Adult Birthday Gift Giving Etiquette: Ideas and Expectations Explained

Finding the perfect birthday gift is no easy task, but what makes it seemingly even more difficult are the etiquette expectations that surround said gift giving tradition.

What are the rules of engagement once you age out of children’s birthday parties?  What’s appropriate for an office colleague? Do you bring a birthday gift to a restaurant? What should you get for someone you’re dating? Let’s find out.

(image credit: Mashable)


The Scene: Friend’s Birthday Celebration at a Restaurant

If the birthday boy or girl is hosting their party at a restaurant, then gifts – particularly large gifts – are not typically required. They probably hate the idea of lugging around bulky packages just as much as you do. But it is still nice (and semi-expected) to gift them something. A good gift idea would be to tuck a gift card to their favorite establishment inside a thoughtful greeting card. Other options include buying their meal that evening, or a few drinks after the restaurant if the evening extends beyond dinner.


The Scene: Friend’s Birthday Party at a House

If the birthday celebration is being held at a house, then it is acceptable to bring a more substantial gift item. If you’re not sure of what to gift exactly, a safe bet is to treat this like a dinner party. Bringing a hostess gift like a bottle of wine, a box of fine chocolates, or a bouquet of flowers are all acceptable options.


The Scene: A Work Colleague’s Birthday

Depending on how close you are to said colleague, an acceptable birthday gift can range anywhere from no gift at all to something extravagant. If you’re uncertain, then a safe middle ground would be to treat them to lunch, or an after work cocktail in the case that you’re a bit more familiar with them. Both options require very little time and effort and they are sure to appreciate the kind gesture.


The Scene: Someone You Just Started Dating

This scenario is tricky as you want to ensure that you’re clued in to the subtle social cues. You don’t want to ignore the situation completely as that can be hurtful to the other party. But you also don’t want to go overboard as intentions may be misconstrued. A good and caring option (yet not TOO caring of an option) would be to acknowledge their birthday by gifting them a promise of a fun date. Package up movie or concert tickets and vouchers for a fancy dinner. This way, they’ll have an actual present to open but the opportunity to read into the gift will be kept to a minimum.