How to Graciously RSVP That You Can’t Attend

Saying no can be hard, especially when it’s a no to an invitation. Here’s how to graciously RSVP that you can’t attend.

How to Graciously RSVP That You Can't Attend

By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor

Declining an invitation can make us feel uneasy. We know that the host has been kind to include us. And it could seem, especially to an overly sensitive host, that our not attending is more of a statement about the host than about the reason that keeps us from joining in the event. So then, how do we graciously RSVP that we can’t attend?

It’s a question a blog reader wants to know. See if you haven’t been in the same or a similar situation yourself!

How to Graciously RSVP That You Can’t Attend an Event — The Question

Dear Maralee,

I hope you can offer me some guidance. I have a friend who is always hosting a party at her home where something is being sold. Sometimes, she holds the parties for other friends who sell items, but then she also sells a lot of stuff on her own. She must belong to about a dozen of those companies.

She also likes to entertain. She’s always inviting our family to her home for get-togethers. I’m tired after work and on weekends. I really just want to lay low with my family.

I’m not kidding, I get two or three invitations from her every month.

Not only does she live on my street, but we also go to the same church. It’s not like I can escape her. Thank you in advance for your insight on how I can RSVP no without hurting her feelings or making her angry.

Hoping to hear from you!

Megan H.

The Answer: 7 Ways to Graciously RSVP That You Can’t Attend

As an introvert, I feel for Megan. I’m outgoing when teaching a seminar or giving an interview. And I have a genuine love for people. I also love entertaining others and offering them hospitality at our home.

Yet I so don’t like parties when I’m not the host. It just takes too much out of me to attend. And the whole time I’m there, all I can think of is curling up in the comfort of my own home with Kent and the boys reading, talking, or watching TV together!

There is an upside to all of this – I have a lot of practice at RSVPing “No thank you” when it comes to party invitations. So on this issue I can definitely offer my time-tested and well-used etiquette for graciously letting hosts know that you can’t join them for their event.

1. RSVP even if you don’t like saying no. It’s better to RSVP now than later to feel like you need to avoid the host(s) because you didn’t let them know whether to prepare a place for you at their party.


How to RSVP No


2. Whether you RSVP Yes or RSVP No, do it within 24 hours of receiving the invitation. Why so fast? Because responding quickly shows that you gave their invitation your immediate attention. Now they can either start to plan for your needs at the event, or invite someone else who didn’t make the original list simply because there wasn’t enough in their party budget or room in their home, or whatever reason it was that originally kept that person off the guest list.

3. Don’t text your RSVP. It’s too easy for them to immediately reply and ask you why, and such-and-such. It could start a long text conversation. What you’re after when RSVPing no is for your reply conversation, whatever form it takes, to be short and sweet.

4. RSVP via voice mail when possible if saying no makes you nervous. If you’re going to say no, then a voice mail is your friend. It has most of the bandwidth of a phone call, yet you don’t have to answer the hosts’ possible questions about why you’re not attending or endure pleas for you to come anyway. (Five out of every six phone calls go to voice mail, so it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll get it. If you know the hosts’ schedules at all, then call at a time when you think they’re less likely to answer the call.)

5. Follow the three-step script for what to say, no matter which method you choose for your RSVP:

A.) Acknowledge that you received the invitation. 

B.) Thank the hosts for including you. Even if you don’t feel grateful for being included, thank the hosts, because it’s always nice when someone considers you, even if the party is one where they’re trying to sell you something. Even if that’s the only time they think of you, thank them anyway. Why? Because you have great manners, and a gracious person like you always responds graciously to all invitations. It’s a way you can lead by example.

C.) When possible, share the reason why you are RSVPing that you can’t attend. People understand conflicts in schedules in our busy culture. So by all means let them know you have a previous engagement and what it is if you feel you can share it.

