You don't want to show up to a party empty-handed, but you don't want to bring something lame, or worse - something that won't be appreciated. I was once at a party where there was enough food to feed twice the number of actual guests. And one guy brought a four-foot long hero from a local deli. Not only was the hostess insulted by the implication that this guy thought he wouldn't like any of the seven dishes she'd prepared, but now she had to find room in the overstuffed refrigerator and coolers for a four-foot long hero!
I remember another party during the busy Holiday season where one friend of mine brought a bottle of wine - and so did fifteen other guests. Since there was no chance of anyone opening my friend's wine by the end of the evening, she took it with her when she left. It may have been a little tacky, but she had half a dozen other parties to go to before the end of the year, and all those bottles of wine were adding up.
So what should you bring to your next party?
If you know a thing or two about wine or beer, then go ahead and bring a bottle or a six-pack. Your libations will be opened before anyone else's because you really know what to pick. If you can get locally-made wine or beer, perhaps at a farmer's market, then that's a good bet too.
Bring a snack that's interesting and unique. The latest trendy treat sweeping the US is the cronut (a croissant/doughnut hybrid). Even though it's only made in one New York City bakery, there are several copycat recipes. A few years ago, everyone in NYC was standing on long lines on Sunday mornings so they could bring cream puffs to brunch. Is there a shop in your town that makes unusual cupcakes or cookies? Can you find a mom and pop doughnut shop? Anything out of the ordinary will be a big hit.
Pick up some gourmet treats from the supermarket. I've gone to plenty of parties where I've stopped by a grocery store on my way there to pick up a back of ordinary pretzels or chips. But if you have the time to shop ahead you can bring something special like NAKED Infusions gourmet salsa, imported pate or a variety of olives.
If you have a special dietary issue, then bring a dish that you can eat, and will appeal to everyone else. Bean salad and pasta salad are always a hit at parties, and they're perfect for vegans and vegetarians. Use gluten-free pasta and either one of those salads is perfect for the gluten-averse. Check with the host in advance about bringing anything more substantial than nibbles so that you don't end up duplicating efforts, or stepping on their toes.
Making a great impression at any party can start with what you decide to bring. When everyone there knows you as the person who brought that amazing dip, they'll all want to be your new best friend.