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:
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.