What to Bring When Your Host Says to Bring Nothing

Dinner Parties, Entertain, Etiquette, Holidays, Holidays, Thanksgiving

What to Bring When Your Host Says Bring Nothing

Hosting Thanksgiving is no small undertaking. As a guest, it’s thoughtful to offer your help by asking what you can bring to the celebration. Some hostesses will respond with a request that you bring a bottle of wine or a dish to contribute, but many others will not. If this is the case, there are other ways to show your gratitude.

 

For help answering the question of what one should bring when your host says “bring nothing,” we reached out to etiquette expert Jeremiah Tower, legendary California chef and the author of the book, Table Manners: How to Behave in the Modern World and Why Bother.

 

“When the hostess says ‘bring nothing,’ she might even mean it,” Tower told us. “Bringing presents to the event can be more work for the hostess. Send flowers before, after researching the right kind and color, or after—then you will have seen what flowers were at the event and will know what kind to send.”

 

He makes a solid point: Your host or hostess is likely to be busy welcoming guests and tending to the holiday spread. While arriving with a gift in hand is a thoughtful gesture, sending fresh-cut flowers at a less frenzied time is an even more considerate choice. Not only will the delivery provide an appreciated surprise, but he or she will also be better able to enjoy their beauty without the distraction of keeping the big meal on track.

Find Thanksgiving table ideas, essential tools and dozens of recipes at the Williams Sonoma Thanksgiving Headquarters.

49 comments about “What to Bring When Your Host Says to Bring Nothing

  1. Toni

    Amen to this one!!!

    When I respond to the kindness and offer of a guest to bring something, I really mean it when I say “nothing please, just your lovely self”. When they proceed to insist, or when they bring something anyways, and expect me to place as a centerpiece, it fries me. I have everything organized and on a set plan, as hosting is both a joy for me, but also an event that needs planning as we usually have quite a list of guests. The third paragraph contained the most thoughtful suggestion.

    Thanks for letting me get this off my chest, Williams-Sonoma!!!

    Reply
  2. Annette Donelson

    I always ask. She expects me to do that. After all, I cooked the dinner for many years. All the while, teaching the girls. Now, I get to relax with everyone else …. and “the girls — the daughters” do the cooking. I remind myself that I’m over 70 years old and it’s the next generation’s turn. But. I still always ask. It’s the civilized thing to do.

    Reply
  3. Linda

    It’s that a guest’s insistence to bring something often ruins the ambiance , your menu and decor, the platter doesn’t match , the flowers need water and placement, the food doesn’t go But then isn’t the whole point of entertaining to make your guests feel welcome and at home? I mean it when I say bring nothing but your self but will love whatever you insist on bringing!

    Reply
    1. Frank

      I replied below then read yours, but I still agree, the food does not go, the placement the platter. How about this. The last BBQ: set to perfection, someone brings a green salad, gigantic amount for an army! you have 6 people and you followed all the williams- sonoma photos for a BBQ and prepared everything like you were doing a photo shoot, then a gigantic tin foil thing is plopped on your table. It is no help and you smile and then everyone eats that.

      Reply
    2. Joyce

      Just a suggestion or maybe a thought; I have had to deal with this on several occasions. Have a side table/place set-up with a plain white table cloth just for those lovely guest whom insist on not listening. This way they have their own quote center place to display their lovely gift.

      Reply
      1. Toni

        Joyce!!! My new W-S friend!!!! Perfect idea of a side table!! Thank you so very much. (Now I do remember someone once saying to put non-requested dishes in another room, out of site, which might get the point across, but it is the holidays, so I guess the side table would be kinder. 😀)

