Dear Babe,
My friends all make more money than me, and they have a lot of dinner parties. I know I should bring something, but wine seems impossible — they drink stuff that costs more than I spend on food all week. What’s an alternative that’s cool and non-chintzy?

Dear Wine-No,
I hear you. Wine is overdone anyway. What I do is find out how many people will be at the party and buy a chocolate for each. If there are 10 people I’ll go to See’s Candy or CocoaBella and buy one piece of chocolate candy for each person. My current favorite is Christopher Elbow’s dark chocolate caramel that is infused with either rosemary or lavender. They cost about $1.50 per piece so you can get out of there for a reasonable price, 10 people = 15 dollars. I get all of the same kind so there’s no fighting. Also, you can either get one extra piece for the surprise guest or forego yours should one show up.

Another idea: Jagermeister. Sure you laugh but I’ve been playing off the same bottle of Jagermeister for my friend’s last three Christmas parties. Here’s how you do it. You show up with the bottle and challenge everyone to a shot. Not many will join you, but if they do it will be a heck of a party. Otherwise the bottle will sit in their freezer for years and you can pull it out it every time, reminding everyone that you brought it, and joke about doing shots again, like it’s a totally new idea.

For the truly financially hurting: Novelty Snacks. The list is endless, and no one is going to turn down any of the following: a big pack of Twinkies, or HoHos, or multicolor sprinkled Chips Ahoy. Bugles anybody? They’ll laugh you off at first but just sit back watch those snacks disappear. My friends have gotten so used to me bringing them that they’re disappointed if I show up without any.


the author

Babe Scanlon is a writer living and working in San Francisco. She's worked as an archaeologist, computer game designer, agent at Agent Provocateur and hypnotherapist. She is controlling your mind at this very moment.

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  • Allan

    My dad has been making homemade wine for about 15 years, so I’ve always got a steady supply of no-cost wine to bring to dinner parties. We write “2005 Cab Franc” or “Happy Birthday” on the blank bottle with a gold paint pen, and everybody’s always very impressed.

    Now, my dad makes great wine. He’s won double-gold several times over at the California State Fair. But I’ve always wondered, what if I decanted a bottle of $3 Trader Joe’s wine into a blank bottle, recorked it, wrote on it in gold pen, and presented it as something homemade?

    People would probably be pretty impressed. If you don’t have corking machinery at your place, use a screw top.

  • Jason

    if you like wine, it doesn’t have to be expensive, especially here in california. a place like k&l wines (638 4th street between brannan and townsend) has a very large selection and helpful folks who have not steered me wrong so far. go in ready to describe flavors you like in wine, your budget, and ask for suggestions.

  • sflovestory

    I’m not sure where all this “bring a bottle wine” thing started (perhaps BYOB -ew- parties?) but a hostess gift is supposed to be a gift for the host/ess (that’s the only time I’m going to make the gender slashy thing, so assume from here on out that this applies to both men and women, because: duh).

    1. If you bring wine, your hostess is put in the awkward position of deciding whether or not to serve it with the dinner she prepared, to which she’s probably gone through days of pairing frustrations. So, unless a bottle of wine is wrapped and insisted upon by the giver to be enjoyed later, it’s really not a great hostess gift.

    2. Now we’re supposed to bring gifts for EVERYONE? And guess who will be there and who eats chocolate and whatnot? I say no to that. Totally, I’m all for bringing less-expensive treats, but give them, wrapped to your hostess so she can enjoy them all to herself after treating all of her guests.

    Other less-expensive items that work: really anything your hostess would enjoy, something handmade, a box of stationery, a book, a little plant, some flowers, something breakfast-y for the next day, fruit that’s in season…this shouldn’t be brain science and should definitely NOT be expensive. The best gifts never are.