a dinner party, in parts: a bottle of boring

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“And it was so simple,” Phil said as we drove home from an enchanting dinner party. I always use that word when it comes to summer dinner parties: enchanting. It makes me think of nights with their own soundtracks, where music is piped in, people dress, and we’re left to see the clinking of classes, whispers, looks across a table. It means flower arrangements, candlelight, and company. "How did you two meet" stories, new friendships, and new recipes. “So simple,” he said, though I’m guessing the chefs might beg to differ. The evening did have that seemingly effortless quality—like having good genes or an innate talent. But having thrown dinner parties, it’s never been simple. But maybe I could learn something.

On our flight from New York to Austin, Phil and I had to split up the Beer. Given the rows of three seats, Little Miss Beer would be sitting with me, with Lucas and Phil seated just behind us. We’d play musical chairs when the radishes got restless. Phil was quick to make friends with the woman seated beside him: talking finance and business after noticing the book she was reading. Three and a half hours later, they were exchanging emails, and only days after that she invited us to her daughter’s home for a Cuban dinner party. And it was just that: a dinner party. I’m not one to show up empty-handed and wanted to know what we could bring. Not having all the free time in the world to actually bake a torte, I asked Phil to ask what we could bring. Unless it’s a potluck, people will mostly respond, “Nothing at all. Just bring yourselves!” Then you show up with a bottle of boring.

“It’s just not memorable,” I said to Phil that morning, as we headed to the wine shop en route to the pool. “Can’t we drive to the bakery instead?” Admittedly the bakery was well out of the way, but I’ve never liked bringing a bottle of wine to a dinner party, no matter how special.

“Let me ask you something, Stephanie. What do most people bring to someone’s house for dinner?”

“Wine! That’s my point. If everyone does it, it’s not very memorable.”

“You’re ridiculous. Let me tell you something: NO ONE CARES!”

“No, you don’t care. You don’t pay attention to that stuff because it doesn’t matter to you. Those details are lost on you, but not everyone else is like that. The truth is, I want to be thought of as thoughtful, memorable, different. Not as the people who bring over a bottle of Beringer.” I’m well aware that it’s not about me. That I should consider the people hosting and bring a thoughtful something instead of even considering how I’ll be considered. But the truth is, I like doing a little extra when it’s done for people who care. I’m fine with bringing a bottle of wine when it’s a big house party, filled with faces we don’t know. But when we’re invited to an intimate dinner party, I want to show my appreciation by thinking or doing a little more.

“No one said anything about Beringer. We’ll get a nice bottle.”

“What for, if no one remembers it?” I’m not sure he heard me, though. Phil was already out of the car, into the wine shop. I wanted to go home and bake, to make something terrific, a conversation piece. I wanted to participate.

Add insult to injury, when we arrived for the dinner party, and I asked where the wine was… oops. It was home, chilling. Oh, dear, the two of us are a mess.

I’ll say this, though; while we might forget the broad strokes, the details are never lost on me. I adore the seating charts, linen napkins, and tight bundles of flowers. And when we have people over, and I fall asleep, rehashing the night at our own home, I turn to Phil and say, “She was just so so thoughtful, so nice. We need to make plans with them more.” No, it’s not because she did or didn’t bring a bottle of wine, but in the end, I’m more inclined to think it if the people who showed up showed appreciation. And that’s always the impression I want to make on someone: that all their effort wasn’t lost on me. It’s not about bringing an elaborate gift. You know they have children, bring cupcakes and a coloring book for their wee ones. People remember that. They don’t remember the bottle of wine, so why bother with it?

"Because it’s etiquette," Phil says. I guess I just want more than polite.

A YEAR AGO: Voice of America
3 YEARS AGO: Like I Really Needed A Study to Prove It?



  1. I agree with you that the wine is always the standard bottle of boring. But, it does show that the guests thought to bring SOMETHING… despite the fact that they didn’t go out of their way for it. That said, if you’ve got kids (especially if one of you stays at home and you’ve got no outside help of the occasional babysitter or nanny), I am impressed when you can make it out the door for an ‘event’ with everything and everyone in place. It requires a lot an then once you get there, you never really get to socialize with anyone for more than three minutes at a time because you’re chasing your kids around and making sure they’re still employing the home rules at the away game.

