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 }

grumpy_otter December 12, 2011 at 6:06 am

I have to disapprove–not the at the sentiment, but at the mode of communication. Not everyone checks their email regularly, and I can just imagine the surprise of the person who arrives home AFTER the party to read the email.

I’d call instead and say something like “I’m so sorry you won’t be able to join us tomorrow–have a wonderful holiday!” Then if they sputter “But I’m coming!” you can sound befuddled “That’s funny, I didn’t receive your RSVP. . . ”

I think phoning would accomplish the same purpose as email but be safer in terms of making sure the person got the message.

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Louisa December 12, 2011 at 6:15 am

What a fantastic solution. Excellently thought out-thanks so much for sharing!

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lkb December 12, 2011 at 6:25 am

The only thing I see wrong with this is what if the hostess did not happen to receive the RSVP: it got snagged somehow in the junk email box or got lost in a flurry of emails in the inbox or the voicemail heard by someone else but not forwarded to her (i.e., a kid took the message and forgot about it) or the invitee thought she had responded but was one character off on the email address or the snail mail RSVP got lost etc.

There is also the quite valid situation in which the invitee is dealing with something else of which the hostess is quite unaware (death in the family, sudden family emergency etc.) Yes, an RSVP only takes a minute but sometimes.

I agree it’s annoying when RSVPs are not acknowledged but sometimes it really isn’t something the invitee could control.

Please don’t get me wrong. I agree with the concept. I just wanted to point out that sometimes life does happen and a hostess would be kind to consider these possibilities.

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Shannon December 12, 2011 at 9:22 am

Agreed. It is so frustrating when guests don’t respond, especially when you’re serving a plated meal.

My husband and I had decided not to throw our annual New Year’s Eve party this year – well, until several of our friends begged us to throw a party because it’s “always so much fun!” and so they would have plans that evening. I made up a guest list and sent out the Evite.

Well, of the four people who claimed we HAD to have a party, three have not responded and one has responded “maybe.” Plus, many of the guests have opened the invitation several times but have not responded, which to me indicates that they are hoping a better offer comes along. Enough is enough. Yes, we got suckered into hosting a party, but I’m done with being a pushover.

Friday, I sent around an email saying, “If we’re a small group, we’ll have a seated dinner party, if we’re a large group it will be cocktails and appetizers. So we can plan accordingly, the favor of a reply is requested on or before Friday, December 23. We will not be accepting RSVPs after that date.”

Christmas Eve, I am waking up, having a cup of coffee, and deleting everyone who has not yet responded. And it’s gonna feel AWESOME.

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Xtina December 12, 2011 at 9:55 am

I was just discussing this issue with a friend who got married last Saturday in a very small and intimate ceremony. She was on a tight budget and had limited her guest list very strictly, so every response she got counted in a big way. There were several who did not respond at all, and likewise there were a few who had sent regrets but shown up anyway. In any event, but especially in an event of that size, RSVP’s matter, and it was a glaring illustration as to why, in this case.

Funny thing was–this from a girl who had not RSVP’ed to a formal invitation I’d sent out a few years prior. Interesting how age and circumstances can make a person “see the light”.

I’ve seen invitations worded “RSVP” (ALL responses requested) and “regrets only” (self-explanatory). I wish people would take just a moment to make a quick call or e-mail.

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Chicken December 13, 2011 at 6:21 am

I have to agree with grumpy_otter. To have a guest arrive at the event after the email is sent would be quite embarrassing for everyone to say the least. I know I check my email several times a day, but my mother checks hers only a few times a week. So even in today’s day and age it is possible someone could miss an email.

A quick phone call to express your regrets that an invited partygoer won’t be able to make it should suffice nicely. And speaking to the person helps to alleviate the miscommunication that some people are especially prone to. When they say, what do you mean I can’t make it, it can be carefully explained why their presence is not expected. A passive aggressive email can be deleted, phone conversations cannot.

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QueenofAllThings December 13, 2011 at 8:07 am

I’m going through this right this moment – and if I had all the email addresses, I would copy Miss Jeanne’s words exactly!

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The Elf December 13, 2011 at 8:31 am

I have to agree with Grumpy-Otter on this one. Love the idea, dislike using email for it. But you know your friends. There are a few friends who I KNOW would get the email. They’re the always-connected people. But others? Who is going to be checking their email on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night unless they are always connected? I certainly don’t, unless I am expecting something specific.

