English teachers everywhere would role their eyes at the “yes” responses. Why? These people seem to have forgotten that the question includes the phrase “always.” It doesn’t say “usually” or “except when told otherwise.” It says “always.” It’s really quite simple when you answer the question as it’s phrased. If I am invited to dinner, I might ask if I can bring something in a casual way. I might end up picking up something to add to the meal; drinks, snacks, a salad, etc. It’s nothing formal. It’s just a polite way of saying “I appreciate your efforts, and I’m not intending to be a leech. So if you need me to bring something, I’m happy to do so.”
When I invite someone over for dinner, I don’t expect a gift. I am surprised if I receive one. What kind of people are you hanging around, you might ask, if they’re judging you for not bringing a gift to diner? I invite someone over for their company or to impress them. Either way, I could care less about gifts. This is just one of a million examples of how overly materialistic our culture has become. There is no need to bring “gifts.”
So obviously, there are cases where you don’t need to bring something. You don’t “always” need to bring something. That’s evident enough. I have friends whom I casually invite over on a regular basis. Frankly, if we started giving each other gifts, I’d think the relationship was becoming overly formal and awkward. If I want them to bring something, I’ll let them know. Sometimes I invite someone over rather spur of the moment and happen to be out of coffee or something of that nature.
Obviously, there are situations where you don’t want to risk ruining your reputation in a business circle, with the parents of your date, etc. In these cases, I’d suggest wine. It’s simple and uncomplicated. If they don’t want to drink it or will drink it later, there is no problem. If they drink it during or after the meal, you’ve simply added a nice touch to the atmosphere. It’s not tacky. If food isn’t requested, it might be interpreted as a lack of faith in the cooking so I wouldn’t recommend that. But all this is assuming you’re dealing with really insecure and judgmental people.
I’d recommend having an open and honest line of communication with people in everyday life. If you can establish a relationship like this with people, they will like you as a “person.” You won’t just be the person dating their child, another employee, etc. In everyday life, judgmental people aren’t as common as you think. People will be relieved to drop these kinds of acts. How many things like this stress us out? Should I get a gift? Should I wear a tie? Trust me, they’re just as worried as you trying to decide what to cook, how to set the table, how to entertain you, etc. If you can turn a formal relationship informal, you’ll be much more successful. I’m not saying you immediately go up to your employer in jeans and a t-shirt, but you can take steps to achieve a more casual relationship.
So in formal situations, you should bring wine. Wine is simple because it’s not necessary for the person to interpret it as a gift. They “can” do so if they like, though. If the person doesn’t drink, they’re probably less judgmental about these kinds of social rules as people who refrain from drinking already violate the norm.
Don’t fret over these kinds of things. In almost any situation, wine is acceptable. In casual situations, it’s optional. Oh how these social rules complicate our lives with unnecessary stresses. Luckily, the wine calms us down. Maybe this who thing is just an elaborate tradition encouraged by the wine industry? Anyway, to sum up, you certainly don’t “always” have to bring a gift. People need to take a lesson in the fine art of reading questions properly.