Tokens of appreciation Hostess gifts are a gracious way for guests to say thank you.

December 07, 1997|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

When dinner guests arrived at Jerry and Sue Egan's Victorian-style home in Forest Hill recently, they handed their hosts prettily wrapped gifts -- not for any special occasion but as a gesture of thanks.

The small packages -- or hostess gifts -- contained a clever assortment of items, including a decorative candle, flavored bottled waters and petite bottles of gourmet salad dressings.

Not only did the gifts add a festive air to the gathering, they reflected a growing trend toward giving more creative expressions of gratitude, rather than the traditional bottle of wine or flowers.

In fact, a majority of hostesses said they liked receiving a personal gift in a recent survey by Coming Home -- the specialty home products division of catalog retailer Lands' End Inc. Respondents ranked liquor last.

That doesn't surprise Towson hostess Greta Klug.

She and her husband, Tom, still appreciate a bottle of wine, but they usually don't give liquor as a gift unless they know a couple would appreciate it, she says.

"There's more sensitivity and more awareness of overindulgence," Klug says.

Lynn Tucker, co-owner of Image Gifts, a corporate gift service, in Owings Mills, agrees.

"In my business, corporately, people have become very sensitive to alcohol with drinking and driving," she says. "But there are so many alternatives today."

Now, guests can choose from any number of interesting knickknacks or edible goodies to wow their host, especially during the holidays.

And picking out a gift can be quite simple, says Sue Egan, when she hangs up her apron and becomes a guest.

"I try to pick something the hostess wouldn't buy for herself."

Tucker, who suggests spending between $8 and $18 for a hostess gift, says her favorite tokens include caramel and toffee apples decorated for the holidays, truffle cigars ("since cigars are so popular"), snack mixes in decorative containers, assorted coffees and teas, and beautifully boxed chocolates.

But she doesn't buy gifts randomly.

"No matter what the situation, you have to give it some thought," she says. "Is it a family that will be enjoying this? Is it a business situation?"

Dorothea Johnson, founder and director of the Protocol School of Washington, offers her own gift-choosing caveat.

"You don't want to overpower people," she says. "It shouldn't be anything lavish."

Hannah Rodewald, owner of the Pleasure of Your Company in Lutherville, also nixes extravagance.

"I try to take something the hostess doesn't have to write a thank-you note for," she says.

In most cases, Rodewald recommends spending between $5 and $15 on hostess gifts.

"I love to take music, a CD with holiday music," she says.

Often, if there are children in the house, she'll bring a game to keep the little ones amused during the party, she says.

For the hosts, Rodewald also likes fancy candles, perhaps gold for the holidays; paper napkins tucked in a basket tied with sparkly ribbon; and scented soaps.

After a gift has been chosen, Johnson recommends that it be wrapped with a card or note attached. She urges hostesses to restrain from opening the items in front of guests.

"You never want to make a guest feel bad," if he or she didn't bring a gift, Johnson stresses.

She says she likes to surprise hosts with books of poetry, Godiva chocolates, jams and jellies, quality paper napkins and potted plants instead of flowers.

Fresh flowers require the hostess to interrupt her duties to search for a vase and arrange the bouquet, she says.

But Greta Klug often gives flowers as hostess gifts, particularly carnations, in keeping with a tradition from her native Norway.

"It's unheard of if you show up without flowers," she says.

During the holidays, though, Klug gives other hostess gifts as well. Favorites include glass bobeches to catch candle drips, embroidered linen finger-tip towels and tree ornaments.

Some guests collaborate on hostess gifts.

Dorothea Johnson pools resources with friends to buy "beautiful table-top books." And Harford Countians Denise Lynch and Sharon Henning recently pitched in on a whimsical chip-and-dip dish for their hostess, Nancy Charvat of Abingdon.

Johnson attributes the popularity of hostess gifts to a return to manners.

"There's a big trend toward civility," she says.

Debbie Mallon, who lives in Wiltondale near Towson, also has noticed a change in entertaining in the past decade.

"It's not as formal as the '80s," says Mallon, who favors spur-of-the-moment get-togethers. "People are not out to outdo each other."

She also likes to take hostess gifts when attending a party, "to show my appreciation to the hostess for going to the effort and time of entertaining me."

When she is a guest during the holidays, Mallon, a gift buyer for Wilson Lighting in Towson, likes to give Christmas items, especially seasonal finials for lamps.

"I used to bake breads before I started working," the mother of three says, laughing.

Pub Date: 12/07/97

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