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Shoebox December 13, 2011 at 8:32 am

I can understand and sympathise with the hostess’ POV in this situation… but I also agree with the pitfalls outlined by other commenters above. Guests that genuinely may have *thought* they responded, forgotten to respond for good reason, be dealing with issues in their lives that don’t allow them the time, etc etc.

Thus I’d temper the above solution with my knowledge of the specific people involved. Surely, if they’re special enough to have been invited to this type of event, the hostess should be able to cut them at least a bit of slack. A phone call, rather than an email, that instead of outright dismissing them asks kindly what’s going on, might be indicated here instead.

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The Elf December 13, 2011 at 8:35 am

We throw a big outdoor party once a year. I don’t include an RSVP because it is about an informal occassion as you can get. Definitely no plated meals! I usually get calls for regrets and in the course of seeing each other in our usual lives during the month between invitation mailing and event, I’ll hear a “We’re really looking forward to the party!”, “I’m so sorry, I can’t make it”. But, in the week leading up the event, I call everyone who hasn’t declined anyway to give them a weather report. We hold the event rain or shine, hot or cold, so they need to dress for the weather. In the conversations, I get my guest list.

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MellowedOne December 13, 2011 at 9:30 am

“Silence is an insult, not a response.”

Ms. Manners, I disagree. I know how frustrating it can be when people fail to RSVP, been there done that many a time. But I’ve never felt it to be an insult, merely an aggravation caused by a friend–keeping in mind that friend puts up with me when I ruffle their feathers :)

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SHOEGAL December 13, 2011 at 9:58 am

I have disagree with Maybes not being a big deal – sorry – I don’t like maybes. It makes me think these people don’t want to commit because something better might come along. Maybe to me means no. I learned that from this site – someone says maybe – “I’ll have to let you know” to my party I respond by saying I’m so sorry you can’t make it – perhaps next year if you aren’t so busy you’ll be able to attend – then I don’t invite again. I get the hint – you don’t want to come to my party – I’m not asking you to paint my house – rather -I’m providing a rather nice evening – if you can’t be bothered to give a definite yes or no – I can’t be bothered to have you. I’m a little sensitive that way.

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admin December 13, 2011 at 10:17 am

It depends on the kind of “maybe”. Someone who tells me they want to come but they are trying to work out childcare or are trying to get over a cold are acceptable maybes. They have expressed a desire to come but have to work out the logistics. It’s the vague maybe that leave you wondering if they are hoping for a better offer.

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Green123 December 13, 2011 at 9:58 am

I agree with the sentiment, but yeah, I wouldn’t use email (or Facebook). I’d call and speak to the person – not everyone checks email and other online messages every day.

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No Weddings December 13, 2011 at 10:20 am

I’ve been on both sides of this issue. I have hosted several functions and had to call the people I invited the day before to find out if they were coming or not because no one responded. I’ve had people call and respond yes or no (God bless them) and have had people just randomly show up. It is very stressful when trying to plan something to have no idea how many people are coming.

BUT I have also RSVPed that I was coming to a co-worker’s wedding and then got sick the night before and couldn’t come. They complained when they got back from the honeymoon about the number of people who had RSVPed they were coming and never showed, meaning they paid for extra meals no one ate. Sorry, but I really was planning on attending! I also had another instance (again with a wedding) where the groom’s mother (a family friend) called me to ask if I was coming or not, since I hadn’t responded either way. I felt bad, but I hadn’t responded because my work hadn’t let me know yet whether or not I actually was going to get the day off.

Now as a divorced mom with an unreliable ex, I usually have to respond thusly to invitations. “I may be there if my ex picks them up or if I can arrange for childcare if he doesn’t.” Many times I get told I can bring the kids along.

But I seriously don’t know how to respond to invitations where outside factors may not let me know in advance if I can attend or how many may be attending. Is Maybe good enough if you do let the host know as soon as you know?

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Shannon December 13, 2011 at 10:23 am

Like Miss Jeanne, I’m okay with maybes that are there for a logical reason. One of the maybes to my NYE party works part time at a movie theater – he may have to work that evening, or report to work early the next day. Therefore he has to wait to get his schedule before he can commit.

However, if you reply ‘maybe’ with no explanation, then it’s abundantly clear you’re hoping for a better offer (or a hot date). In which case, my patience wears thin because I go to effort and expense to host a party, and refuse to be the backup plan.

