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


RSVP Etiquette for Host and Guests

By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor


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 someone dear to me. 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 my question.

Many thanks,

Yolanda W.


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 they’ll understand their social duty to let hosts know if they’re going to take part in the hospitality that you’re trying to offer them. It’s also so guests know 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 arrange 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!

Think of it like this. 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? 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 Was It Once Rude to Ask People to RSVP?!  

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

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 or even a text. 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, and such.) 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!!!!!

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



Maralee McKee

About Maralee McKee

Maralee McKee is the founder of Manners Mentor. With her best friend style, sense of humor, and knack for updating etiquette, she's been referred to as "Sandra Bullock meets Emily Post." She is an award-winning book author, and a former TV and radio host. Her advice has been featured nationally on TV, in newspapers, magazines, and major websites. Maralee conducts seminars for Fortune 500 Companies and startups, and she personally mentors everyone from CEO's to new hires sharing her skills and love for helping you shape the way others perceive, interact, and respond to you and the product or service you represent. Maralee shows you how to become the best version of yourself. No fluff. No pretense. Just you at your authentic best! The person you were always meant to be! She's a popular university speaker, and with her amazing testimony, she's also a sought after speaker for churches, women's, and mom's groups. Maralee is a native and life-long resident of Orlando. Before entering the etiquette arena she worked in management and ministry. She's proud to be Kent's wife and Marc and Corbet's mom. She hates laundry, and loves quality tea, London, Southern cooking, dressing up and dressing down, and Miss Lilly the Wonder Sheltie. You can find her picture if you scroll to the bottom of this page. Isn't she the cutest dog ever?!!! PS: Because everyone always asks, "What's your etiquette pet peeve?" It's people who talk on their phones in public restrooms. The person on the other end of the phone must wonder, "What's that noise. It sounds, it couldn't be." Plus, everyone else in the bathroom is held hostage to a one-sided conversation usually spoken loudly to try and cover up the noises. It would be comical if it wasn't plain yuck. ;)

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