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RSVP Etiquette for Guests and Hosts: The Newest Manners for This Fading Art

By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor

Hello!

It’s great to connect with you today. Thank you, as always, for dropping by! Today’s post is a Reader Q & A!

It’s one you and I relate to. In fact, when I meet someone and they find out what line of work I’m in, they always want to talk about this topic first! It’s something that is so easy to do, yet no one seems to do it. The lack of it frustrates us, confounds us, and even makes us mad sometimes.

The odd thing is, everyone complains about it! This means a lot of us are annoyed that people don’t do it, but yet we must not be showing them the love in reverse either.

Have you guessed what this violation of graciousness and consideration is?

It’s failing to RSVP!

Take a quick look at this reader’s letter about a party that she’s planning and see if you agree with her exasperation!

Speaking of parties, I attended a lovely one last night at the home of a dear friend. It was a memory making evening spent in the midst of friends, food and fun.  I enjoyed every minute of it! Thank you, Alana!

Why Does’t Anyone Seem to RSVP Anymore?

Q. Dear Maralee,

People not responding to my invitations frustrate me. Am I missing something. Has the etiquette of RSVP’s changed in the last few years? If so, what’s the etiquette? Should I write on the invitation ”Regrets only,” or should guests call to let me know if they’re coming either way?

There is one good thing about people not responding.  My frustration has caused me to be much more aware of responding to the invitations I receive!

I love your blog, and hope that you’ll have time to answer this question.

Many thanks,

Yolanda W.

Answer:

I’m with you, Yolanda! People’s insensitivity to the efforts of someone extending hospitability to them is a top etiquette irk of mine. It’s also the number one etiquette complaint that participants share with me during my seminars and consultations.

To try and help, I spent time writing everything I bet you and every host would like the people they invite to events to know so that that every guest will  understand their social duty to let hosts know if they’re going to take part and so the every guest knows how to show their appreciation for the invitation or even how to bow out gracefully if the party is one they’d rather not attend.

What Does RSVP Mean Exactly?

RSVP translates loosely from the French as “Please Respond.” It’s an easy request really. It just means that the host is asking us to let him or her know if we’re coming or not to their party or event so that they can plan seating, food, and anything else they need to plan for our needs and comfort.

How Quickly Should We RSVP?

Within 24 hours. Yep, just one day! The same day you receive the invitation is best.

Wow! That’s Fast, Maralee! What’s the Hurry to RSVP?

A fast response signals that you’re excited to be included in the event!

You can think of it this way. If I held up a $100 bill and asked if you wanted it or not, I doubt if you would wait two weeks (or forget completely!) to let me know if you wanted the money. Instead, you’d probably very quickly say something like, “Thanks, Maralee! You’re the best!”

That’s the same enthusiasm and quickness that is kind-hearted to show when responding to invitations.

(While getting dressed for a party, if you ever think “What should I wear?” you’ll love this post because its a stylish  go-to cheat sheet, Six Easy Tips to Know What to Wear. And, if you want to know what time you should actually arrive. Five-minutes early to let the hosts know you made their event a priority, or ten-or-so minutes late to give the hosts a few extra minutes to prepare? Does the best time to arrive change depending on the type of event you’re attending? Good questions. The answers are in this post, The Best Time to Arrive at Business and Social Events. Finally, once you’re at the soiree (or backyard bar-b-que) and you want to stand out for all the right reasons, here’s a post that will help you do just that, 7 Ways to Shine as A Party Guest.) 

Can I Wait Until The RSVP By Date to Respond? 

You can, but it’s kind of like showing up late for the party.

Did you know that 50-years ago, no one put “RSVP” on invitations!

Why? Because it was considered really rude.

Rude?! Why Did It Use To Be Rude to Ask People to RSVP?!  

Asking them to RSVP meant that you didn’t trust that they’d do the right thing on their own without a special request from the host.