        Reply
        1. Frank

          Ok, guys, i have researched and took a pol from my friends that throw large parties and have it planned to perfection. The holiday’s with a crowd; I mean a large crowd, unless you have live in help to actually help you become merciless, the side table was felt as a good suggestion. Even put one or two additional desserts on it so there is not all things people brought would be ok. NOW in a regular dinner party a side table would be rude. Now we had an argument. I have three refrigerators in my home. One is in the garage. I have my 12 foot sub zero packed to perfection in the kitchen. the rest of the stuff which is extra goes out to the detached garage and during the talking and the dessert presentation as I serve and individual creme brulee to begin stuffing their faces and they are amazed and a cherries jubilee is then presented which draws their attention. Then there is no room for anything else. You have to know your guests and what they will bring sometimes and a little extra presentation and then a firm discussion with your spouse that includes severe threats will do the trick. The more they defy me the bigger and better and more elaborate my dinner parties get. Finally in September for the after labor day annual dinner I sideswiped them and made the table so spectacular and during the appetizers and wine in the backyard I took the trophy wives in to help and as their jaws dropped. One of them said. Oh i just put some chocolate pudding in a pre made pie crust. PLEASE PLEASE DO NOT PUT that on your table just leave it in the fridge. You have to stir up the post cause a war. Outdo them and you will win every battle. Plan, Shop, Prepare and plan for a foolproof evening. Just wanted to make you all laugh a little. I hope this is fun. I do like the extra table idea I will work that in and they will not see what hit them.

          Reply
          1. Toni

            Frank, darling!!! Love, love, love your post! Too funny, but all true. This issue is a psychological one at its base. You do not disrespect the wishes of anyone, especially in their own home. Doing so makes one either ignorant or someone with confidence/self-respect issues who must have things their way. So the dance goes round and round, as you try to find kind ways of asking people. Then you’ve had enough under your own roof and the gloves come off. Side table is a perfect idea. If that still doesn’t work, just tell them point blank. A lot of joy, and effort, goes into entertaining; its our “thing”, so why cant we enjoy it the fruits of our labor?

  4. Lin Malhlum

    More often than not, my guests will bring a dessert. When I have already planned a few and everyone is stuffed already. If someone MUST bring something, a bottle of wine is best. Even if it is not used at the time, wine is always good later. But often they bring a wine they themselves like: then it is easy to serve them what they like; so I am pleased with that choice.

    Reply
    1. Jennifer

      I have the same problem.. inevitably we will have tons of desserts and no one wants it! Wine or champagne can always be enjoyed either at the event or at another time. It’s the perfect contribution.

      Reply
  5. Gail

    I often bring a little bag with a couple of sweet rolls or bagels and maybe a bag of good coffee. I have also wrapped up some new dish cloths and towels “for tomorrow” and people seemed to welcome them! It usually gets a laugh too.

    When people ask me what to bring I always say “Come 30 minutes and bring a dust cloth and Pledge!” So far not one person has honored my request!

    Reply
  6. Frankq

    Yes, I agree 100%, your last minutes are to get everything together, you have 8 people and 4 courses and everything has been timed to the second, even a few extra minutes to get dressed, then the door bell rings not only early but 20 minutes early and you said it 10 times bring nothing. ” No, you don’t have to bring anything, I have it covered”. Well one or two of the couples decide they should bring dessert and you get the first with a giant cake or pie from costco and the second one with 5 tupperwares with and entire item that has to be assembled, kill me now. there is no place to put it and then it comes time for dessert they want to help and you say “no, i have it” they insist; while you are trying to get the cake you made from scratch out that took you hours, you have to scammer for a serving plate for their desserts and then they take front and center or worse it goes on your beautiful table in the box. Everyone feels obligated to eat what your stupid guest brought and they make a big deal out of it not realizing you broke your butt putting together what you know is a masterpiece. Finally to add injury to insult your spouse eats your guests dessert.
    Ug

    Reply
    1. gail

      Well I’m not laughing! They ask–but they never get out the Pledge and show up! LOL!! And by the way, we honestly had someone bring the INGREDIENTS to make a pie, complete with a crust she rolled out and made on my center island, for Thanksgiving. And my husband LET her do it. I came in the kitchen from hanging up coats and they had my center island cleared off and she was using it to make the pie, so I couldn’t use the island the entire time I was getting the meal on the table.

