Experts: What To Bring to Dinner and Holiday Parties Amid Inflation

Two young couples are having a dinner party and one woman is laughing while serving salad.
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Inflation has been hitting us all, day in and day out, for months now. While many people have found strategies for saving through savvy shopping or adjustments to transportation routines, the upcoming holiday season will likely turn the dial up on everything. And adding that extra sparkle to our meals and events usually doesn’t come cheap.

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Those hosting family gatherings and other holiday dinner parties will have heftier expenditures than ever this season as the price of goods and services hovers at or near 40-year highs. The price of turkey alone has increased 112% from $3.16 per pound a year ago to $6.70 per pound as of September. The American Farm Bureau Federation also reported that the average price of a dozen Grade A eggs, a holiday recipe staple, is now 27% higher than the same time a year ago.

Whether your host is throwing a lavish feast or a low-key cocktail soiree with apps and finger foods, prices for grocery store items are up across the aisles, with an overall increase of 13% from last year, according to an October report on retail food and beverage inflation.

In consideration of the host or hostess who is taking it upon themselves to feed a crowd, what’s a dinner guest to do? GOBankingRates asked a few of our favorite etiquette experts to weigh in.

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Before the Party  

Elaine Swann, an etiquette expert based in San Diego, says that if you’re invited to a holiday dinner party, the first thing a good guest should do is RSVP. 

“This year is an especially crucial time to respond to say whether you’ll attend or not,” Swann said. “That’s really going to help the host quite a bit when it comes to preparing, from getting the right amount of food to cutlery and plates. It all depends on the guest count.” 

As for what you should bring to the dinner party, Swann says the key is to follow the host’s lead. Look for a cue on the invitation. “If it says for you to do nothing but just show up, then do just that. That means the host was able to set a budget for themselves and stay within it,” Swann said. 

Hosts may also ask guests to contribute by bringing a particular dish, or possibly pitch in a dollar amount toward the meal, particularly if they’re having it delivered. Swann recommends doing exactly what is asked of you, and if it’s a money contribution, transferring the funds to them in the manner requested, whether by electronic payment or cash.

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But what if you can’t contribute the requested item or amount for some reason? “Be respectful of the host and the other guests and just let them know in advance if you’re not going to be able to follow through,” Swann said.

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How To Show up  

No matter what, etiquette experts agree that a host or hostess gift as a small token of appreciation is always a good idea. 

Julien Saunders, author of Cashing Out, said, “There’s nothing like a good bottle of wine to bring to a dinner party. To get a little more bang for your buck, opt for a Rioja from Spain or a good Barbera from Italy.” Saunders says that a $20 bottle from either of these wine regions tastes like a $40 bottle from a large winemaker. Plus, “It makes for good conversation at the dinner table,” he said.

Make Your Money Work for You

If your hosts don’t drink, he suggests giving them a gift card for dining out. “Think of it as your way of gifting them a night off from cooking,” Saunders said.

Nick Leighton, host of the weekly etiquette podcast “Were You Raised By Wolves?” said that it’s not always necessary to bring something to a dinner party. If this is the case, though, “the key is to reciprocate with an invitation of your own,” he said.

Leighton added that regardless of how much expense the host racks up, it’s far more important to show your appreciation with a thoughtful gift than an expensive one. 

Swann agrees. “Gifts could be anything from a bottle of wine to a cool kitchen gadget, cookbooks, a sushi roller, or a little potted plant of fresh herbs and spices,” she said. “The fact that you took some time to get a gift that was thoughtful, even if it’s a $10 can opener, but it’s really cool and it’s going to make the host’s life easier when they open their next can, that is a lot more important than you trying to match the amount that they spent.” 

When the Party’s Over

Showing your gratitude doesn’t end when the party is winding down and you’ve said your goodbyes. Leighton says a good guest will also remember to follow up as well.

“Don’t forget to send a thank you note to your host the next day,” he said. “The only thing better than being invited to a dinner party is being invited again.”

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About the Author

Cody Bay is an award-winning writer, editor and media ace based in Seattle, WA. With a focus on social good storytelling and content strategy, she recently led the Microsoft News for Good initiative at MSN, creating content experiences to inform and empower readers to take action on the causes they care about. She has contributed to a wide variety of local and national publications, including Microsoft’s IT Showcase, The Seattle Times, Seattle magazine, The Travel Channel and the Puget Sound Business Journal, and was previously a multimedia editor at The Associate Press in New York.
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