Three Actually Good Tips on What a Guest Should Bring to a Holiday Meal
Do not listen to The Failing New York Times on this one.
I’m going to be providing a wider-ranging set of advice on the holidays in tomorrow’s Mayonnaise Clinic — if you have questions, please send them to email@example.com (tonight, if you’d like me to answer them tomorrow) — but I cannot restrain myself from responding to an absolutely deranged article that ran last week in the Wirecutter, the product-review arm of The New York Times. The article purported to give advice on how to be a good Thanksgiving guest, but if you take the suggestions in the article, you and your dining companions will not like what ensues.
Rose Lorre says two main host-gift mainstays — flowers and wine — are actually a burden on your host. She has a point about flowers, if they are brought wrapped in a bouquet and in need of trimming and arranging; don't do that. Her complaint about wine makes less sense — she says if you bring wine, you are foisting on your host the need to find “an extra ice bucket for a bottle of Riesling,” but I hope everyone knows by now that a gift of wine is just that, a gift, and a host is under no expectation to serve it right back to you — they’re free to save it for another occasion.1
But anyway, fine, there are plenty of ways to be a gracious guest without bringing flowers or wine. Where the article really goes off the rails is when Lorre advises bringing three things instead: your own apron; your own Tupperware; and stain remover sticks to hand out like party favors. No, really, here is the official holiday advice of The New York Times:
Upon arrival, hang up your coat, don an apron you brought from home—or better yet, wear the apron under your coat so you can reveal it Clark Kent–style—stride into the kitchen and declare, “I’m here to help.”
You have just become a holiday hero.
To a host who may be too frazzled to think about delegating, this is much better than the passive, “Let me know if I can help.” You are now the host’s go-to assistant, and they don’t even have to dig through an unkempt drawer of cast-off kitchen linens to find you an apron!
As a friend of mine put it, “If you try to upstage me with a secret apron reveal at my own party, it better be Kevlar.” But if you choose, against all common sense, to do the above, do not also explain to your host why you brought all this Tupperware:
As the party at the table enjoys their holiday banquet, it has yet to occur to the host that they might produce more leftovers than they have storage or stomach space for.
You can do your host the huge favor of anticipating this problem and helping solve it by coming equipped with your own snap-lid containers, reusable silicone bags, or just some repurposed takeout tubs.
And the stain remover?
When the gravy boat gets passed around a little too enthusiastically, your fellow guests will appreciate a quick refresh from a Tide to Go pen… Tide pens are frequently sold in packs of three, so you can offer them up en masse as a need-a-pen, take-a-pen present for all, or you can leave them behind at the end of the night. Either way, your host will be thrilled that they won’t have to get out of their seat to whip up a makeshift stain solution.
Really, this take about sums it up:
All of these gifts are very impolite because they arise from the very impolite view this writer apparently has of her host.2 If you want to be a good guest, you should not enter a dinner party with the presumption that your host is a frazzled idiot who badly needs help but doesn’t know how to ask for it, didn’t realize there would be leftovers, and doesn’t have a plan for when the other, slovenly guests inevitably soak themselves in gravy. Fix the viewpoint, and better gift ideas will flow naturally.
In the spirit of Ben Dreyfuss, I would like to replace this advice from the Times and offer you three actually good tips for host gifts on Thanksgiving or any other social occasion in someone’s home.