ahead of time so you aren't interfering with the cook's time or space. (A word of caution: etiquette experts warn to always check with the hosts first as it's considered rude to show up with an unannounced dish to serve.)

Gourmet treats. Candy, chocolates and cookies are always a popular gift, but to get the "wow" factor you'll need to take them up a notch. Try gourmet chocolates, chocolate dipped strawberries or other specialty confections. Remember: quality wins out over quantity -- opt for a smaller package of "the good stuff".

Homemade goodie baskets. Think outside the box (or tin, in this case) and try something different like flavoured oils or vinegars, sauces and preserves. If you'd like to avoid canning, try a simple freezer jam instead. (For more ideas, see Heart smart gifts from your kitchen.)

Pre-made mixes. Give them something they can use at their next event. Many gourmet product lines like Gourmet du Village and Epicurean Selections have kits, boxes or jars to whip up tasty treats -- everything from dips and sauces to desserts and drinks.

If you prefer to do-it-yourself, look online for soup or cookie mix recipes and stock up on ingredients at the bulk food store.

Hot (or cold) drink set. Think gourmet coffee, hot chocolate or herbal tea samplers paired with a nice mug, or hot apple cider mix and cinnamon sticks. Margarita and Caesar "rim trim kits" are also ideal for future cocktail parties or date nights.

Wine or liquors. It's a classic gift to bring to the table at any gathering. If you're looking to be different, try a vintage from a local or Canadian winery -- or a dessert wine or liqueur to sip after dinner. An appropriate set of glasses won't go amiss for young hosts and hostesses recently setting up their own home.

Music. A CD -- whether it's their favourite artist, a seasonal-theme or a mixed one you created -- can be enjoyed at the party and in the weeks to come. If you're not sure of their tastes or collection, try a gift card for an online service like iTunes or retailers like

Kitchen prep gadgets. There are always handy -- and quirky -- gadgets out there for those who like to entertain. Opt for practical -- such as measuring pours (Lee Valley, $6.20 ) -- or go for a specialty item like a Brie Baker (, $21.50). For more ideas, see Gifts for foodies.

Dip chillers. If you've noticed your host doesn't have one, you can find these handy serving dishes at most kitchen and department stores. There's a cup or bowl that sits in a large dish filled with ice to keep cold dips at the right temperature. Pair it with a dip mix to make your own gift box.

Microfiber cleaning cloths. These clothes come in a variety of sizes for a number of purposes from cleaning eye glasses to windows and floors. They're reusable so they eliminate the need for paper towels and tissues, and they don't require cleaners or chemicals.

If you want to upgrade the traditional tea towel idea, look for products made from bamboo. They're ultra-absorbent and antimicrobial too. Simply roll them up and tie with a seasonal-themed ribbon.

Decorative napkins. Stack up a couple of packages of decorative paper napkins with a matching solid colour and tie with a complementary ribbon. Go with a seasonal theme, or pick multi-purpose colours and prints for more mileage. (See for ideas.)

Coffee shop gift card. It's a fuss-free gift card that almost anyone will enjoy. Want to add an extra touch? Include a Rimroller (available at Lee Valley or Princess Auto for about $2.50) for when contest time rolls around.

Bath and body products. They're perennial favourites, but also potential gift minefields when it comes to allergies and sensitivities. Try to find out ahead of time what brands and products your hostess uses and stick with something in that line. If you're not sure, try non-consumable items like a nail scrub brush, decorative hand towels or face cloths, moisture gloves or an exfoliating body brush instead.

Candles. Scented candles are another popular stand-by, but aren't practical for people who are sensitive to perfumes. When in doubt, look for candles that eliminate strong cooking odours rather than masking them. As an alternative, consider unscented or beeswax candles, or try battery-operated candles for homes with pets and children. (Rechargeable versions are now available too).

Another option is essential oils, which can be used in an oil burner or light bulb ring, or used to freshen up potpourri. They take up less storage space than candles, and aren't as allergy prone as perfumed oils.

Flowers or plants. Fresh flowers are always a hit, especially if they come with their own vase so the hostess doesn't have to search for one. Another nice add on is "blossom crowns" or "webs" that make it easy to arrange cut flowers.

If you're looking for a budget-friendly option, opt for a potted plant. (Just make sure it isn't toxic for pets or kids that may be in the home.)

Theme decorations. If the party giver likes to decorate, consider a decorative item for the home -- but stick to something that ties into a particular season or theme. For instance, pick a nice ornament for the Christmas tree, a stained glass sun catcher or ghost appliquéd tea towels for Halloween. These seasonal items can be brought out once a year, and the hostess doesn't feel obligated to put them on permanent display.

Cooking or decorating magazines. Cookbooks are a great idea for chefs, but often end up unused on the shelf. A magazine, tied up with a ribbon or as part of a larger gift, is great for inspiration.

Spa gift certificate. Indulge them with a spa experience. A manicure or pedicure are less pricey than other options, and can be a welcome stress reliever during busy times of year.

Donation. For the host and hostess who have everything, see if a donation to their favourite charity would be an appropriate thank you gesture.

How much should you spend? Hostess gifts aren't required unless you're an overnight guest, according to etiquette experts. In other words, it's up to guests to decide whether or not to bring a gift, and how much they want to spend.

Photo © Olga Vasilkova

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Elizabeth Rogers