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Ponytail December 13, 2011 at 10:36 am

Grumpy otter – if I’d sent the email and they didn’t read it until after the party, there’d be no surprise : they would be reading it after having been turned away from my door with as polite a “I didn’t receive your RSVP so I’m afraid there is no place set for you. Goodbye.” as I could muster.
I disagree with those who say the onus is on the party host to chase up the invitees in a way that guarantees the invitee will get the message. They’re already going beyond the realms of politeness in sending an acknowledgement that the invitee is not attending, giving the invitee a second chance to RSVP. If the invitee misses this second chance, that’s not really the fault of the host.

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admin December 13, 2011 at 11:06 am

Here is the Miss Manners response to RSVPs: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/miss-manners-ignoring-a-wedding-rsvp-is-no-way-to-treat-friends/2011/10/13/gIQAlMINgM_story.html

There are other published comments from Miss Manners in which she scathingly refers to non-responsive RSVPs as “insulting” and greatly “inconveniencing” the hosts.

Great quote….

“Miss Manners… considers it an unfortunate concession that hosts even need to state that they would like a response (in sensible times, guests could figure that out for themselves), and finds it distasteful that they feel they must provide the response themselves, in the form of prestamped cards or a voice-mail drop. Especially since such techniques don’t work. People who are not polite enough to answer invitations are still not going to answer, even if you lie down in front of them and beg them to kick you once for yes and twice for no.”

–Judith Martin, Miss Manners’ Guide to Domestic Tranquility, Chapter 7: Entertaining: The Social Contract, p.218

Hahaha! So true!

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starstruck December 13, 2011 at 10:48 am

i dont know . the whole thing seems a little passive aggressive to me. calling someone just to let them know, that you know, that they are not coming to your shindig, and therefore you are officially uninviting them? if i host a party, any party, and i dont get an rsvp by a certain date, then i assume they are not coming. if they show up , they may not get the same as what everyone else gets. if there are numbered items, such as homeade cupcakes or something. and you invite 6 , but only 5 rsv. when they show up and complain about not having one, you simply say , i did not get your rsvp, so i thought you weren’t coming. next time please rsvp. people that have this happen to ususally get the messege the first time. as it’s embarressing, and their left to look foolish . now my mother on the other hand, always says a good hostess prepares for the worst, and handles it gracefully. so if you invite 6 , then you should have 6. and if only 4 show up you have extra.

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admin December 13, 2011 at 11:39 am

Miss Manners apparently doesn’t view it as passive aggressive. In response to people who “stall” (our “maybes”) she writes:

Miss Manners is suggesting that you treat a stall as if it were a definite
no. Ordinarily, one would allow a day for friends to discover that they had failed
to consult their office calendars or spouses or children, all of whom had already
booked their time. But those who do not get right back should no longer be entitled
to such a courtesy. Any attempt to explain that they are undecided, rather than
declining, should be brushed aside with the explanation that although you need to
plan now, you understand that they are not in a position to accept and you wouldn’t
dream of pushing them.

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Wink-n-Smile December 13, 2011 at 10:54 am

I agree with the call. I’m one of those people who don’t check personal emails on a regular basis. Once I’m home from work, I’m rather sick of being “connected,” so I don’t want to check personal email.

Also, the type of maybe is important. If it’s “let me check my calendar and I’ll let you know,” then give them a reasonable (2-3 days) amount of time to check their calendar. It may not mean they’re waiting for something else. It may simply mean that they write down their engagements so that they don’t have to remember. And if they don’t have an iPhone or Blackberry, but have a paper calendar at home, they would need to go home to check it. Yeah, I’m one of those people, too.

However, when I respond “Let me check my calendar,” I’ve learned to state clearly that I do not have my calendar on me, and that I don’t remember if I have something booked, or not. Plus, I need to coordinate with family, who are also checking the calendar at home. I can’t give very many instant responses to an invite, especially for an evening or weekend. Lunch? That’s on my work calendar, and I can answer that whenever I’m there at work.

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vanessaga December 13, 2011 at 10:56 am

I don’t understand the concern with the embarrassment of the “guest” who reads the email after showing up. I am a mother of 2 and one on the way who works a 40 hour week. I consider myself to be extremely busy and I would know whether or not I had chosen to RSVP and if I showed up without doing so, any resulting embarrassment would be my fault only. And I would have no one to blame but myself. The Admin is not wrong and since we are saying she should err on the side of possible temperments of her guests, I imagine she knows guests to such an intimate party quite well and knows their email habits. Id also imagine they know her well enough to know better than not to respond to her invitation and expect a warm welcome.