When you put it all together, it would go something like this (this could be left as a voice mail, or modified to be sent as an email, or shared in person):

Good evening, Ashley! This is Maralee. Your invitation to the backyard barbecue arrived in the mail today. The invitation is lovely! You were so kind to invite Kent, the boys, and me. I’m sad we won’t be able to be there. My niece is flying down from DC that week, and our extended family will all be entertaining her. Thank you again, and I hope you have a fantastic time!

6. It’s perfectly fine to say that the reason you won’t be attending is that you’re cutting back on your outside events (or whatever the reason is). Hosts might or might not understand why that’s a “good” reason not to attend, but if it’s true for you, the right response from hosts is to graciously accept it when you decline their invitation.


How to RSVP No


7. Make every effort to attend milestone events. There are going to be lots of home sales parties, kids’ birthday parties, pool parties, and pot luck dinners. If you miss this one, you can catch the next. However, when someone is celebrating a milestone, make every effort to join the celebration.

You have a place in this person’s life, or you wouldn’t have been included. Even introverts like me need to step out of our comfort zone when it comes to celebrating or recognizing the milestones and passages that mark a change or new beginning in someone’s life: a wedding, baby dedication, Christening or naming ceremony, bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah, quinceanera, visitation or funeral, graduation, party when a friend or relative opens a new business or is recognized for a special achievement, anniversary celebrating a year ending in zero or five (10, 15, 20, 25…50…), and milestone birthday (1, 16, 21, and then anything ending in zero: 30, 40, 50…80…).

These are major entries on the timeline of our lives. You being there shows you’re glad to be journeying with them.

Especially for When You’re the Host

Everyone’s number-one etiquette complaint is that no one RSVP’s anymore. The fact that guests are actually responding to your invitation, even if it is with a no, is always gracious of them. You don’t want to accidentally put them in an awkward position. However, people tell me it happens way too often.

When guests decline your invitations, your best response is “You’ll be missed!”, and then change the subject and enjoy a lovely conversation, whether it’s a long or short one.

Sometimes, with good intentions, we ask why they won’t be there, or we give them reasons why they should attend: “It’s going to be a great party!” or “The items this company sells are incredible. I don’t want you to miss out!” While you didn’t mean anything by it, it’s actually bullying.

Ouch! I didn’t mean to bully. How is it even mild bullying?

Any time we don’t take their yes as “yes” or no as “no,” we disrespect and challenge their decision. It’s not what we meant to do, but that’s what it is.

The one exception is when those you’ve invited mention that the reason they can’t attend is because they don’t have a sitter or they have a guest or guests visiting that day. If you as the host would be happy to have the others join, you can extend the invitation to them as well. (It’s rude of people to ask whether they can bring others, so their telling you about the others without asking is your opportunity to let them know whether you can comfortably entertain the others as well as them.)

If you do have room for the others at the party, you’d say something like this: “You’ll be missed! However, it would be a joy to meet your sister and her daughter! Feel free to bring them if you don’t have other plans.” (Don’t feel as if you need to extend the invitation to others if you don’t have the room or budget.)

They then will say they have other plans, or they’ll thank you for extending the invitation to their guests, and they’ll attend!

A Grace Note for Hosts and Guests about RSVPs

Now that you know how to graciously RSVP that you can’t attend an event, keep this in mind: different people have varying levels of comfort in attending social events.

As a host, don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t attend.

Life is too short and people are too precious to get upset about someone not attending a party.

You were kind to extend the invitation, and the person declining was kind to acknowledge your invitation. Now you know that you can invite someone else, or that you just got some extra wiggle room in your party budget. Either way, both the guest and host are happy. And that’s what both of you wanted in the first place! It’s all good – and gracious!

Blessings galore,

Maralee McKee's Signature



How to Graciously RSVP That You Can't Attend
RSVP R.S.V.P. RSVPing RSVP-ing RSVP’ing R.S.V.P.-ing R.S.V.P.’ing (common alternate spellings)

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 to meet our modern sensibilities, she has been referred to as "Sandra Bullock meets Emily Post!" 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! To learn more about Maralee click on the "Meet Maralee" or "New? Start Here" links at the top of this page.

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