But, times change and etiquette evolves to keep up with current sensibilities, and in this case— necessities. So sometime in the late 1960′s or early 1970′s people started adding “RSVP” to their invitations as reminders because people started not responding.

Things in RSVP world have slid further downhill, and now most invitations list an “RSVP by” date because people are slow (or just don’t) RSVP. 

Please respond a long time before the date. Not doing so sends a signal that you’re waiting to make up your mind because the event doesn’t thrill you on first thought!

What If You Don’t Know If Your Schedule is Going to Allow You to Attend?

Go ahead and call the host to acknowledge his or her invitation the day you receive it. Then ask if it would be an imposition if you waited to respond until you know your schedule. If you can explain what the event is that you’re waiting to hear about, go ahead and let the host know. “My sister is flying in sometime that week for a visit and I don’t know the dates for sure. As soon as she books her flight, I’ll let you know.” If it’s personal, you don’t need to mention it.

Do I Have to Respond to Every Invitation? What About Parties at Peoples’ Homes Where I’m Suppose to Buy Something?

Yes, even sales’ parties should receive your RSVP within 24 hours. Normally, sales solicitations don’t need to be responded to, but since these are being held by someone you know, it’s gracious to let her know if she should set out a chair, provide refreshments and things just for you! It’s also very helpful to the person selling the product to know how many catalogs, samples and such to bring to the party.

But, Maralee, If I RSVP That I’m Not Coming The Host Will Beg, and Then I’ll Feel Awkward!

For the guest: Oh, I’ve so been there with you! It’s the worst isn’t it? Your best bet is to RSVP via email. It’s harder to beg on an email than on a phone call. The hostess will have to type a lot which takes effort. :) If she does contact you to follow up, tell her that you appreciate being invited, but that buying (fill in the blank) isn’t in your budget, and you don’t want to be tempted.

If she asks you just to attend to be in the room so the two of you can catch-up, let her know that you appreciate the offer, and you’d like to catch-up with her when it’s just the two of you. While you’re on the phone, go ahead and set the date then so it’s not one of those “Let’s do lunch.” type brush offs.

For the hostess: Oh, I’ve been there with you, too! I’ve held parties where I’ve invited twenty-five or more people and only three of four actually showed up. It’s embarrassing, so we do tend to try “harder” to get guests to attend than maybe we normally would. But we don’t want to strong arm our friends, no matter how great the product is.

So, if someone is kind enough to RSVP and their answer is no, accept it without questioning the reason or asking them if they won’t reconsider. And don’t feel bad about small numbers at parties. I adore Stella & Dot Jewelry so much I thought, “I should become a sales representative. That way I get to meet nice people at shows, help my hostesses earn free and half-price jewelry, and earn the same plus cash for myself!” Being the Manners Mentor is more than a full time job, and so I don’t do many shows. However, the average amount of people at a party is six. Ten is considered large. Twenty is enormous. It’s the same for almost all sell-at-home companies. There’s no reason to feel bad if four of your friends show up. It can still be a fantastic party!

What About Writing “Regrets Only” On Invitations?

People are no better at telling you they’re not attending than they are at letting you know they’re planning to join you. So, you won’t get a better count asking for “Regrets Only.”

“Regrets Only” is reserved for huge invitation lists (fundraisers, events hosted by large corporations, etc.) where one person would be overwhelmed by the amount of correspondence it would take to keep track of who is and isn’t coming. For events with less than 250 – 500 attendees, the standard RSVP applies.

What’s The Etiquette Of Contacting People Who Don’t RSVP?

As the date approaches, and you need to know how many people to plan for, it’s fine to reach out to your guests who didn’t RSVP! Script your conversation/voice mail/ text something like this: “Debbie, I’m making the final arrangements for dinner on the 27th. I hope you and Doug received the invitation we sent you about two weeks ago, and that you’ll be able to join us.Please let me know today if you can.” When you say it nicely, the other person shouldn’t be offended, after all, you’re trying to prepare things for them. You’ll also more-than-likely get your reply…and the opportunity to share a subtle reminder of the social contract between a host and a guest.

