Dinner in with friends is always a great time to catch up and chat the night away. As the invited guest, it's common courtesy is to bring a token of appreciation. We have a few easy suggestions for those who don't have time (or, in general, just don't) cook to bring—from pick-up food items, to fresh flowers and cute kitchen gadgets.
If you are lucky, you have that one friend that may have been a chef in their past life and throws sophisticated dinner parties. Getting an invite to the swanky shindig is hitting the social lottery jackpot. Unfortunately, cooking may not exactly be your “thing,” but you obviously still want to contribute to the dinner. A bottle of wine is never a shabby idea, but it’s not your only option; there are quite a few other items that you can grab on the way to a dinner party that will win you “great guest” points. Pick up stuff for the appetizers, drinks, dessert, or bring a small kitchen token. When in doubt, just ask the host what would be the most helpful.
Leave the pre-sliced yellow lunch cheese for and pick up a couple of soft and hard cheeses for pre-dinner snacking. A wheel of Brie, Camembert, or chevre, are spreadable and great for crackers. If you grab cheese and crackers or crostini, all you have to do is assemble a simple cheese plate when you arrive (like the sophisticated, gracious dinner guest you are!). Drizzle a few spoonfuls of honey and freshly cracked pepper for in instant creamy and sweet snack. Crumbly cheeses like feta and blue cheese are also welcome additions and pair well with briny olives if you’re feeling extra fancy. A block of good aged sharp cheddar or Parmesan cut into chunks can be eaten alone. A smart way to approach this dinner contribution is to divvy the cheese list and coordinate with another guest to build the cheese board.
A loaf of crusty bread works wonders with just a dip of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Most likely, the host already has olive oil on hand. Grab a jar of your favorite jam or preserves if you want to provide a sweet, fruity option as well. Find a serrated knife to cut shareable slices of bread for other guests to snack on. Stop by the deli for slices of smoked turkey, chorizo, or prosciutto to accompany the bread, if you want to go above and beyond. If your local grocery store has a bakery, you should be able to find baguettes, sourdough, or ciabatta bread easily enough. However, most people aren’t about to turn their noses up at classic Hawaiian rolls either.
Wine + Other Booze
Wine is the default gift of choice and for good reason. It’s convenient, and generally well received. We recommend a bottle of Lillet, a French, aperitif wine as a solid go-to. If you’ve got a laid-back, fun-loving crowd on your hands, you could also consider giving cans a go. Obviously, a bottle of bubbly is always a snazzy way to end a meal. And if wine just isn’t your game, I’ve found that a small bottle of dark liquor (bourbon, whiskey, rum, or brandy) is always appreciated.
A bouquet of fresh flowers adds a lively the ambiance to the party and feels like a special gift to your host. Look for seasonal flowers like sunflowers and orchids in summer. Or go for flowers you know provide a lovely aroma—fragrant gardenias, roses, and lilies are all great options to subtly fill a room with pleasant floral scents. If you happen to know the host’s favorite flowers, get those!
Not that grocery store cupcakes aren’t good enough, we just know you can do better. Try to find a local cupcake, pie, cookie, or ice cream shop that specializes in particular baked treats. Going with a higher-quality bakery good adds a gracious touch. For a playful summer treat, try picking up a cooler of artisanal ice pops if you happen to have a pop shop in town.
A home cook always welcomes a shiny new utensil to add to their kitchen arsenal. A wooden spoon with a decorative handle or a colorful wine stopper are both fun and practical. Matching salt and pepper shakers or tea candles are also great gifts that will adorn the dinner table nicely. Any small functional tool or token is best.