    But on the occasion that I can find the time to bake some cookies or a pie to bring to someone’s soiree, I do. And I am pretty sure the people I come to care about appreciate whatever I bring, whenever I bring it. Even if it is the bottle of boring.

  2. I’m with Phil on this one. If you’re not attending a pot-luck supper, the menu has been set and your home-baked hostess gift, however well-intended, will have to go into the freezer unless the host/hostess feels he/she should bring it to the table in addition to what already is being served. And that’s always an attempt to avoid hurt feelings. With wine, there’s never a problem….as long as the wine isn’t plonk. Boring? Yes, but sometimes safety is better.

  3. forget the wine, cupcakes, coloring books that is the most beautiful photo of you and Phil ever!!!!!!!

  4. Love that (old) great photo of you two!! :)

    I am guilty of bringing sweets to people’s homes.. but ONLY homes where I know they will be devoured, especially by the men.. With strangers, I tend to bring flowers and/or wine.. I’ve yet to meet a woman who doesn’t love getting flowers!!

  5. I agree with everyone…it’s a gorgeous and beautiful picture of you guys and really captures a special moment.

    Second, I think anyone that knows you or reads your writing will know that you’re thoughtful. If you came to my house, I would be fairly sure that the bottle of wine that you brought was something that you chose especially for my occasion. And, I would probably slightly disagree with Carole above. If you brought latkes to my Mexican fiesta party, I would still be pleased and I would still set them out to be shared with everyone. Hosting a party is about getting people together and sharing. In my home, I would put the thoughtfulness of my guests over the set menu…anyday. :)

  6. I often wish I was the kind of person (or had the kind of time) who could bring beautiful homemade treats all the time, but reality just doesn’t look like that! Someone recently brought us a bag of different flavored popcorn that we could enjoy at another time, and I thought it was a lovely hostess gift, not that I ever mind a bottle of wine.

  7. In response to the video with outfits – I agree with Phil about the first top. I don’t like it. The second top is really cute, and the leggings are flattering. The dress is okay… I like the second outfit best. I feel like you like the first one best, but the black poofy tank isn’t doing much – the second top is much prettier!

  8. If I bring wine, I always make sure the bottle is wrapped simply with a card that says “for your cellar” or something to that effect, to make it clear that the wine is meant for the hosts to enjoy at a later date, on their own, not to be served at a party. A great way to ensure this is to get a nice bottle of port something similar that is not meant to be served with dinner. Alternately, you can send a thank you note (I know you love some stationary) with a gift or homemade treat a day or two later.

    I try not to bring dessert or sweets unless asked because if I spent all week planning a dinner party and picking the perfect dessert to complement the dinner, I wouldn’t want to serve someone’s generic chocolate torte, even if it was fantastic. I think too often people bring things that are meant to draw attention to themselves, when it’s really much more gracious to let the host/hostess be the “star” of their own party. If they’ve done all the work to plan/shop/prepare/serve, etc., I don’t want to steal their spotlight if people make a big fuss over a dessert I’ve made.

    1. Author

      Upon further thought, I agree. Dessert isn’t the answer. I more meant the considerate route: cupcakes and coloring books, or something like that. Or if they don’t have children, bringing beautifully wrapped candles, fine guest soaps, even Neiman Marcus on sale $20 serving fork and spoon combo. I need to stock up on hostess gifts like that, have them all wrapped and ready to go, with blank note attached. When I’m that organized in life, though, I’m guessing something else will be falling apart.

      1. Full disclosure: I’m rarely able to actually pull off this kind of thing, but in my dreams I live the kind of life that Martha Stewart and Miss Manners would approve of. In reality I have a studio apartment in Harlem and an 18 lb. mutt who insists on licking my armpits. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

  9. Bring the standard….if it’s too painfully boring, provide them with something special to add to Champagne. You can stand out and be memorable without straying from the norm.