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catwoman2965 December 13, 2011 at 10:59 am

I agree with the maybes, in some cases. For me, I have a second job, and don’t always have my schedule. If its an invite that far enough out for me to request the day off, no problem, but sometimes I get invites where I can’t ask for that day off as its too close, but the schedule may not be out. So my maybe will say something like “I don’t have my schedule yet, but if I’m not working, I will be there” And as soon as I know, I let the host/hostess know whether I’m attending or not.

But I also have friends who won’t plan ahead, IN CASE something better comes along, and I hate that. You either want to spend time with me, in which case, you will commit, or you don’t, in which case, you’ll decline. But don’t leave me hanging in case you get a better offer.

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Typo Tat December 13, 2011 at 11:06 am

I’m thinking that some people upon seeing this email will just not get the hint; they’ll see it as you begging them to come, and make a special effort to show up. I can totally see that happening.

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Jays December 13, 2011 at 11:17 am

With the others, I agree with the sentiment, but not with the mode of delivery. My computer died recently; I spent a while with only sporadic access to email. (And we don’t all have smartphones.) Emails go astray. And I also have older relatives who only check theirs once a week … or every other week!

I had a friend recently call me, irate, and ask when I didn’t respond to her text. I don’t text; I don’t even have a plan for it. She just assumed everyone did. Email is far more common, but not much different, really.

Yes, the person should have responded in the first place … but what if it was an honest mistake? They do happen. Better to pick up the phone.

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gramma dishes December 13, 2011 at 11:23 am

We were once rather severely chastised for not responding to a very special event invitation.
Problem: We never received that invitation!
Truth be told, we were a little hurt because it seemed that everyone else we knew was going to this event and we wondered why we had been left out but it would have been rude to inquire. I so much would have appreciated a phone call or email that would have given us a chance to respond.

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Elizabeth December 13, 2011 at 11:45 am

while no RSVPS are a pain and rude, I can think of a couple better ways to do it than an email the night before. 1)put on the invite, if I dont hear you are coming, then I will assume you are unable to make it.
or 2) call a couple days before and leave a simple message that says “I havent gotten your RSVP for the party, if you are coming, please let me know within the 24 hrs, otherwise I will assume you cant make it.

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Gracie Good December 13, 2011 at 11:46 am

I’ve been reading this site for years, but have never commented before. I feel that today, I have to comment. I am hosting a graduation party for my husband this Friday. He’s receiving his Master’s of Divinity after four years of hard graduate work, and everyone is excited and happy for him. I sent out the invites the week of Thanksgiving, putting today’s date as the RSVP deadline, so that I know how much food I need to prepare, etc. However, out of the 40-some odd people I have personally invited (not including a general invite to our church family, which is small), only about 8 people have told me if they are coming or not. That would be my mom & dad, brother & sister-in-law, and two of my close friends and their husbands. No one in his family have said anything one way or another; neither has anyone from church. However, his family is notorious for not responding to RSVPs; they just decide to show up or not show up. I, for one, am tempted to use EHell Dame’s tactic to make people tell me one way or another.
Ms. Jeanne, is bad etiquette possibly a genetic thing? (I’m only half-kidding on this question.)

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KMC December 13, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Every time the subject of RSVPs comes up, there are many people who protest that it’s just not fair to expect people to reply to every invitation. “Life happens” is always given as a reason. I understand that “life happens,” but when it happens to the same people every time you send out an invitation, it stops being about forgetfullness because you’re so busy, and starts being about inconsideration of other people’s time and friendship. In many cases, I don’t understand the “life happens” excuse anyway. Yes, we too get very busy, especially around the holidays. For that reason, when we get an invitation, we immediately check the calendar to see if we can make it. If we can’t come up with a yes or no right then, we put the invitation on the fridge where we have to see it every day until we respond. If it’s an email, we write something on a piece of paper and put that on the fridge. There are ways to remind yourself to get back to things when life happens.

A couple of years ago I planned a surprise birthday party for my husband. The meal I had planned did not need an exact count, but I planned a special activity after dinner for which I needed to have a head count. First, so the venue could plan accordingly, and second so that I could set aside enough money to pay for everyone who wanted to participate.

I’m not sure if this is etiquette approved, but in my invitation, I practically begged people to RSVP, so that I could have a head count for the activity. One person. One single person called me to RSVP. Everyone else I had to call or email again two days before the party. Almost every single one replied “Of course we’re coming!” How was I supposed to know?!

