The Silent RSVP Means “No, I Am Not Coming”

by admin on December 13, 2011

It’s one of my pet peeves.  I spend a lot of time planning a lovely occasion for my friends and invariably there are a few who could not be bothered to respond to my invitation leaving me to wonder exactly how many guests I should expect to feed.

Miss Manners has a few choice words for people who ignore an invitation:  “Silence is an insult, not a response.”

Every Christmas season I host a small lunch for about 6-10 female friends.   I create a beautiful invitation which is mailed 3 weeks in advance of the party.   Many hours are spent planning a menu, shopping, prepping and cooking food, cleaning my house, setting the table yet someone, sometimes several, forget to respond to my invitation leaving me in a quandary as to how many places to set and how much food to prepare.   I find this dilemma very stressful and I’m a seasoned hostess!  The thought of setting the table for 6 people only to have 8 show up makes even me tense!   And this forgetfulness is not limited to my holiday luncheon but to dinner parties, BBQs, throughout the year.

So, this year I hit upon a solution even my husband, the true etiquette guru, approved of.   After setting an RSVP deadline in the invitation of 2 days before the event, and noting that two individuals had not yet replied, I waited until the evening before the party and sent each of them this email:

Dear XXXXXX,
We’re going to miss your happy presence tomorrow at my annual Christmas lunch! I know how busy this season can be and I hope your holidays are exceedingly pleasant and enjoyable.
Merry Christmas!
                  Jeanne

Hosts and hostesses thought well enough of the guest to extend an invitation to share in their hospitality but in failing to courteously respond to an invitation, the guest does not show a reciprocal “well thought of” attitude towards his or her host/ess.    I gladly spend much time entertaining but I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who can’t be bothered to pick up the phone or email me their regrets or acceptance.

We should view RSVP silence as a definite “no” and reinforce this through communication that takes control of the situation and confirms to the guest that we understand their intention to not come.   Any thought that they could wait to last minute or simply show up is nipped in the bud.   And it makes sense.  When a guest RSVPs in the affirmative or negative, I respond back with either happy acknowledgement of their planned  attendance or regrets that they will not be able to join us.  A new third option is to pro-actively acknowledge that my silent guests have also made it known they will not be attending either.

Addendum: This type of proactive confirmation of guests’ non-verbally stated intentions to not attend an event is not new for us. My husband often does phone call the day before a much larger function to express his regrets that we will miss seeing the invited guest or when someone calls literally hours before the function to RSVP they are coming, he’s the one taking the phone call and politely telling them, “Oh, I am so sorry! When we did not hear from you, we made our plans accordingly and it’s much too late to change them. Perhaps we’ll enjoy your company next time!” He’s quite cheerful when he says this.

What was new was this was the first time I applied this, via email, to my silent Christmas lunch guests. One guest promptly replied back that she had been sick and was still sick with an infection of which I was aware of by viewing her Facebook statuses. But I figured if she had the strength to get on Facebook, she was equally strong enough to shoot me a little note telling me she could not come or that perhaps she was a “maybe”. The second guest’s email bounced back as undeliverable but she did not attend either. Never heard a peep from her.

I have no problem with “maybes”. I had one such “maybe” as the mom was trying to arrange childcare. She was able to find care and contacted me a day or two in advance of the party to affirm her invitation.

As for silent guests showing up unannounced, I think too many people have fallen for the myth that etiquette exists to make everyone comfortable in every circumstance. There are definitely situations where the goal should be to make the rude person as uncomfortable as possible. If one has five guests that RSVPed they will attend and you set the table with six places (one for you) and an unexpected guest shows up, rearranging the table to add another chair and another place setting isn’t likely to happen too discreetly in my house and unless the guest is an obtuse clod, the effect won’t be lost on them. In this case, there were to be six of us for lunch so I made six creme brulees the day before. Had a seventh guest shown up, someone would have gone without dessert and that probably would have been me. I made a great show of burning the sugar at the table with my little butane torch and believe me, *everyone* would have noticed there were only six, not seven, brulees.