      Reply
    2. Kathy

      I had Thanksgiving dinner and one lady kept insisting to bring something. I said how about if you bring dinner rolls. I always make mine so I thought it can’t be that bad. I had this nagging feeling so I went ahead and made mine anyway. She comes 20 minutes before dinner and she brought frozen rolls!!! Seriously how does one thaw them out and bake before dinner!!! So glad I made them myself at least my dinner was still a success!!

      Reply
    3. Joan

      This happened to my at my Thanksgiving brunch. After telling the guests to bring nothing, they showed up with almost a whole meal! WTF. I had everything planned down to the cherry braided bread I was so proud of. They brought mini rolls and three, count em, three different breads AND French toast in a big roaster. Set it right on my kitchen table, everyone ogled over all they brought! My whole brunch was ruined. I’m still mad!!

      Reply
  7. Ruth

    My response when asked what to bring is, “come with an empty stomach. And, if you insist helping cleaning up after, it will be a big disappointment on my part. I explain that guest are not allowed to help clean up, and that this is a taboo in my culture. Tradition dictates that guest are special and therefore treated as such. The big difference is that members of immediate family know better! When I am invited however, I always bring fresh cut flowers and wine.

    Reply
    1. gail

      I hope you flowers are in a small vase and you make sure the host knows the wine is for their enjoyment later. I have so many times made a frantic dash for a vase when the meal needs to be taken out of the oven.

      Reply
  8. Deb

    Who really cares if the dish they bring doesn’t match! It’s Thanksgiving and you’re missing the point of the holiday with that level of scrutiny. Enjoy the fruits of your labor and let your guests feel the same way. What joy to have friends and family to share the meal and the time — we are all different and sometimes we don’t match either. To me, that’s the true beauty.

    Reply
    1. Elizabeth

      I agree. Where do these people get their manners from? My mother always told me that you always accept a gift graciously and you never say or indicate in any way that you do not appreciate their gift.

      Reply
  9. Kristin

    I agree with the majority here…. I have hosted holidays where I prepare everything and I truly love to do it and I have hosted some where I have asked people to bring specific types of dishes (i.e. bring a veggie side dish- they know what I am looking for). When people bring something above and beyond its adds complications and some may not understand that. I am marrying into a family where they horrible plan events- we arrive 1 hour before food is served but there are 5 appetizers to each before a full course dinner. WTH!?!?! When I respond to bring nothing, this is what I am trying to avoid…. TOO MUCH FOOD. Everyone wants to contribute and generally speaking they BYOB ( fine with me) but then also insist on bringing 10x more than needed. I have taken the time to carefully plan a delicious Thanksgiving dinner, I dont want your taco dip and chips you are making AT MY HOUSE (not even brining it pre-made)30 minutes before I am serving the first course. Its called etiquette, my grandmother would be so infuriated. If its a casual dinner, different story, but not a formal holiday dinner. I do love the flowers idea, though, and I would not be opposed to them brought that day entirely- I guess it would depend on where I am at in the preparations. What bothers me more is how too casual holidays have become, where did the formality go???

    Reply
  10. jerry matters

    Be entertaining …bring a DVD or such that you KNOW they will enjoy while relaxing.

    Do not impose upon their show of hospitality… it is after all their show.

    Reply
  11. A.C.

    As a hostess providing a holiday dinner I’d rather not have people bring food. So many times people offer to bring an appetizer or dessert and then they fail to bring it! Meanwhile I was counting on that dish to help feed my guests. Then there is the issue of washing off their platters during the party so people can take it home afterwards. I don’t want to spend my time during the party to do that. Otherwise, I have to drive around town the next day delivering platters or casserole dishes. What a bother! And frankly, the ugly tin foil or plastic ware a guest brings to my home is going to be an eyesore on my sideboard/buffet. Just don’t bring food if the hostess declines your offer! A hostess would much prefer a bottle of wine or your beverage of choice, decorative dish towels, or a scented candle. With regard to clean up? Just carry my fine china, sterling silverware, and Waterford crystal to the kitchen. Don’t wash it and break it while you’re inebriated!