I never did get a hold of one couple and they showed up to the party expecting to participate in the activity. They were pretty upset that there was no room for them.

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Cobbs December 13, 2011 at 12:19 pm

I believe an invitation to dinner is the most important invitation one can receive. It is imperative that one respond immediately. And, once one accepts, death is the only reason not to attend. I read several responses here today that are little less than self-centered excuses. Me, me, me. If you cannot respond in the affirmative at once, regret. You may not plague your hopeful host or hostess with yet another story about poor you.

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Rhonda December 13, 2011 at 12:22 pm

The “un-invite” should be done by phone so there is no chance of a miscommunication. Firmly, politely, assertively tell the person that since you have not heard from them, they are now officially un-invited.

There is always the off chance that they did respond, and their email got stuck in your junk mail filter, or that their original invitation got lost. If that is the case, then you can reconsider while on the phone and agree one way or the other.

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Anon December 13, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Unfortunately, this would not work for the ruder people in our circle of friends. It would go like this:
“Sorry we’ll miss you!”
“No, we’re coming.”
“Oh, actually, when you didn’t RSVP, we counted you as a no.”
“Well, now you can put us down as a yes.”
“Sorry, we’ve already made our plans.”
“Is it about food? We’ll just bring some food with us, or eat beforehand.”
ad nauseum.

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Sarah Peart December 13, 2011 at 12:29 pm

I think people are scrapping the bottom of the barrel for excuses. If I were hosting a party I would not gather up all the junk mail without fanning the envelopes out to see if I got one from a real person. Then I am the person who shakes free newspapers in case a letter slipped in – especially if there is the possibility of two deliveries since I checked!! If you are expecting/getting replies you would check a little more carefully before throwing away any mail!
Email may not be the best way but why would people have an email address if they do not check it? You would not leave your cellphone without a daily glance or your post box for days on end. Maybe you know your friends well enough to send an email to those who check regularly and phone those who you suspect will not receive the message. I feel the tone of some replies is putting too much onus on the giver of the party. The giver is sending out invitations, preparing food and drink, cataloguing replies and now on top must follow up those who did not bother to answer. They are being accused of being careless with their post and their children of not being able to take a message. It is enough to make you tired before you have begun!
I share admin´s and Miss Manners´ dislike of “regrets only”. A reply is the least you expect and this reluctance to use the prepaid, pre-addressed, pre-written cards is pretty lazy to say the least.

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Sophia December 13, 2011 at 1:26 pm

The embarrassment of the unexpected guest is a reasonable request, but what about an invited guest who brings along another without asking? Do you embarrass the person who brought the guest, or the one brought along? It seems that in that particular circumstance, the one brought along wasn’t aware of an invitation, and is probably going to feel embarrassed enough without the host’s help.

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admin December 14, 2011 at 9:42 am

It may not be the uninvited “add-on” guest’s fault as they may assume the invitation was “and guest”. But some awkwardness cannot be avoided. If the table is set for x number of people, making it x+1 probably won’t be too discreet. If one has a huge house where the guests can cool their heels in a parlor or living room while the dining table is rearranged thus mitigating as much awkwardness as possible. But in my house, the living area flows into the dining area and there is no way adding another chair, place setting would go unnoticed. But some awkwardness is just fine since that is how people learn their social graces for the future.

I’ve told the story several times of a formal, seated wedding reception I attended years ago where every seat was assigned. One of the college aged male guests brought along FOUR of his friends to the wedding and of course, there were no seating cards or places reserved for these uninvited “guests” at the reception. The bride’s parents declined to have the catering staff add chairs, rearrange the seating or add another table so these four young men stood against a far wall during the entire duration of the eating portion of the reception. It was only after every legitimate guest had eaten their fill that the catering staff allowed them to go through the buffet line. The bleeding hearts would say this was unnecessarily unkind to the four guests whereas I view the prospect of inconveniencing legitimate guests with squished seating, moving their places, etc to be entirely repugnant.

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--Lia December 13, 2011 at 2:51 pm

As much as I like the admin’s idea, I have another that works more efficiently in the long run. The first time a guest screws up the rsvp, I take them off the invite list. (Exceptions for close family and children young enough for me to lecture.) I might meet with someone off the invite list for lunch if I run into them, but they do not get invited to my home for any activity that requires planning on my part (and that’s all of them). I’m left with friends who don’t let me down. Problem solved.