{ 70 comments… read them below or add one }

theotherhanna December 13, 2011 at 7:04 pm

Hhmm, interesting. I have hosted things off and on for years, and rarely do I get RSVPs from my family, especially my grown brothers–they just show up. In fact, do I so rarely get RSVPs back that I plan that everyone will be there plus one or two extras that I didn’t even invite (which happened at a birthday party this summer where we took everyone to a specal event THAT REQUIRED TICKETS and then out to eat at a restaurant)

Years ago, I hosted a senior citizens luncheon in my home for the church group. I sent out invites, and the senior citizens group leaders put themselves in charge of collecting RSVPs for me. I was told 10, and then the day of, one elderly couple was ill, and so I was told 8. In the end, 18 people showed up, some people I had never seen at church before, a couple with their aids.

I figure if a senior citizen’s group can’t be bothered with RSVPs, or know what RSVP means, or doesn’t think it applies to them, I give up thinking anyone younger than them will RSVP. So I no longer hostess events that an RSVP is going to be a huge struggle if someone forgets or doesn’t know what it means. If it is absolutely imperative that I have an exact number attending, I make phone calls to talk to people personally, explaining that I have to know whether they are attending or not. If I don’t care—it’s buffet style!!

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MellowedOne December 13, 2011 at 8:17 pm

@Jay – Here’s the way I see it… One could look at it as an insult, or an unintentional offense. I choose to view it as the latter.

Great saying I once heard…’If you go looking for the negative, you will assuredly find it.’

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Mary December 13, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Well we had 30 people RSVP to our wedding that they were coming, not show up and never offer an explanation as to why they didn’t show. Plus we had a sit down dinner and we had to pay for all of the uneaten meals. We also lived in a state where it was state law that the leftover food could not leave the reception facility. So we paid for 30 meals that were hopefully eaten by the staff.

My only thought is that most of those who said they were coming and now show up are from areas where most receptions are buffet not sit down. Usually at the buffet receptions the hosts pay for the number of plates used. Maybe they thought it wouldn’t cost us if they didn’t show.

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Rug Pilot December 14, 2011 at 2:41 am

I once had a friend who would not commit his time any earlier than the time it took me to drive to his house to pick him up. No more. I invited him to a fancy hotel banquet well over a month ahead of time. It took him 4 weeks to respond (yes) and another 4 days to rescind. I was stuck with a $40 ticket that I could not find anyone to use. No more. When I receive an invitation I will check my calendar and accept or I will immediately decline. If I can’t accept just then I will decline so as not to inconvenience the host. I am frequently the first to respond to an evite to a large gathering.

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MeganAmy December 14, 2011 at 4:17 am

I like reading these discussions here because I feel passionately about RSVPs and I learn from the suggestions on this site.

In the past, if someone did not RSVP or said “no” and then showed up, I tried to be overly gracious and scrambled and accommodated them. Also, if they RSVPed “yes” after the deadline, I bent over backwards to make them feel welcome. From reading things here, I’ve learned to have more of a spine.

Admin Jeanne once posted how if someone RSVPed “yes” after the deadline, her husband replied something like “we can’t accommodate you because it’s after the deadline but we look forward to seeing you next time.” I read this here and used it recently! It was very freeing. I didn’t have to run out and buy more party favors (for my child’s party) and change the food order to accommodate another family of 4.

I do try to word my RSVP requests in such a way as to explain that I want a response yes or no, in case they don’t speak French or know what RSVP means.

When it comes to people who don’t RSVP at all, I just assume it’s a “no.” It is an insult to me if they can’t be bothered to reply via phone or email. Their actions tell me that I’m not important enough to be bothered with and they aren’t interested in my hospitality. And so I drop them from future guests lists. I won’t go out of my way to contact them to get an answer.

In most situations, I just plan extra food and hope that it will keep in the freezer. But if I really need an accurate headcount, I have learned to word invitations this way:

“If you plan to join us, please, let us know by Dec 15.
If you can’t come, no response is needed.”

So far, we have not had people show up who haven’t RSVPed. But if they did, I would not hide my shocked expression and would say “Oh, we didn’t know you were coming. Did you RSVP and I missed it?”

