AML in Print

How to avoid gift-giving gaffes

ISSUE OF TASTE: Dee Harris (right), who owns Dee Harris Designs, and Deanne Flatley, one of her designers, put together a gift basket. Harris, whose firm specializes in corporate gifts, says gourmet food baskets are a popular - and safe - choice.
Photo: Frankie Frost
By Carolyn R. Saraspi
First of two parts

Toys for the kids are stashed safely in the attic, and the getaway for you and the spouse is booked.

As you congratulate yourself for getting your holiday shopping done early, you realize it isn't over: What do you get the boss?

Or, should you get anything for the boss? What about the people in your cubicle? And the client whose account got you a raise? But, then you think you should really get all your clients something. Wait, how much is this going to cost?

No need to fret, area gift experts say. Corporate gifts aren't as tricky as they seem.

Lisa Mirza Grotts, an etiquette and protocol consultant in San Francisco, says to start with your company's gift-giving policy, history and office climate.

Some businesses, such as Autodesk Inc. of San Rafael, send holiday cards to clients on a companywide level, while individual workers or departments decide if they want to give gifts to special clients.

If it's appropriate, Mirza says to think of your present as a reflection of yourself.

"Just put in a little thought and effort," says Mirza, who runs The AML Group consulting firm. "Get something memorable that will advance your name to the top of the thank you list. Something someone enjoys is far more important than the price tag."

Mirza recommends sticking to gifts between $10 and $20 for co-workers and clients, and a little more for the boss.

Also steer clear of anything with a joking nature.

"Every year, somebody gives the anatomically correct coffee mug or the disco Santa, which is just inappropriate," Mirza said. "You want something they're proud to display, versus something they hide in the desk all year."

Tamar Raphael and Dee Harris, who both own businesses specializing in corporate gifts, say gourmet food baskets are still the most popular choice for the workplace.

"Most companies want things people can share in the office," said Harris, who owns Dee Harris Designs in Greenbrae. "They want people to get candy, nuts, cookies. Those kinds of things aren't in demand the rest of the year."

Around the holidays, many of Harris's clients ask for her "San Francisco Treats" basket, which includes postcards and Ghiradelli chocolate products, for their business partners outside of California. But her most-requested is the "A Dickens Christmas" basket featuring imported British candies and shortbread.

At Raphael's Novato company, EcoExpress, best-selling corporate gift baskets include "Natural Gourmet Munchies," which offers a selection of cookies, chocolates, teas and coffees. The company, which specializes in organic products, also will include items such as mugs and pencils with their clients' logos to customize the baskets.

Raphael and Harris say relaxation products such as candles and bath salts are becoming popular.

"People are starting to send those to clients they have worked really hard on a project with," Raphael said. "A lot of people are starting to send those as something different."

While larger corporations will send gift baskets for convenience, Mirza encourages individuals use a more personal approach.

She suggests inexpensive business-card holders for coworkers, or new Cross Ion pens which are "no bigger than a tube of lipstick and pop up when you're ready to write," Mirza said.

For the boss, she points to the Gioconda folder, made of regenerated leather, available at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

"Something generic for a group, there's nothing wrong with that," Mirza said. "But people will appreciate time and thought versus a bottle of wine or something impersonal."