Most people have. Every time we’re invited to a dinner or a party we ask ourselves (or the host) “what can I bring?”. Or we ask our significant others “what can we bring?”.
One standby is wine. It’s the default for a lot of people. Unfortunately people seem to like giving it more than they like giving it.
Why is that? As people started to get more serious about cooking and entertaining they started to get more serious about wine pairing too. It’s not uncommon nowadays to encounter a host who has put a lot of thought into what wine they are going to serve with what course, and they don’t want their plan to be derailed when you bring a wine that they don’t think fits.
Wine, and wine knowledge, also covers a huge spectrum and there will almost always be a discrepancy between the two. Give a really nice bottle to someone that doesn't know much about wine and they can’t even begin to appreciate it – they’ll assume it’s the same kind of $9 bottle they buy. If on the other hand you are dealing with someone that really does know and love wine and the odds are that they will be underwhelmed. Wine is tricky.
Salad is also popular. A serious cook would be making a sale if they really wanted salad with the meal. And if they are making a salad they definitely don’t want another one. They have a plan, and it doesn’t include a surprise salad.
A friend once told a story about having people over for a very carefully planned Japanese Kaiseki ryori dinner. One guest showed up, toting their “famous” caesar salad, and insisted on taking over the kitchen (derailing preparation of the planned meal) to combine the ingredients before serving the completely incongruous, garlic heavy. Their intentions were good but the host was very upset – they felt that the salad and the interruption completely ruined what they were trying to prepare and share with friends.
Dessert is another option with the same problems as salad. It’s a nice thought but again – if the host thought dessert was appropriate they’d have prepared it, and if they have prepared dessert they probably don’t want another.
And all of these gifts have another serious drawback in common. They are all consumed alongside the meal. When the guests are gone and there is nothing left for the host but the cleanup the gift is gone too.
So what is the best gift for a dinner or party? What is that you really should bring? Flowers.
Flowers look great and are enjoyed by the host long after the dinner or party is over. Flowers don’t interrupt, serial or clash with their plan.
A great tip is to send the flowers in advance of the event. You can bring them with you, but if you send them over earlier in the day or the day before you give the host a chance to work them into the decor and table setting.
Remember the Japanese meal mentioned earlier? Knowing what was on the menu I asked the florist to prepare a contemporary Japanese “Ikebana” centrepiece and sent it over the morning of the dinner. That gave the host a chance to set the table around it.
They absolutely loved it. It helped what them with what they were trying to achieve and made the entire evening more special. And they never forgot it. The person that brought the salad? I’m not 100% sure they are even on speaking terms any more. The two couples that brought wine? Forgotten as soon as they were finished.
But every time I see that host they mention how much they loved those flowers and how long they lasted.
I love to cook and entertain regularly. I put a lot of time, energy and money into it and gifts from my invited guests, while never expected, are always appreciated.
But I don’t want wine or dessert.
First of all, I put a lot of planning into the meal. If I spent hours making a special dessert I don’t want to feel obligated to serve something store bought alongside it, then have to gush about how great it is to make the guest that brought it feel good.
The same thing goes for wine – I put a lot of thought into the pairings and again I don’t want to screw up my plan by serving an inappropriate wine just to keep the guest happy.
Flowers are always perfect though. And, unlike a dessert or bottle of wine they aren’t gone at the end of the night – I get to enjoy them later that night as I clean up and then for the rest of the week. And it doesn’t matter if I’ve already bought flowers for the table, because I will happily put your arrangement in the kitchen, the front hall, even my bedroom for guests to enjoy while they store their coats and for me to enjoy later.
It pays to be direct – when people ask “what can we bring?” I don’t say “nothing” because that seems like some kind of unwritten code for bring whatever wine or dessert you feel is appropriate. Instead I just say “well, you certainly don’t have to bring anything but if you really want to flowers would be lovely”.
Every Christmas we have to attend three different Christmas dinners - one with my mother, one with my father and his second wife, and one with the in-laws.
In two cases there are recovering alcoholics and/or teetotallers involved so wine is out. There’s also gluten issues and diabetes so dessert is out.
So we’ve switched to giving everyone flowers. I call my local florist the week before Christmas and arrange for delivery to each place, usually a day or two before the dinner. My local florist has all the information on file at this point so it’s a quick phone call and it’s done. I don’t need to worry about hauling gifts around and, better yet, I don’t have to go anywhere near a liquor store over the holidays. And best of all the hosts get to enjoy the flowers before and after the holiday.
Now if I can just figure out how to get out of helping with the dishes…
My wife and I frequently attend dinner parties, and over the years I’ve noticed a trend. Most people brought wine, or sometimes dessert. It’s a nice gesture but I noticed that each time you could almost sense the hosts tensing about whose bottle to open first. They didn’t want to upset or offend anybody. That doesn’t happen with flowers. Everybody loves getting flowers - you can use them on the table, or enjoy them in any room in the house.
I can always tell from the smile I get that flowers are the best gift of the night.
Ever since I took over hosting the big family dinner at Thanksgiving, I have to manage the dishes that other family members want to (or think they should) bring. Aunt Carol always brings the green bean casserole, and my sister makes dinner rolls from scratch.
The best thing of all is what my mother brings - or rather, sends. Every year, about a week before the big day, she’ll give me a call and I’ll tell her what I’d love to have for a floral centrepiece for the table. Then she calls her florist and the day before the dinner my door bell rings and there it is, and it’s always beautiful.
This has turned out to great for both of us because my mother doesn’t really want to cook anymore, and to be honest, she’ll spend a bit more on the flowers than I can afford. And because it’s not just a bouquet from the grocery store, but a true holiday arrangement designed for a table, it always elevates the look of my dinner table instantly.
So this holiday, when one of your relatives asks ‘What can I bring?” why not ask for flowers?