  10. Do you want to be thoughtful or do you want to be thought of as unique and thoughtful? You mention that you are aware that it’s not all about you, but there is still a part of this that reads as though your need to feel just that much more uniques/thoughtful/creative/stick whatever word you want in there, is really the motive and being selfless towards the host is the afterthought.

    Not that every act has to be truly selfless. It’s near impossible in everyday life to be completely selfless in all we do, but you’ve written here before how you have a need to be seen a certain way. I think you’ve mentioned that it is cliched of you to want to be thought of as different and unique, as if normal were bad or wrong or lame. But that you still do.

    I don’t know, this just seems as though it’s more about you (again) and your need to be viewed as special than it is about actually expressing a genuine thanks with no thought to how you or it (the gift) is viewed. Did you take into consideration what the host might need or want, or just what you thought would be unique enough to get you remembered? I’m thankful for that bottle of wine that allows two or three more people to drink just a little bit more and enjoy themselves, than more candles I have to find space for, and more stuff my kids don’t need.

    I’ve gone to many a party empty handed (after asking if there was anything I could do or bring, of course), but written a very thoughtful letter (omg, what the hell are LETTERS?!?! I know, with STAMPS!) in thanks and letting the host know I enjoyed my time there and that’s gotten me more response than almost anything I have ever done. People get a rush when receiving letters that aren’t bills. We don’t write as much as we should as a society. Use all that fancy stationery you’re always blogging about. Whether it’s $5 pack of blank thank you cards or expensive, custom, embossed cards with raised lettering and your personalized signature on them, I bet either one would make an impression that is truly appreciated.

    1. This. The letter part, I mean.

      In the genteel, Southern city in which I reside, thank you letters are almost automatic, thankfully, as most all of us were schooled in the art of graciousness by our mothers. Do your beans that favor.

    2. Yeah, no offense, but a lot of this post read to me as you wanting attention. There are better ways to be remembered.

  11. I read somewhere that in france, wine is considered rude because your hosts may have already planned out what they’ll serve. Flowers are inconvenient because then your host has to drop what she’s doing and find a decent vase (which is likely tucked out of easy reach), cut the flowers, and arrange them. The writer (I think it was in bon appetit?) said that she commonly sees chocolate and books as host gifts. I also read once that Lulu Guinness gives John Derian trays as host gifts. Must be nice…

  12. I hosted a dinner party years ago and my friend’s then bf brought flowers and chocolate and I loved the thoughtfulnes that he understood all the effort that went into making the night special.. Hell I think his mother told him to bring them but what the hey he got props none the less.

    Ps love the pic of you both vcute

  13. I laughed reading this because I can just picture you in the car while he bought the wine, daydreaming about elaborate desserts. You guys are good together because you need a little practical and a little fanciful. :)

  14. My friends and I often enjoy intimate dinner parties and I think we’d all agree that when we are hostessing we like the rest to bring wine. Everyone these days is able to bring a good wine to the table and wine/food pairings have become so versatile you need not know what your hostess is serving beforehand. If your guests bring the wine it helps to balance the dinner budget and that is much appreciated.
    As for you wanting to bring something more memorable, I think you’d be better remembered for the great conversation, wit, and life you bring to the party than for the baked goods. I do understand if you are a guest who is new to the crowd of regulars and you want to bring something more grateful for your host; that makes sense. My mother often invites a few friends to join us for family get-togethers. One woman always brings something precious in gratitude for my mother’s invitation. Back in May she showed up with a small basket, the size of a tissue box, with two jars of homemade jam from the Mennonite farm country nested in sprigs of lavender. She’d just been to the market there and decided to share. That is perfect alone, or with a bottle of wine!

  15. The pic of you and Phil is beautiful…it’s silver frame it, put it at your bedside table, beautiful.

  16. I agree as well–it sounds like you are coming from a caring friendly place, but this sounds like it’s more about your needs and ideas than anything else. Bring a nice bottle or something small (like chocolates) something that isn’t likely to add to the hostesses stress and make her wonder if she should serve what you brought and alter her menu (which she likely carefully thought out and really enjoyed making for her guests). Be a great guest, enjoy her and those around you and show how unique and special YOU are when you invite them over for a dinner party.

