My boyfriend made plans for us to have dinner with two of his friends, another couple. Since I have some dietary restrictions, they've decided to cook at home rather than go out (despite me saying I'm sure there were suitable restaurants around). If it's relevant, my boyfriend will be helping with some of the preparation, but I have work and will arrive just for the dinner. He insists I don't need to bring anything, but I feel like it would be rude to show up empty handed, especially since it seems they are cooking because of me!

This isn't the first time I've been told "just bring yourself!", but usually it's with people I know better and expect to see frequently enough to repay the favor. In this case I have only met the guy, once and over two years ago, although my boyfriend has known them for many years.

Things I thought about:

  • Bottle of wine / six-pack - they don't drink
  • Candles or flowers - cliche and out of place (they have a house full of board games and cats, this will be a casual get-together)
  • Snacks / dessert - unfortunately not possible due to other circumstances, and besides they already have a full menu planned

Of course I'll verbally thank them, but they are spending time and money on this.. Is there another way to show my appreciation in a material way at a dinner party? Is it really ok to show up without bringing anything?

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    Usually when a thing like this happens to me, I offer to do something for them the next time we meet. Or if you want to bring something anyway, give them a pack of tasty tea or coffee. Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 10:55
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    Nothing wrong w/ a small bunch of flowers that can serve as a centerpiece. It's cliche for a reason: always acceptable, not overly personal, and they'll be dead tomorrow. Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 17:17
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    To view the other side, I usually say "Don't bring anything" and it's usually because when people do bring something in the end there will be an abundance of unconsumed stuff I don't need... Then I have friends who absolutely have to bring something every time, I've just given up and ask them to bring something like a drink that I like (so I can use it for myself when it's left over). And then there are these geniuses who feel like they have to bring more than you asked for to be nice. And I drown in stuff.
    – anon
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 7:43
  • Consider that appreciation, and display of such, is often the repayment that will be most desired. When I tell others they don't need to bring something and they do, it can sometimes feel like they are rejecting a gift or generous act on my part, which reduces my enjoyment of the activity. Say thank you, compliment the food, and most of all convey how much you enjoyed the experience; that may be the best possible repayment you can make.
    – Nicholas
    Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 22:34

9 Answers 9


Come as you were told and enjoy the night. They plan to spend time and money on this so that everybody can have a good evening, including you despite your dietary restrictions. The best way to repay them in the short run is to indeed enjoy the meal.

I understand from where your desire to repay them with something comes, but your boyfriend instructed you to not do it while he knows you more than enough to do otherwise. Besides, he seems to know the couple pretty well, so I assume he knows what he's doing. My conclusion is that his instructions make sense to him, and therefore are likely to be correct regarding the couple.

Please keep in mind that they aren't really doing you a favor, like planning a dinner for a special event or milestone of yours or cooking your favorite dish to please you, in particular, they are taking your diet into account so that you can enjoy the meal as much as the others. I believe being grateful and having a good evening is enough. Besides, gifts often make people uncomfortable, especially when they aren't in a position to reciprocate, and I bet they don't consider their cooking as a gift to you, just a little more effort to accommodate you.

Your boyfriend's goal is to make you to not make a big deal out of it, in my opinion.

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    Thanks for this - I often feel guilty because of my dietary restrictions but this helps me see it from another point of view.
    – Em C
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 16:37
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    Adding to the "repayment" thought. At some point in the near or far future it's likely your boyfriend will have the couple over at your place and then maybe the two of you will do some preparations for cooking and the like. Then you can "repay" service with service. Although, in my book, friends don't "repay" each other. Actual friends are like family, what you do for them, you do because you like having them around and you want them to enjoy the time you spend together simply because you like them - and because them being happy means you being happy, means them being happy... ;) Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 17:23
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    Plus, you can always offer to help with the dishes/clean up after.
    – BruceWayne
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 0:51
  • And invite them over for a night of dinner & board games. They sound like they would like the idea.
    – skymningen
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 11:05
  • "as you were told" "boyfriend instructed" This isn't the army - she shouldn't have to do something just because someone else told her to. If she wants to bring a bottle of wine, she totally should.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 22:52

Yes, it's really okay to show up without bringing anything if they told you so.

Depending on the person, they might actually prefer it. Not everyone loves flowers, chocolates or wine as you said.

If you do insist on bringing something, here are some other tips:

  • Bring entertainment for after dinner (Games, movies)
  • Bring their beloved pets something (if they have pets)
  • Bring something hobby related (Your boyfriend knows them well?)
  • it says they have cats above, but I had the same thought about treating the pets to something. Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 9:12
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    I totally agree. I find it bothersome when people try to placate my courtesy with gifts. It makes me feel like they don't truly value what I'm doing for them... like the feel the need to pay me.
    – user2191
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 14:47

I would bring flowers.

Yes, it's a cliché, but it's a cliché for a reason: it's kind, it's well-intentioned, it's non-discriminatory, and it means you recognize that because of your restrictions, they need to do more work than they would just eating out.

If you knew them well, you could bring something more personal that they would value more, but I assume you don't.

Other suggestions:

  • A toy stuffed with catnip.
  • A cat toy (one can never have too many).
  • A book of funny photographs of or stories about cats.
  • A box of bakery cookies they can eat whenever.
  • Some cat treats?

I understand that the hosts don't want for you to bring anything, but I feel very empty-handed arriving without a gift of some kind, even if it's just something small.