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--Lia December 14, 2011 at 8:59 am

Mellowed One– I agree! RSVP means respondez vous s’il vous plait. That’s “respond if you please.” The “please” is the trouble spot. It really does sound like it’s something I’m asking and would prefer but not absolutely required. Now in English, RSVP has come to mean that letting the host know is a necessity, but there’s a little part of me that understands. How about:

RSVP required
We must know if you’re coming by [this date] so we can plan for your attendance.

That sounds harsh, but I honestly don’t think anyone would mind.

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Anonymous December 14, 2011 at 9:15 am

@Allie

For some of us, a party is a major expense. I wish I could afford to buy twice as much as I’ll really need, or to order takeout for everyone. But my big reason for needing RSVPs is that an extra $20 on spare food and a backup bottle of alcohol would be money I’d rather spend elsewhere if fewer guests are showing up.

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Margo December 14, 2011 at 10:26 am

I don’t think a failure to reply immediately is rude – many people will need to check their family’s committments, their own availability etc. it’s useful for an invite to incude a ‘reply by’ date, for that reason.

I also think that if you are genuinely unsure – becasue you are waiting to hear whether you can get time off / whether grandma is willing to baby sit / whether the meal clashes with your child’s school play etc, and you are not going to be able to reply definitely within the ‘reply by’ timescale, then you should either decline or reply by saying you would have loved to come, but unfortunately you haven’t yet heard back about your leave request / gradma’s availability / munchkin’s school play so will have to decline. That gives the opportunity to offer an extension for your reply, and if they don’t want to, or can’t, you have at least let them know that you are not declining through lack of interest.

(I do think that for persistant non-repliers, being refused entry / turned away would be very salutory, but it needs a host who is prepared to lose a friendship over it. )

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FunkyMunky December 14, 2011 at 8:18 pm

I love that the four crashers were wait to wait. I hope the guest who brought them got an earful from a matriarch.

I have 7 people who have said ‘maybe’ to my wedding. We are have a plated dinner. The ‘maybes’ are not getting a seat or a plate. I don’t mind (much) getting an extra seat if someone shows up, but I’ll be darned if I’m paying $100+ for a meal that doesn’t get eaten!

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Enna December 15, 2011 at 1:35 pm

@ Admin, I like the story about the four uninvited guests. It’s not like it’s an “informal” social gathering where you expcet beteween 20-30 guests to show up.

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Liz December 17, 2011 at 7:24 pm

I have a friend who gets upset when you RSVP no to any of her events even in a timely manner, it seems that the only response acceptable is yes. I can’t attend a lot of her events because I work weekends (it’s my livelihood) and she also lives 3 hours away from me, so it’s not like I can drop in for a bit after work. She always sends me message asking if I’m coming, even after I’ve RSVP, as though if she keeps asking she’ll get the response she wants? It’s as though she takes it as a personal affront, she doesn’t understand why I won’t take time off (yet she would never take time off for me, not that I would ever ask!) She then proceeds to quilt trip me about not coming the next time I do see -which doesn’t really make me want to come to the next event! It’s not really the same issue, but I’d appreciate thoughts on this…

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Sunnydi84 December 17, 2011 at 8:23 pm

I do agree that adults should RSVP ALWAYS either YES or NO, by the deadline. However, I have had several instances where a child has given one of my children an invitation at school. Invitation gets shoved in backpack. I don’t go thru their backpacks regularly (too scary! LOL!). Child forgets. Child then remembers and I have literally gotten invitations from my kids a day or two before the event! I have called immediately and explained to hostess what happened. I have sincerely apologized and told them I totally understand if they can’t accomodate us. They have all been very gracious and said they understand about kids being kids.
Also, our snail mail is EXTREMELY SLOW. I have frequently gotten mailed invites AFTER events! It is upsetting, but what can you do? I have called some of the hostesses after the fact to let them know what happened. I guess what I am saying is, don’t crucify people for not responding on time or at all. There may be a very good reason for not RSVPing.

