You were invited to Thanksgiving at a friend's house. Want to make sure you're invited back next year? Be a gracious guest and show up with something thoughtful or — in the spirit of the holiday — something edible!
#1 An appetizer, side dish, or dessert. If you were invited to a potluck, you'll probably be bringing one of these things anyway. But if your hosts plan to prepare the entire meal themselves, a sincere offer to bring a dish is always appreciated. This is especially important if you have a dietary restriction (such as gluten intolerance or food allergies) that prevents you from sharing some of the meal. Offering to bring a special dish that you can eat helps ease the hosts of the burden of making something separately for you.
#2 Wine, whiskey, champagne, cider, or [insert your favorite drink]. A well-stocked bar is a sign of a well-orchestrated meal. One or two bottles of your favorite libation is always a welcome addition; bringing two bottles means one can be set aside for the hosts to enjoy later. (After all, it's generally assumed that a bottle of wine brought to dinner is meant to be shared among the whole table.) If you're going the alcohol-free route, consider bringing a jug of fresh-pressed apple cider, sparkling juice and artisanal sodas, or hot cocoa and coffee for dessert (bonus points for remembering fun little add-ins like cinnamon and marshmallows!).
#3 Flowers or centerpieces. Flowers are a thoughtful gesture because it saves the host from having to pick up flowers for the table. Always bring flowers that are already in a vase-like container; you don't want to fluster your host with looking for something to put the flowers in at the last moment. If you want to bring an arrangement for the centerpiece, make sure it's low in height (so you can still see the guests across from you) and not overwhelmingly fragrant. A houseplant that will live on long after Thanksgiving is even better — look to poinsettias for a festive feel, or low-maintenance tillandsia (air plants) and succulents in terrariums.
#4 An edible treat for the next morning. After a long day of making dinner, the last thing your Thanksgiving hosts probably want to do is spend another hour in the kitchen making breakfast the next day. Bring them something to look forward to — a pound of high-quality coffee beans, an herbal tea set, homemade jam and muffins, or a loaf of artisan bread to toast in the morning. Since their fridge will likely be packed with leftovers, something shelf-stable that won't create more leftovers will be most appreciated.
#5 A small gift for the avid cook. Let's say your Thanksgiving hosts have all the food and drinks taken care of. They don't need more flowers. And they're planning to go out to breakfast on Black Friday. Then what do you give them? How about a gift that caters to their cook/foodie side — a great bottle of olive oil, a cookbook by their favorite restaurant or chef, a set of tea towels or a little kitchen tool they've had their eye on. Keep it personal and small. For some hosts, a simple thank-you note may be all that's needed. Send them a card, not an email; handwritten notes are so rare these days that the unexpected gesture will surely make their day.