  17. The photo is great – posed and staged, but it is still from back when you two were in love, so a keeper for after the inevitable divorce.

    1. Wow. Stephanie why do you post these? One thing to post comments that offer different ideas that might not gel with yours but posting flat out nastiness just gives energy to these comments. Please reconsider doing that. Nothing to be gained.

      The photo is lovely. I cannot believe you are on a diet you do not look like you need one. Sigh.

  18. I give a big buffet party (100+ people) every year in which I do all the cooking, and I don’t expect/want folks to bring anything. Buy many do, and it’s usually wine. Hubby and I don’t drink wine. Some people bring homemade treats, which I am happy to add to the dessert table. Some bring grocery store cakes or cookies and plunk those down on the dessert table, and that ticks me off!

    Some of the most memorable hostess gifts I’ve gotten were Christmas ornaments (one person gave me tiny cook’s ornaments — very cute!), lovely candles and chocolate treats.

    My one tip for party-goers who want to bring a gift: Please attach a little card so the host/hostess will know whom to thank.

  19. You say it’s not all about you, yet you publish an entry with an oh-so-adorable photo (of You! with the man you rarely speak adorably about) explaining how you won’t be bringing an oh-so-predictable wine to a party.

    Considering how often your children are put forth to the “disposable” pile — white trash activities and all — yes, together with the husbands-speakings, I would agree with the previous poster who called for the “inevitable divorce.”

    And do trust, this is coming from a person of 18 years of marriage at age 41, is in couple’s therapy, and knows how to work it without a cocktail. I don’t doubt for a second that my Mr. and I will make it to 20. And we met in — GASP! — New York City!

    I do have a brother-in-law — yay, American, but a snobby Continental American nonetheless — who lives in Bordeaux and I know he would treat any wine we brought to dinner gallantly, but would leave it in the cellar given that his wine and food pairings were executed exquisitely.

    God, your ME ME ME. I’ve met hundreds of people on Facebook who weren’t as transparent as you.

    1. In harried girl’s high-handed post condemning narcissism she managed to make it about HER OWN life – her ability to navigate the waters of an 18 year marriage “without a cocktail”, snobby brother-in-law and his “exquisite” wine/food pairings, and a flippant New York connection. Brother, if you think Stephanie is nauseating, you should take a look in the mirror. All of the “ME” without any of the insight and humor.

      1. Marilyn, I don’t have to respond with any insight and humour, since I don’t have a public blog. Stephanie has a public blog, so I am at liberty — in fact, INVITED — to respond.

        Stephanie is posting (a) with a lovey-dovey photo of her with her husband of whom she rarely speaks affectionately and (b) regarding bringing wine to a party where she doesn’t want to be the person who brings a bottle of Beringer, wants to be the person who is memorable by bringing something memorable.

        Stephanie talks a lot about drinking, cocktails and such (I’m thinking of a recent entry about her being with her husband at a bar and her telling him how he would get laid…)…yes, the truth is that I navigate my long-term marriage without booze. And that’s a good thing for some people. Perhaps not for others…we’ll let the participants decide for themselves.

        And yes, my brother-in-law, a longterm investment banker in NYC, now retired, lives in Bordeaux. I would never dream that any wine we brought in honor of his big dinner parties would end up on the table because the pairings would have been already set. (And very well have been printed on a menu card…)

        My husband and I met in NYC, and I do feel that Stephanie’s entries addressing “What do I wear in NYC,” and “What do I do with my kids in NYC” are highly disingenuous. Stephanie can’t talk about bopping about in NYC and LA and do the “I just don’t KNOW!”-housewife talk at the same time.

        What initially drew me to this entry was the photo. I would never DREAM that this was an accurate portrait of Stephanie and Phil. In the blog, she comes off as concerned about his health, but not too involved with his qualities as a man or father to her children. But hey, I can be wrong…just let me know!