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Calli Arcale December 13, 2011 at 3:03 pm

This is a very tempting solution, but honestly, I’m not sure there *is* a good solution. This can backfire spectacularly — either because they decide that must mean you really really really want them, or because they thought they replied and now are offended that you decided to give them the heave-ho over e-mail (a medium notorious for miscommunication). The alternate possibilities aren’t much better. You can go yet another year of grimacing and trying to be a hostess for people who didn’t RSVP and whom you don’t know if they’re coming, or you can put up with it this year and make a mental note of those people and not invite them again. The ramifications of either approach depend on your relationship to the people in question.

E-mail….. It’s becoming an increasingly common format. As long as you know all of the recipients are “connected”, it’s completely fine. If not, like if one of your guests is an 85-year-old person who is as comfortable with computers as most people would be with a den of rabid skunks, it would not be good manners to contact them that way. But that’s a no-brainer — know your guests, in other words. If you know them enough to invite them, you probably know them enough to come up with suitable means of contacting them.

I think it’s fair to put “RSVP required” on the card, or some note to the effect that if you do not RSVP, you will be assumed to be not attending. Then they cannot plead ignorance. (Random comment: until he met me, my husband did not know what “RSVP” meant. So ignorance does happen. Bad manners? Yeah, but through ignorance, and there is an opportunity to correct that.) For my daughters’ birthday parties, I’ve always tried to make sure there was stuff available for any non-RSVP guests; that served me well one year when one guest who had RSVPed arrived with his uninvited brother. We were able to take that in stride. But it really depends on what sort of party it is. Plated meals are very difficult to adjust in this way, and for these, an accurate headcount is essential. On the other hand, the hotel that did my wedding included 5 extra plates free of charge; they do that in case of unexpected guests, which I thought was amazingly awesome — especially since we *did* have someone who showed up unexpectedly along with their entire family. (That was the only group that did so, which I think is a pretty good RSVP rate considering we had a fairly large guestlist.)

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Wendy December 13, 2011 at 3:07 pm

I wish I’d have tried something like this for my wedding. What annoyed me to no end was the number of people who didn’t respond (and a response card is about as obvious as you can get in wanting a response!) who showed up to both wedding and reception. Fortunately, enough people who said they were coming but didn’t come balanced it out…and my mom (who insisted on catering) always plans for the 10% who don’t bother. It’s an unwritten but very accurate rule that you should always plan for 10% more than you expect. Because people are rude.

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RedWineDrinker December 13, 2011 at 3:12 pm

I’m really struggling with this one. After reading stories on this site for years, I’ve learned that “polite” doesn’t always equal “kind”. Or maybe I was just raised to be a doormat. I think my family – especially my husband – would be livid if I were to do this. And even if it’s correct, I think I’d be viewed as the bad guy, not the clueless guest.

I realize those that don’t respond are clods, but turning them away at the door is ungracious. And what would the world be like without grace to smooth things over?

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Xtina December 13, 2011 at 3:24 pm

I don’t understand what the big deal is about RSVP’ing these days–if you get an invitation and don’t have anything else going on (and want to attend)–then tell the host yes. What is it with this waiting around to see if something else comes up? It strikes me as very presumptuous that an invitee should think themselves soooooooo important that they need to keep their options open just in case their super-awesome presence will be missed at a “better” party. Nobody is so busy they shouldn’t be able to make a commitment a reasonable amount of time in advance and stick to it. Even the president maintains a calendar for that very reason–to be sure he shows up at events he’d agreed to show up at!

You should be firm enough in your convictions and personal relationships to be able to make a definitive answer in a reasonable amount of time (and finding out a work schedule or some other acceptable “maybe”), and stick with it. The only acceptable reasons to change your RSVP should be death or an emergency of some sort. What kind of better invitation are you waiting for on any given day, anyway? Some people are like this with every invitation they receive, and it’s insulting to the host (whichever host is being put on hold).

I also think that it might be a good cure for non-RSVP’ers to be turned away from an event, too–can’t follow a simple request and be courteous because the host needed to know how many people to expect, then don’t be surprised if accommodations are not made for you! Then they will remember it the next time they’re asked to RSVP!

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AS December 13, 2011 at 3:55 pm

I have once had everyone but one bail out on me (some of them had even said that they’d come!). I stopped hosting parties for several years afterwards, and I have since made new friends and stopped inviting the “friends” who didn’t turn up. In case you are wondering, these people didn’t dislike me, because they have invited me to parties at their houses afterwards, and we used to hang out together. The reasons mostly were because they found something “better” to do, and thought that I’d “understand!.