Special Grace Note

When a friend RSVP’s and shares that she can’t attend, bite your tongue to avoid asking her, “Why?” There could be a million reasons, and half a million of them she might not want to share! Asking, “Why?” might seem like you’re showing concern, but by doing so, you could put her in the position of feeling like she needs to tell a white lie.

If your friend says she can’t attend and doesn’t offer an explanation, the most gracious thing to say is simply, “You’ll be missed!”

Now…for those of you who pick up the phone to RSVP before the invitation ever touches the kitchen counter, you’re definitely a part of the Manners Mentor Movement!

For all the rest of us, let’s make it our goal to always call the same day! Our timely response is our outward expression of our inward consideration!

Let’s just keep repeating, “Within 24 hours! Within 24 hours! Within 24 hours!” We’ve so got this now!

What’s Next?

Three Fun Things!

First: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Manners Mentor is now the most read etiquette and manners blog in the United States!!!!!

I’m over the moon!!!!! Thank you to each and every blog subscriber for officially joining the Manners Mentor Movement!!!!!

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Join now! Just type your first name and best email address in the green box near the top-right corner of this or any page on the blog! As a welcome gift you’ll receive a download of my FREE illustrated book, “Gracious Dining Skills for Every Meal.” You’ll be the savviest and most at-ease diner at every meal: business or social, casual or formal.

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Third: Please Like, Share, Pin, Tweet, and Email this post to your friends, family and those in your social media circles that, like you, care about the way they present themselves to the world and the impact they have on those around them. They’ll thank you for letting them know the Manners Mentor Movement is out to make the world a kinder place one small interaction at a time.

Until next time, keep doing what you were put here to do! Bless those around you by being authentically you…at your best!

XOXO,

 

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  • Diane Estey

    What to do if the couple was invited with an invitation, then when
    they RSVP they added 4 more guests???

  • Susan

    This problem was so frustrating when my daughter got married last summer! I really can’t believe people can’t check off a box and slip the card into a SASE and pop it in the mailbox! I love the 24 hour turnaround on responding – it would have been so much easier for all of us to plan for seating at the reception if people had responded early! Thanks for reminding all of us to RSVP immediately!

    • Maralee McKee

      Thank you for reading the blog post, Susan!

      I think that the lack of RSVPing to wedding invitations is the hardest for a host to handle. I also can’t understand why anyone who has ever been married would not RSVP immediately out of empathy.

      They know first hand the amount of work and money that goes into a wedding. Knowing how many people are going to attend is vital. It’s common sense and common courtesy.

      I think it’s because guests sometimes only look at it from their point of view: “Oh, we need to go to Jane and John’s wedding. Let’s see, I have to buy a gift, and maybe get something new to wear, and shoot, it’s always so hard to find a good babysitter on Saturday night. I hope Ashley is available, and ….”

      However, if they would think of it from the bride and grooms perspective, “Jane and John must be so excited! I remember planning our wedding, there’s so much to do. I’ll let her know right now that we’ll be there so she doesn’t have to give us another thought. Every tiny thing done, adds up to a lot less worry for the bride-to-be.” Replies would coming flooding in the mailbox all within a few days of one another!

      Thank you again for writing, Susan! I hope you’ll post often!

      All my best,
      Maralee

  • TuckerdogNC

    Especially in this great age of communication, just simply respond. If you can’t make it, that’s understandable; if you’re not sure, that’s okay too. But to ignore the invite, is just rude.

  • MeeowMeeow

    Regarding the point of not knowing your schedule…. It’s also important to provide an explanation for not being able to commit, i.e. “We’d love to come, but we might have to (fill in blank) that weekend… Would it be okay if we let you know on (insert date)? No one wants to feel that the invitee is waiting for a better offer.