    Reply
    1. Lori

      I could have written your response! One guests insisted on bringing mashed potatoes! Seriously! She brought a bag of potatoes! I’m glad I went went my gut feelings and prepared mashed potatoes! The same year, another guest insisted on bringing a homemade pie. I was so glad that I had pies just in case! Her excuse was that she didn’t have time! GMAB!!!

      Reply
  12. Cheryl

    I find it very frustrating when I plan a meal, whether simple or extravagant, and guests bring something “to be helpful”. It is not helpful to have to stop, find spoons, serving dishes, etc to have them be “helpful”. Bring wine, flowers or candy! Be kind enough to listen to what the invite is… However, holidays should be different. I always ask guests to bring “their favorite” side dish…after all, it is a holiday you are sharing…not just yours!

    Reply
  13. Mia S.

    Follow your hostess lead, there are many ways to say that you love them and can be done at another date. If you feel the a gift is a must at the moment then make it not be require to be part of the meal, i.e. wine, candle, Thank you notes, etc

    Reply
  14. Joan B

    The finest gift when no gift is requested is to make a donation in the guests name to a favorite charity.

    Reply
  15. Brenda Layman

    I once organized an outdoor dinner party. Everyone was to bring part of the dinner. One couple asked to bring the appetizer course. I prepared a platter of chicken salad sandwiches, others brought salads and desserts. On the eventing of the event, the appetizer couple announced, “We’re hungry!” and produced a big pile of large meat and cheese sandwiches. All I could do was put out my sandwiches too. If someone says “appetizers,” ask them for more details!

    Reply
  16. Frank C P

    well i have to say i have watched this blog for the last year and I have really got a laugh. at the end of day you have to have a good time and not let your guests feel threatened. Take what they bring, hide it. Put it away, but have your spouse vow to not interfere with anything and either agree or pretend not to hear. If you have a large informal crown, then fine, let them cook and bring their crap. this September. I did just that I threw out all the food in disposable aluminum foil, pans, opened up everything. opened what ever they brought and then realized only all the pomp and circumstance was me me me. so i let it go. everyone thought i had hit my head or had lacked. I even put unopened toilet paper in the bathrooms; all of a sudden i was hearing. Wow you really have had no time you really have had not a minute. this is so unlike you. I replied “well you want to eat and be served like cave people then eat and be served by cave people. ” The next two parties i got rolls, coffee wine and flowers. there were many death threats to the spouse but we stuck to the plan. Good luck as I am planning for 75 people for Thanksgiving and I have hired two people to help me the night before and the entire day. I am getting old!! Happy thanksgiving.

    oh and WTF way above the response. Well you don’t know how to live!!!

    Reply
  17. Cate

    I’m so glad I won’t be attending any of these parties! While I can present a formal dinner with heirloom Spode, Waterford, silver, and amazing dishes…I also enjoy my company. My invites are genuine and we always have a great time. Graceful and enjoyable entertaining. An awkward tinfoil pan isn’t going to ruin it for me. I watched both my grandmother and mother stress like crazy. Everyone else felt that stress. Not worth it!

    Reply
    1. Patrick

      The pressure to be perfect can certainly derail enjoyment of the holidays. Thanks for phrasing it so well.

      Reply
  18. Patrick

    One of my friends is a terriffic entertainer, non-drinker, and neat freak. It wouldn’t work for everyone, but his last dinner I took him some seasonally-scented expensive kitchen cleaner in a glass spray bottle and two nice microfiber cloths. He loved it!

    Reply
  19. Megan

    I feel so stuck on this topic. On the one hand, I agree with those saying ‘don’t lose sight of the purpose of the meal – to be with family and appreciate each other’. Unplanned food *shouldn’t* take away from that joy.