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Guava December 13, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Ugh, this reminds me of a wedding I attended as my best friend’s “plus one” a couple of years ago (yes, I actually saw the invitation and it did tell her to feel free to bring “a friend or a date”). Months beforehand she asked me to go with her. . . and I asked all the pertinent questions: when, where, when did we have to respond by, etc. I agreed to go with her about a month before the RSVP date (the wedding was to be held on a busy long weekend, so they sent out invitations well in advance to make sure people didn’t make alternate plans).

Fast forward to the wedding – now I usually hate weddings, but this one was tons of fun: Nice ceremony with a live band playing really fun songs, all about the couple (who are great people), open bar at the reception for a group that really likes to drink, reception held at a private campground (with a banquet venue onsite) so we could really whoop it up and no worries about driving, all around a great time.

Of course, my memories of this event are now tainted by one humiliating fact, which I didn’t learn until afterwards: my friend didn’t return her response to the bride until THE DAY BEFORE THE WEDDING, via facebook message. That’s right, I was one half of a couple of guests who couldn’t be bothered to respond to the RSVP. I was so mad! She knew a month ahead of the RSVP deadline that we were going and this wasn’t a casual houseparty; it was a wedding! Luckily the bride knew there were a couple of people who would do this and planned for extra guests, but I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had booted us right out!

I agree with Miss Manners: “If you issue an invitation, even the most offhand of invitations, such as “Want to take a break and go down to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee?” don’t you expect a response?” Imagine if you asked someone to go for a coffee and they simply refused to answer you, then got mad when you weren’t at cafeteria during coffeebreak!

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Gracie C. December 13, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Cobbs – really? Only death is an acceptable excuse to miss dinner? So if my husband gets hit by a car, I should still show up? If I have the flu, you’d prefer I come sneeze and cough on your guests? I get what you’re saying, but let’s not be extreme.

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ellesee December 13, 2011 at 4:29 pm

I’m going to toss some friends to ehell for this. They don’t rsvp, but they show up anyway with the line “we’re your friends, so of course we’re coming!” Then sometimes they rsvp yes but don’t show up. I think the worse was when they rsvp yes, but decided to have their own party instead because I didn’t invite their friends (whom I have very little connection with). Sigh. I keep a distance from those “friends.”

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Louise December 13, 2011 at 4:38 pm

I am firmly on the side of Admin on this one.

Admin mails out invitations three weeks in advance, so all the comments about having limited access to e-mail or text messaging don’t apply. Even with Postal Service cuts, you’re going to get your invite in a timely manner. I don’t know if Admin includes an RSVP card, but if not, I presume her mailing address and phone number are provided at minimum.

I do think hosts/hostesses should make every effort to make sure RSVPs don’t slip through their fingers — check the spam box in your e-mail, double check voicemail, ask your partner/kids if any proper mail has come to the house lately — and by all means give a call if you think it’s warranted. Personally, I’m not going to chase you down to see if you’re interested in my company and hospitality. If you don’t RSVP at all, you’re not interested. If you RSVP yes and then don’t show up because you decided you’d rather do something else that day, you’re not interested. (If you don’t show up because of an emergency/accident/illness, that’s a different story.) I’ve never been in a situation where someone’s said no and then shown up anyway, so I don’t know how I’d react; but I have cut people off my invite list because they couldn’t be bothered to RSVP or, when told we missed them Saturday, replied, “Oh, yeah, I forgot about that.”

I guess it’s fairly obvious that lack of RSVPs are a pet peeve of mine. That’s because I think invitations such as Admin sends out are special; they say to people, “I’m willing to spend time, effort and, yes, money on you to make you happy, take care of you for a few hours and strengthen our bond.” By not responding yay or nay to that, you’re ignoring it and essentially throwing it back in the inviter’s face. I think that’s awful.

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Allie December 13, 2011 at 5:04 pm

I don’t know about this. I only invite people over that I care for so much that I’d be delighted if they showed up even if they’d said they weren’t, and I always have way more than enough food for extra guests. And, if I feel I haven’t enough, there’s plenty of take-out places nearby to fill the gap. The more the merrier, I say. Also, I find the more I over-plan an event, the less I enjoy it. The unexpected or last minute plans are always the best.

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Tara December 13, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Sometimes though, rsvps really do get lost.

I got a wedding invitation last spring, but my husband and I wouldn’t be able to make it since he didn’t have enough vacation days at his work (it was for his cousin). I promptly filled out the RSVP, and asked my husband to take it to the mail.

