What (not) to give

Pat Barry of Le Gourmet Chef in the outlets shows an example of

For the most part, the adage is true: It is better to give than
to receive. Except, that is, when you don’t know someone very well,
and suddenly you’re expected to come up with just the right gift.
In that case, giving can be absolute torture.
For the most part, the adage is true: It is better to give than to receive. Except, that is, when you don’t know someone very well, and suddenly you’re expected to come up with just the right gift. In that case, giving can be absolute torture.

Staff members at the Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Free Lance and Morgan Hill Times gave their two cents on what gifts to bring someone who you don’t know too well and who has invited you to a holiday dinner – or even more awkward, what to give to someone you’ve just started dating. We also surveyed local retailers to see what they considered appropriate.

The more we thought, the more we realized just how tricky this can be. So, we decided to give you our thoughts and point out some potential pitfalls. Hopefully, the tips will help take some of the sting out of this decidedly painful process.

What to Give as a Dinner Guest

Pre-made gifts can take some of legwork out of shopping. Gift bags or baskets generally have complementary items decoratively packaged so they make a good impression.

Baskets by Design in Gilroy can make a food or spa gift basket and put a special message on the ribbon, which saves people time because it’s ready to go, said Sherry Allen, owner and design specialist. People associate food with comfort, fellowship and home, Allen said, so people see food baskets as a warm, welcoming gift.

“We can make them to suit any type of person,” she said. “It gives a gift presentation, which is much better than wrapping up a few things in a box.”

Similarly, Le Gourmet Chef, a cookware store in the Gilroy Premium Outlets, sells a variety of pre-made gifts that are wrapped in a cellophane and tied with ribbon. The bags, called “gifts to go,” include combinations such as a bag of pretzels and jar of dip, or chocolate martini mix with a small container of sugar and chocolate flakes to rim martini glasses. The bags range from about $10 to $16.

Gift bags can also be custom-made at the store by choosing from any of the food, kitchenware or other novelty items, which the staff assembles in a gift bag or basket. Some of the items are specific to Christmas or Hanukkah, but many have no theme or have an autumn theme. One tip from the staff at Le Gourmet Chef is to stay away from spicy foods or anything too exotic if you don’t know the gift recipient well.

If you know the dinner hosts enjoy alcoholic beverages, consider a bottle of wine as a classy gift. Or, consider bringing the ingredients for upscale mixed drinks, such as white Russians, to dinner parties.

If alcohol isn’t an option, consider something almost everyone goes for: candy, which makes a nice gift for co-workers, bosses and employees, said Patricia Loza, manager of the Jelly Belly store at the outlets. The store sells gift boxes with the jelly bean flavors separated and labeled. Some boxes have autumn and holiday themes, and others have “thank you” written across them.

The Jelly Belly staff can do holiday-specific color combinations, such as green and red for Christmas, blue and white for Hannukah, or black, red and green for Kwanzaa.

If the recipients don’t eat sweets or drink alcohol, you still can give something to show you appreciation for the invitation. And if they don’t like the gift, it can always discreetly be re-gifted later.

Decorative wine bottle stoppers, for example, are an inexpensive and nonconsumable gift. Mikasa in Gilroy for $8 to $12. The store also sell wine carafe tags that indicate if decanted wines are a merlot, cabernet, chardonnay and so on. A set of three tags is $15. Other suggestions include candlesticks, small vases or picture frames for people you don’t know well.

The Dating Realm

When it comes to exchanging gifts with someone you’ve recently started dating, one important consideration is to show you’ve put some thought into it.

For example, consider the recipient’s daily routine. Do they eat at a particular restaurant often? Buy them a gift certificate to that place. Do they enjoy taking walks or running? Buy them a gift certificate to an athletic-apparel store.

Some might argue that gift certificates are a bit impersonal. However, buying more specific gifts such as jewelry can be difficult, as some people have very particular tastes. For the same reason, clothing items can be a tricky gift, aside from trying to guess the correct size.

A gift certificate to a favorite or a particularly nice store can be taken a step further and turned into a day of shopping together, followed by dinner.

Eric Tapia, assistant manager at the Hollister Big 5 Sporting Goods store, said accessories for whatever sport your significant other enjoys are ideal gifts. Because some sporting equipment is expensive, look for smaller ways to spend. Take snowboarding, for example: Buying a snowboard is probably too much to spend on someone you’ve just started dating, but a beanie and new gloves would be good gift choices.

“It’s stuff that doesn’t say, ‘Hey, I love you,’ but it says, ‘Hey, I know what you love,’ so it makes them happy,” Tapia said.

Some men rush out at the holidays and buy their new girlfriends a lotion gift set, but that can be a mistake, said Annamaria Lustre, manager of Bath and Body works in Morgan Hill.

“Because of the different oils and chemistry in our bodies, something that smells good in a bottle might not smell good on certain people,” she said.

The safest bets are candles or spa products that don’t have an overpowering scent and they make women feel pampered, Lustre said. The True Blue Spa line runs from $3.50 to $15 and candles run from $12 to $24.

A bookstore gift certificate is another good, neutral idea.

“It gives people a good excuse to go out and buy that new hardcover best seller they’ve been wanting but haven’t been able to justify buying,” said Cinda Meister, owner of Booksmart in Morgan Hill. “It’s nice that they can choose a gift for themselves.”

The Final Word

• Gift receipts are always a good idea.

• Don’t be afraid to go shopping together and have your partner pick out their own gift.

• Pick out fairly neutral items for a dinner host.

• Gift certificates from $20 to $30 are a safe amount – not too much, not too little.

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