  20. for the record, proper dinner party etiquette is to bring two bottles of wine – one for the table and one for the host (their choice if they want to serve it at that occasion). this means you are contributing to the event (and helping out the hosts’ catering), and also giving them something by way of thanks.

  21. Oh, I know…next time bring them a copy of each of your books. Accompany that thoughtful gift with an autographed 8×10 self portrait! Then people can justify the comments about it always being all about you! ;)

    Seriously…just try and remember that people’s crappy and pointless vitriol has everything to do with them and absolutely nothing to do with you. And while this will come off as being sycophantic, kudos to you for not validating the meanness with a response.

  22. I ususally do bring a bottle of wine, and my host rarely serves it at dinner, which is completley fine. I think most hosts know they are under no obligation to do so. I’ve taken to adding a jar of my homemade jam, but the last time I did that the hostess said, “You gave me one of these before.”

    (I swear it’s good jam, I eat it myself and I’m fussy.)

    My friend E likes to shop stores like Marshall’s and Ross, and always cruises through the housewares section to find things like guest towels, pretty napkins, etc. She stores them in her pantry to give as hostess gifts. Unfortunately she also throws gifts to herself in there to re-gift, and she has been caught re-gifting more than once, so you have to be careful with this. At least a bottle of wine is disposable!

  23. I’ve been thinking about this post all day. Here’s the thing: Did you ever think that maybe you’re doing too much? When I think of everything you have on your plate, it exhausts me! You’ve been through Lucas’ problems, you’re dealing with Phil’s health, marital issues in a young marriage, you’re raising your kids, blogging, photographing, writing screenplays, TV, books. Phil’s health alone would be frightening enough to sap my energy.

    I know some would say that IS your life, but I say WHERE is your life?

    Where is the time for you to stop and smell the flowers? To just be? It’s no wonder you’re depressed.

    I’m dealing with only a small fraction of what you have going and I start to get antsy if it’s eating up the time I need for regeneration. Meditation. Relaxation.

    Pick yourself up and head out to a spa alone for a week. Do not blog. Do not write screen plays. Maybe don’t write at all–at least not on PC. Take some manual notes. Do not bring a friend. Go be with yourself for a while. And nature. There are a few good spas near St. George, Utah and in Sedona.

    I think it might help you. Because I think some of this is biting off way too much of life at once.

  24. When I’m the hostess I usually get wine, which I usually don’t serve, but I don’t mind getting wine, it always comes in handy.
    When I’m invited to a party and don’t know the hosts very well, I usually bring a pretty bag of homemade mini-muffins or brownies, everybody likes those. For my closer friends I bring hostess gifts according to their taste: bottles of their favourite liquor, or their favourite cookies, chocolates, tins of tea, etc…
    For more festive parties/special occasions where I don’t know the hosts very well I bring a bottle of Cava: more special than wine, still on the safe side.

  25. Well, it’s better than a box of frozen perogies.

    I have brought everything from wine to lottery tickets…but for a party my mother-in-law had, someone brought her a box of frozen perogies. That was just, well, weird.

    I think it’s nice to bring something, the more you know the person, the more personalized you can get. By the way, the lottery tickets were the hit of the party ;)

  26. My latest hostess gift that seems to be a hit is a nice jar of honey from a local producer. I had always thought flowers nice until just recently my cousin went off on how rude it is to bring flowers to the event since the hostess should have the flowers already planned and does not have time to stop to arrange gift flowers. Sending flowers as a thank you after the event is a nice way to go, but I agree, a written thank you has a similar impact and is easier on the wallet.

  27. Giving wine to the hostess/host is not as important as sending a nice thank-you note to them. That is good etiquette…

  28. Giving a gift to the hostess/host is not as important as sending a nice thank-you note to them.

  29. Hey Steph! I haven’t even read this entry yet and I had to leave a message. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the banner pic of you and Phil. Very sweet moment caught between you two. The body language says so much about your relationship, too! So good to see you all so happy.

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