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A Quick Primer on Being a Good Party Guest

Etiquette expert Heather Wiese Alexander explains when to bring a host gift, when to send a thank you note, and more.
| |Elizabeth Lavin
Elizabeth Lavin

Much has been written on how to be a hospitable host. But just as important is how to be an gracious guest. Aside from being mindful not to over-imbibe and avoiding taboo topics like religion, politics, and your Swiftie status, how you arrive—e.g., not empty-handed—and how you express your thanks (hint: in writing) are the keys to earning a return invite. We share a few expert etiquette pointers as well as our favorite sources for scoring great hostess gifts and stellar stationery. 

Do you always need to bring a host or hostess gift? 


The short answer: Yes. 

“The key word here is ‘host,’ ” says Bell’INVITO owner and etiquette expert Heather Wiese Alexander. “If you’re going to lay on someone’s sofa and they’re not lifting a finger for you, then no, you don’t have to bring a gift. But if you’re going to be hosted, even very casually, it’s your reciprocation.” Alexander insists your gift needn’t be big or expensive—“I’ve literally clipped flowers out of my backyard and thrown a ribbon around them,” she says—rather, it’s the gesture that’s important. “It says, ‘I know you made an effort, and I’m glad to see you, too.’ ”

Favorite gift shops for:



This Bishop Arts stalwart has a wax-and-wicked option for every scent and every style.



Among a range of entertaining staples, score proper serving pieces, vases, and more for your fanciest friends.

The Unexpected

Grange Hall

Home, apothecary, and jewelry pieces that are a little surprising, a little macabre, and a lot beautiful.

The Cheeky

Favor the Kind

From quippy dish towels to paper goods with personality, find easy and inexpensive gifts they didn’t know they needed.

The Garden


Beyond pots and plants for the green-thumbed, grab soaps, decorative napkins, books, and more.


Interabang Books

No one can have too many coffee table books. Find a selection of riveting reads that are as elegant as they are enlightening.

Don’t Send a ‘Thank You’ Card

(Let us explain.)

Bell’INVITO’s Heather Wiese Alexander’s rule about thank-you notes is similar to her stance on host gifts: Yes, you need to send them. And yes, you should do so on paper. “You want to show someone that they were worth the effort because they showed you that you were,” she says. Her do’s and don’ts: 

DO: Send your note ASAP, but it’s also never too late. Alexander jots down note-worthy occasions in her day planner, then sets aside time each week to send them out.

DON’T: Don’t overthink—or overwrite—it. “People think they have to fill the card up. They don’t,” she says. 

DO: Write the way you talk. “It doesn’t have to be sophisticated,” Alexander says. “The best notes really let the personality of the person shine through.” 

DON’T: Don’t feel bound to use a card that has “thank you” printed on it—a pet peeve of Alexander’s. “You can say ‘thank you’ on anything,” she says.

Where to Pick Up Your Printed Goods


Choose from a readymade selection of Heather Wiese Alexander’s proper yet playful luxury stationery, or let her design something just for you.

Ellis Hill

This West Lovers Lane shop specializes in preppy and chic styles in a range of cheerful colors, patterns, and fonts.

Paper Affair

This shop stocks hundreds of boxed card, note, or notepad designs, but the team can work with you on one-of-a-kind creations, too.

Missing Q Press

Owner/creative director Jason McDaniel creates timeless letterpress and engraved stationery with a side of southern hospitality.