    On the other hand, last year I cooked Thanksgiving for three – me, my husband, and his mom. I had a turkey twice as large as we really needed, stuffing, mashed potatoes, whatever vegetable, rolls, a pie, and she brought her sweet potato casserole (which we asked her too)… AND she brought an ENTIRE HAM. Not only was it way too much food for three people, but it also felt like subtly being told that she didn’t think my turkey would come out okay, or like her main dish was competing with mine in some way… it felt strange and put me off.

    So, I dunno. I guess I could flip a coin and go either way with this one. I guess it’s just fair to say my preference is for people not to spring anything unplanned on you (food or otherwise) but I feel you’ve gotta adapt and go with the flow instead of letting it get to you when something unexpected does show up. Easier said than done… but perhaps a mindset worth pursuing.

    Reply
  20. Brenda Laurance

    I suppose I don’t “formally” entertain because I’m not upset if my guests choose to bring something. I know it is from their heart, whether they spent hours in the kitchen or picked it up from Sam’s Club. I can certainly make a space for their offering. After all, I’m preparing a meal for them because I care about them and our friendship. Yes, I have a plan, and I like for things to look nice and orderly, but the meal is not about MY performance. I’m not expecting roses and a standing ovation. I have invited people into my home to share their life with me over good food and in a beautiful setting. When I take the “Look at ME!” out of it, what to do with their offerings becomes much simpler. Serve it or display it, of course! Don’t hurt their feelings! This is about relationships with people! Don’t create a situation where guests walk away with hurt feelings and heartburn! Be kind!!! Be nice!!!!

    Reply
  21. Ellen

    I am one of those hostesses that does not like my dinner party to turn into a potluck.
    I finally hit upon an option that has worked for me.
    For a casual outdoor gathering, when asked, I suggested that guests bring something to donate to the local no-kill animal shelter. I even suggested some needed items.
    It worked out very well!

    Reply
  22. Kit

    I just have to say my husband is a huge fan of Frank.He is disappointed to not read his comments on the other blogs I have read.

    Reply
  23. Elizabeth

    According to Emily Post you should always bring something even when asked not to. There are non food gifts that anyone would appreciate if they have any manners. My feeling is there are too many perfectionists in this world causing the rest of us too much stress.

    Reply
    1. Gail

      Emily is quoted as saying: Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.

      Emily died in 1960. I feel sure she would not object to someone who prioritizes their own wishes to honor the request of another.

      Reply
  24. Tina

    I like to bring something for the hostess breakfast the next day or some bath bombs to relax after the event.

    Reply
  25. Katherine

    Champagne is ALWAYS a good idea. And It goes with everything! Bonus points for pre-chilling.

    Reply
  26. Brandy

    A pretty box of gourmet chocolates is always a nice gift to bring your hosts. Tell your hosts, “Thank you for having me. This is for you to enjoy.” This way, you’ve made it obvious that you don’t expect it to be served, but they certainly can if they choose to.

    Reply
  27. Lin

    Please come empty handed if asked to not bring anything.
    We have a guest every year that insists on bringing something. He expects it to be served. He is a tremendously awful cook, truly dreadful in the culinary arena. Delightful man, horrid cook.
    Every year our other guests pop a bite into their mouths and ‘that’ look, the one that we all know, ‘do I swallow this or spit this out’ is dismaying displayed on their faces.
    Please, please, please, we, the hosts of get togethers everywhere, beg you to come empty handed.

    Reply
    1. Toni

      Lin! You have me on the floor, rolling with a great, hearty laughter! I totally hear your every word; been there and experienced that. But you’ve given me an outstanding idea……I will make copies of your entry and place it with my invitations. People will either laugh or not show up; either way, it’s a win-win……I don’t have the time or energy to deal with being disrespected in my own home, as I am very respectful to their wishes under their roof.

      Reply

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