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The Number One Etiquette Violation! Are You Guilty, Too?

By: Maralee McKee


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 to us, 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 our friend’s letter and see if you agree with her. I do!

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!

A Question We All Want to Know the Answer To!

Q. Dear Maralee,

People not responding to my invitations frustrate me. What is the etiquette of RSVP?

Should I write on the invitation ”Regrets only,” or should people call to let me know either way?

The upside to all of this is that my frustration has caused me to be much more aware of responding to the invitations I receive.


I’m with you! People’s insensitivity and rudeness 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.

RSVP translates loosely “Please Respond.” It means we need to let the person who invited us know if we’re attending or not.

How quickly should we respond? Within 24 hours.

Wow that’s fast, Maralee! What’s the hurry? Well, a prompt 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 would like to accept. Instead, you would 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, what about what time you should actually knock on your host’s door. Five-minutes early to let them know you made their event a priority, or ten-or-so minutes late to give the hosts a few extra minutes to prepare? It’s a good question, and the answer is 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 I wrote that will help you do just that, 7 Ways to Shine as A Party Guest.) 

Some invitations will list an RSVP by date as a desperate attempt to get the guest to reply. Please respond long 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 if you’re able to participate.

Do I have to respond to every invitation? What about for parties that aren’t really celebrations; their ultimate purpose is in hopes that I’ll buy something being sold? Yes, even these should receive your RSVP within 24 hours. Normally, sales solicitations don’t need to be responded to, but since these are being held in your friend’s home, it’s gracious to let her know if she should set out a chair, provide refreshments, and purchase paper goods just for you!

What about writing “Regrets Only” on your invitation? 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 do I do about the people who don’t RSVP? As the date approaches and you need to know how many people to plan for, it’s fine to call your guests. Script your conversation something like this: “Debbie, I’m making the final arrangements for dinner on the 25th. I hope you and Doug received the invitation we sent you about two weeks ago, and that you’ll be able to join us.” When you say it nicely, you’ll 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 earn five gold stars!

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!”




  • 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 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!


  • 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,

  • 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.