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Janet February 8, 2012 at 6:33 am

I unfortunately often have to say ‘maybe’, or ‘I’ll get back to you’ when I receive invitations. I work on a fortnightly roster, so I’m never sure when I’ll be working. When I do receive my roster, I respond to invitations as soon as I can. Sometimes I’ve been able to come at the last minute, and people are usually okay with it – our get togethers mostly involve pizza and beer, so it’s not quite the same as a wedding or something. When I get invited to things far in advance, then I’ll do my best to get my roster confirmed earlier than usual, but the nature of hospitality work doesn’t always make that possible.

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SeaSprite April 21, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Due to my health my children still at home will not get the pleasure ofi liter rsvping to anything. I literally don’t know from day to day how I will feel so I will not know until the morning of the event-and I can turn literally by the afternoon where I can’t make it after all.
we hated continuing to say no especially when we or the kids would love to spend time with whomever it was. We couldn’t change it though so we finally asked everyone to please take us off of their consideration lists. It may not be proper etiquette to have done so but we felt since we would always have to say no-i didn’t want to revolution and then end up cancelling at this last minute (this happened I a couple of times sue to ER visits resulting in being admitted ) so we felt they would not waste paper and postage on us and they could invite others who could come. We do however don’t mind them talking about preparations or how it went. We get to enjoy their joy that way. I am not saying all late or non RSVP is acceptable. Just Maybe sometimes unavoidable

we feltfinally we feltfinally this wouldntthe waste their we fe
we felt this also would not wate

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erica September 10, 2012 at 10:44 pm

I agree with cobbs.
I understand that my event isn’t the only thing going on in your life, the world or on the planet. I do understand that works schedules are a problem, finding childcare or working on transportation may be an issue.
It is not however, MY issue. Nor will I spend my time worrying about your problems.
If you would like to attend an event, make arrangements for those things then drop a text, email or quick call to say you are attending…or if you cannot commit simply drop a text, email or call saying you cannot attend.
I understand those who have said they have an illness and they can’t always be sure if they will actually make it. I would say that means …no, you cannot attend. Sounds harsh and mean, huh? Guess what.
Life isn’t fair.
No where in etiquette hell does it state we as hosts/hostess’ have to bend over backwards to accomidate those who can’t commit to attend in a timely manner. I would never expect a hostess to have a plate for me…just in case…I can attend. Maybe’s are rude. Period. Figure it out and give a firm answer.

To It is rude to think the evening hinges on whether you will attend or not. It is self absorbed and while we will miss you, we cannot be on ‘standby’ in case you decide you are able to make it.
I’m sorry but I have zero patience for those who do not RSVP. There will not be a seat at the table. There will not be a shuffling of chairs. There will be someone turned away.

My one and only exception is children’s parties. I had a combo party for my kids when they were young. ALL the classmates of BOTH children were given invites. In addition I noted that their siblings 12 and under could ALSO attend providing that a parent stayed to supervise the siblings. We figured the more the merrier. Then we invited 12 neighborhood kids. I DID have RSVP with my phone number and email address. Any guesses on how many RSVP’s I got? Let’s just say I could count them on one hand. I knew for a fact it would be a full house.
We rented a huge water slide, enlisted lots of parents and friends to come help with the controlled chaos…and knew just from talk at the bus stop…there were going to be a TON of kids. I made 60 goodie bags. At the end of the day I had FOUR left and I personally handed them out so I know there were 54 kids there, plus a few who had to leave early. FIFTY FOUR. I kid you not. And what…4 RSVP’s.
Yes, I knew all my neighborhood kids were coming..no RSVP necessary but it sure would have been nice to know that I was going to have 54 kids running around my house and yard. Every time I see one of those kids (who were all a blur to me with so many) I STILL hear about how great our party was, even if we did just BARELY have enough cake!

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Alyssa October 12, 2012 at 10:45 am

We’re throwing a birthday party for my daughter tomorrow and are dealing with some silent non-responding guests. I’m so annoyed that IF they show up I’m treating them the same way they treated my invite. I’m also leaving them off the guest list next time. Eff them! These are also family members of my husband, I’m tired of dealing with so-called adults acting rudely. You get an invite, you respond….SIMPLE. It takes 60 seconds to respond by email or shooting over a phone call, your life isn’t that busy.

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