  • Taubert4225

    Thank you for your response to the question of how to handle those that don’t RSVP to an invitation.  Our daughter is getting married June 30th and we’ve just started receiving the RSVP cards back.  My question is; how do you suggest handling the situtation when people RSVP accepting for themselves AND their children, who were not on the invitation?  In order to have as many family and friends at the reception, only the children of family members are invited.

  • Maralee McKee

    Dear Kimberli!

    Hello! How is one of my favorite people in all of blog land! I hope your son and daughter are both continuing to fully recover.

    You plan a lot of birthday parties! You can definitely relate! I’m so glad you enjoyed the topic!

    I have to admit, I’ve lost a few invitations in the shuffle myself. Especially when moms send them home with my little boys. Often they end up in the bottom, or a side pocket of their backpacks and I don’t even find the invitation until after I receive a call from the mom. That’s always embarrassing, and a good reason why the invitations should be mailed. Snail mail or even e-mailed!

    Talk to you soon! Blessings to you and your family!

    Maralee

  • Maralee McKee

    Dear Deborah,

    I’m sure you just made the bride very happy by responding to her invitation. Every bride looks forward to every RSVP. They all want to know who will be joining them for their big day!:)

  • Maralee McKee

    Hello Leslie!

    Wow-the real Leslie Santamaria on my blog! I'm honored and happy!

    If your hostess left the party location off her invitation on purpose, than she is very clever! Or, do you think it might have just been an oversight.

    I once recceived a beautiful invitation to an adult birthday party. Had all the details but one…who the party was for! They had simply overlooked it. I didn't recognize the return address so I didn't know whose party I was responding to until I called! Good thing it was someone whose party I was happy to attend attend:)

    PS: Everyone, Leslie is the world's greatest copy editor and the author of a soon to be published book of one young girl's journey. It will be a MUST read for every girl! Even though I only have boys, I'm still going to be first in line at Barnes & Noble! I still LOVE to ready fantastic children's literature!

  • Maralee McKee

    Hello Greg!

    It’s always great to hear from you! Everytime I see your name come up I get excited! Wow- I get to connect with Greg again!

    A lot of people I know are using Evite. This is just my guess, but I think that hosts receive a higher RSVP response rate for two reasons.

    1. It’s so quick and easy to hit the reply button and send along a quick comment.

    2. Positive peer presure! You see your name on the “has not responded” list and you want to get it off their-and quick!

    If that’s what it takes to get people to let you know if they’re attending, well…then I guess it’s a good thing. Sad though, it’s almost like wearing the Scarlet Letter. In this case it’s the, “Scarlet Hasn’t RSVP’d Letter!”

    Please send my regards to your wife!

    Blessings,
    Maralee

  • The Un-Organized Mom

    Such a great topic! Being the mom of 5 I am constantly planning a birthday or some other type of party. It frustrates me to no end when you send out the invitations and you need to know how much food to plan for, or how many spots to reserve at your venue, but you are unable to do so because no one has responded! I also have to admit that because I am the mom of 5, those said 5 are constantly being invited to parties and while I try to remember to RSVP to each and every one of them…some do get lost in the shuffle. But thank you for reminding me to respond instantly!

    Thank you for covering this topic,
    Kimberli

  • Deborah

    Oops! I have an invitation to a wedding that I need to RSVP. I’m going to do it right now! Thanks for the reminder….

  • Leslie

    Maralee, Your blog is a wealth of information and a joy to read! Here’s something interesting that happened to our family: Recently we received an invitation that included the date and time of the party, but no address. At the bottom was “RSVP,” the host’s name and phone number. From the host’s perspective, I guess she can safely assume that only the people who call will be there because those who don’t call won’t know where to go. :) Do you have any thoughts on this approach? Thanks!

  • Greg

    When sending out invitations for our kids’ birthday parties by snail mail over the years, my wife received almost no RSVP response and had to call guests. But then she started sending the invitations online via Evite. To our amazement, almost everyone responded yes or no, many with encouraging comments. People “live” online these days. It was not as personal as receiving a phone call, but we knew who to plan for.

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