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    She didn't say they have a cat... should she bring a cat? :P
    – nodws
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 16:08
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    This is a really good idea! I didn't even think about getting something for the cat. I have a cat myself and her toys always seem to be disappearing :)
    – Em C
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 16:30
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    ah I see she edited the question, yes cat toys is a good one! they always play more with the box though :p
    – nodws
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 16:34
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    Giving flowers to someone with cats can be more of a nuisance than a gift.
    – Kat
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 21:51
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    Not everyone with cats will mind, of course, but it might be a bad idea if you were explicitly told not to bring anything. I'd at least make sure to bring flowers that aren't toxic to cats.
    – Kat
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 22:09

Traditionally in the US, the way to show appreciation for a dinner engagement was to send a thank-you after the fact. (For example, this typical bit of "Miss Manners" advice on the subject.) This was at least as important as the hostess gift.

In many circles, that tradition is now more a historical footnote than an absolute expectation, but a personal note is still a great way to show your appreciation. It doesn't have to be long; you just need a few lines on a nice card or pretty stationery about what a great time you had getting to know them, and how much you appreciated the food (or their effort in cooking for you, if you can't honestly praise the cuisine). This personal touch will show your genuine appreciation, and doesn't put any of you in the awkward position of an unwanted gift exchange.

If you really don't feel you can arrive empty-handed, then many of the personal options mentioned in other answers are good. I've also heard of people bringing things like a pack of batteries or a roll of colorful duct tape tied up with a bow, because who can't use those?

Whatever you bring, just aim for something that they can enjoy after you leave, rather than something meant to be used or consumed during the dinner: It sounds like they're putting a lot of thought and effort into this occasion, and you want to avoid the impression that you're trying to direct "their" dinner party. I.e. if you bring cookies, be sure to say something like "a little something for your cookie jar" or "they should keep for about a week". That way, your hosts don't feel that you're upsetting their carefully planned menu, and they can express their genuine gratitude for the thought without worrying about whether they'll actually like the cookies when they taste them in front of you (though of course they're free to serve the cookies with dessert if they choose). The same goes for toys and games.


My wife and I like to have people over, and I can tell you something that's worth ten times more than a physical gift is a simple offer to help. Arriving a little early then asking if there's anything that I need help with in the kitchen or offering to help clean up the dishes afterwards. Sure, we are hosting and we planned to take care of everything in advance, but who doesn't like a little help here and there?

It's probable that they will say no or discourage you from helping, and you probably don't want to keep pushing it if they feel uncomfortable with you helping, but the offer will be appreciated.

  • While helping preparing the dishes might not be able to be done by the OP, offering to cleaning the dishes is definitely an appropriate gesture of being grateful.
    – Vylix
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 5:40
  • "While you guys prepare the D&D campaign, I'll help out Alice on the dishes." Or something else similar.
    – Vylix
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 5:42

A small box of good-quality chocolates is rarely out of place. Especially a small box of after-dinner mints, because then you all eat them after the meal. (Of course, if you're in the US then finding anywhere which sells good-quality chocolates will be rather difficult, but that's a separate problem.)


I read this as a situation where 'the strange new chick in town' seems to be endangering a longstanding friendship. You are in effect being asked to meet the family. Just be nice and appreciative. Ideally, you may find 2 more friends.


IN most cases I would advice to bring a bottle of wine or other beverage, but since they don't drink then bring some entertainment a simple table game like Cards against humanity pops to mind (or pictionary your call)

Most of all bring the good mood! they expect you to be happy not to feel guilty for the situation, so keep a good attitude and tell jokes or a cool story.

Bring up future plans and say something like:

Next time I'm treating you ;)

  • I wouldn't give Cards Against Humanity to people I didn't know pretty well. It's the funniest game ever, but it's also very offensive. Hence the name. :) Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 16:14
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    that's why I gave an alternative :p
    – nodws
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 16:33
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    Some other simple board / card games that could go over well include Love Letter, Tsuro, Fluxx or Codenames. This also has the added benefit that if it seems like bringing a gift will be offensive you can always just take the game home w/ you.
    – aslum
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 19:38
  • The host has loads of board games. While bringing your game might be a good idea, please ask first if they already have plan on playing a specific game, otherwise they might feel obliged to play your game instead. This is frustrating if someone has written a D&D campaign for this specific occasion!
    – Vylix
    Commented Aug 19, 2017 at 21:13

There's the possibility that your boyfriend wants to "show off" by taking care of your "portion" of bringing something to the gathering. It may be that he wants to "prove" to his friends that he's taking care of you, similar to how a married couple shows up with a single bottle of wine, instead of one from each of them.

That depends on how your relationship is going, as well as how he told you "just bring yourself!" There's a lot of different ways that could have been said, and really only you can decipher that by your experience with your boyfriend.

Since you said "he insists", I would suggest following his advice. I would also suggest offering you help (as others suggest), but not to the point of being annoying. You can "make it up to them" if you find out later they really did want you to bring something.

BTW, you might get into trouble if you don't follow his advice, because "you never listen to me." Just saying...

There's even another possibility: they want to make a really good impression on you in providing for your meal without you having to do anything. This is some people's way of bragging about themselves. It's also just as likely that they just want to share their good times without requiring anything of their guests.

You won't know until the night is over, so my final suggestion is: just enjoy the night and don't over think things! :-)

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