R.S.V.P.: The Number One Complaint about Entertaining

Entry originally appeared in Peter Post’s E Word blog for The Boston Globe.

I had the pleasurable experience of speaking before the Junior League of Larchmont, New York. Close to 100 women were in the audience as I talked about etiquette in America today. The polite positive reception I enjoyed was turned upside down when I asked the group whether they ever experience any problems getting people to respond to invitations — the R.S.V.P. issue.

It was like sending a jolt of electricity through the room. Hands went up. The background chatter suddenly became very noticeable. Women twisted and turned in their seats. Clearly, I had hit a hot-button issue.

“What is it with people who won’t respond to an invitation?” one woman implored. “Why won’t they make the effort?”

Lazy or forgetful? Yes, those are certainly reasons. The invitation is put down, and the invitee either doesn’t bother to do anything about it, or it gets buried in the mail pile.

Not sure if they can make it? That’s another reason, although I pointed out to the group that even if you’re not sure, you should have the decency to call and let your host know you received the invitation and will get back by such-and-such a date with your answer. That takes the mystery out of the situation for the host.

Looking for a better invitation? Always a possibility, but clearly, that’s not an appropriate way to think about invitations.

One woman in the audience is a caterer, and she pointed out how difficult it is to plan an event or a party when you don’t know how many are coming. A “guest-imate” means you may suddenly be stuck with a catering bill for more meals than are actually served. It certainly isn’t reasonable for the caterer to take the hit for people who don’t respond to your invitation.

After a heated discussion, the ladies were in accord with my advice: The only remedy is to pick up the phone and call the recalcitrant non-responders and ask if they received the invitation and are they going to attend.

I can’t help but wonder why you’d want to send another invitation to a person who can’t even take the time to R.S.V.P.


  1. Tomato262

    The galling thing to me isn’t so much the logistical issues as the complete rudeness of ignoring an invitation. If someone invites me to a party, I feel honored that they thought of me, and I at least want to thank them for the invitation. Also, if I invited you to a party in person, face to face, would you just sit there ignoring what I said? Most likely not! You would say something like “Great, I’ll be there!” or “Let me check my calendar” or “Sorry, but I’ve got something else going that day.” Why do people think that stony silence is an appropriate response to an invitation just because I’m not there? I throw a holiday party every year, and I’ve instituted a new policy: The first time you don’t RSVP by the date given, I’ll contact you again and ask if you are coming. If you don’t respond next year, you’re off the guest list. Clearly my goodwill is not important to you at all, so why should I continue to extend my hospitality?

  2. Brockwest

    I totally agree that one should call the non-responders, to be able to plan appropriately. Some get offended at this, but I say tough, as they are the non-responders.
    What I totally hate even worse is when I have special tickets for the Opera or a Play, and have people do the “I’ll get back to you routine,” and don’t, or even worse, accept, then when I pre-call a week before (I’ve learned the hard way), have them say, “Oh, something else came up, enjoy your $200 seats, you have now 5 days to find someone else.”
    THEY definitely go on the do-not-invite list again.

  3. Country Girl

    One or two chances is definitely a good policy. Hosts should also be aware that if invitations are mailed that opens the door for numerous mishaps including misprinted addresses, lost or misdelivered invitations. Guests shouldn’t automatically be assumed to be lazy or noncompliant before a call is made to establish that the invitation was even received in the first place. Email invitations carry just as many uncertainties; spam folders, changed or less-frequently used addresses, etc.

  4. Sue Pritchard

    I have resolved the issue for the most part for kids parties. I simply put on the invite:
    RSVP for party location.

    That way, if they don’t RSVP, they can’t show up unexpectedly.

  5. fozzie

    Let me get this straight. If I issue an invitation to the symphony to a husband and wife, and I am told they need a day or so to get back to me, I have to wait indefinitely according to the rules of etiquette?

    • Alicia

      No If you issue the invitation and they tell you they need a day or so to figure it out you toss them an email or a phone call in 3 ish days if they have not gotten back to you and ask for clarification if they can attend or not.

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