There must have been some miscommunication between me and my husband. Because several months later, about six weeks after the RSVP deadline (and the weekend after the wedding), I found it buried under papers. I felt terrible about that. Of course, now I know, I need to walk them out to the mailbox myself!

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Alli December 13, 2011 at 5:35 pm

@Cobbs – Death is the only reason not to attend an event you’ve RSVP’d to? I can think of a few others. Things come up. It is not about being selfish and ‘me, me, me’, it’s about an illness coming up with your or your family (I certainly don’t want a sick, hacking person at my dinner table!), a car breakdown or an unavoidable work emergency. So long as you attempt to give as much notice as possible, most people I know are fairly accomodating. I had to call a friend two weekends ago to let her know I couldn’t make her Christmas party that evening (which I had RSVP’d to, in the affirmative, a month previous) – I had been sick all day and simply could not attend (I spent 5 hours in a health care waiting room the next day). Did my friend get upset at my selfishness for cancelling last minute? Of course not, she asked about my health, gave me her good wishes and asked me to keep her posted on my condition. I can understand people who chronically have ‘things coming up’ becoming a nuisance, but for most of us, in most situations, things will very occasionally just come up and most of my friends are understanding!

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Wink-n-Smile December 13, 2011 at 5:43 pm

I love those people who say “once you accept, death is the only excuse not to come.”

I truly hope those people are never in a coma, attached to life support machines, on the same evening as a dinner engagement. They’d have to be wheeled to the host’s home, and would really make very poor company.

And if you planned to drive, but your carburator blows, and you spend your last cent getting the new part, and can’t possibly afford a cab, and none of your friends can give you a ride at the time because they’re all going to the *other* party, well, I guess that just makes you really rude when you don’t show up.

Hyperbole is fun (I have a great enjoyment of hyperbole, and like reading it here), but it is not practical. I recognize the maybes in life.

In fact, if someone is honest enough to sheepishly apologize, saying “Whoops! I simply forgot,” I believe them and forgive them. I also note that they may need reminding, in the future.

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MellowedOne December 13, 2011 at 5:45 pm

The question posted in the link above shows a commonly held (and incorrect) view of RSVP’s…that “RSVP” means, ‘let us know if you’re going to attend’.

Here’s an idea..why don’t we dispense with acronyms for French etiquette phrases and use wording that people will have no problem understanding?

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Jay December 13, 2011 at 5:48 pm

@MellowedOne: It’s great that you don’t feel insulted by a lack of response.. but that doesn’t mean it’s not an insult.

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Wink-n-Smile December 13, 2011 at 5:48 pm

Sarah Peart – you’d be surprised just how many people do get cell phones and don’t check them or only check their mail on a weekly basis (or more).

Ask a letter-carrier someday how many times he sees the mail pile up until the people find it convenient to check.

As for phones, there are technophobes and technofools who won’t or can’t get the whole voicemail thing down.

It’s sad, but it is true.

Whether or not you make allowances for them is strictly up to you and your own tolerance for that sort of thing.

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Enna December 13, 2011 at 5:50 pm

I think two method of communications is always better then one. Even if someone checks their emails once a week if they have had two weeks to respond and they haven’t responded then that is their look out: it is important to check junk folders too just to make sure nothing important hasn’t been sent there by accident – also that there are no trojans etc. If I was arranging something I would call and email or write and call etc.

I do agree that no RSVP means someone isn’t coming. I would also politely say that I didn’t recieve RSVP from ABC guest and they would be the ones who could go without.

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Wink-n-Smile December 13, 2011 at 5:53 pm

I agree that the host *should not* have to track down the missing RSVPs.

Unfortunately, in real life, I love several people who are just not very big on etiquette, and just Do. Not. Get. It. I have the choice to be strict, or to love them and give them a pass.

I give passes to those I love, because I value them that much.

For those I don’t love, I give no passes.

Real life and ideal life don’t match, and it’s unfortunate. If I love someone, and they don’t respond, I’ll call and confirm, because I just really want their company that much. If I don’t love them, but was hoping to get to know them better, and perhaps love them, I’ll call the first time. I believe it could be a real oversight. If it’s chronic, and I still don’t love them, then it’s time to practice saying “No.”

Of course I realise that this means it’s almost impossible to clue-in the people I love most on the real etiquette of a situation. I can teach lessons to those about whom I no longer care, though.

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