Etiquette behind the RSVP


I’m beginning my table etiquette series with a post that has nothing to do with actual table etiquette. However, I feel the need to address the issue of the RSVP, mostly because people don’t do it anymore. They should.

RSVP Etiquette

What is an RSVP?

Over the years of teaching dining etiquette to youngsters, I have found less and less know what an RSVP is, let alone the etiquette surrounding one.

Have you ever received an invitation to a party … maybe a wedding … and seen “RSVP: (phone number)” or something similar toward the bottom? That means the person inviting you needs to know whether or not you plan to attend the event.

RSVP is an abbreviation for the French term “répondez, s’il vous plaît,” which means “please reply” or “respond, please”. Simply put, it means to let the person who invited you to their shindig that you can or cannot attend.

Why is an RSVP important?

As much as it is polite and courteous to reply to an invitation, it’s a necessary evil for the party planner to know how many people will be in attendance.

If you’ve ever planned a birthday party for your kiddo, you probably know what I’m talking about. Sometimes I think parents are the worst offenders. We tend to think rules go out the window if we’re invited to a party by one of our friends. Well, we still need to let that friend know if we’ll be there.

Here’s why.

Let’s pretend you’re planning a shindig for your friends and coworkers (and maybe some family, too). How much food to you buy? How much soda do you buy? How many paper plates and napkins do you need? Do you need extra seating? The answers to these questions depend on the number of people who will be there. You will only know that if those you invite RSVP!

Now, let’s pretend you’re like my mom and love to entertain at home. You decide to host an elegant dinner for a core group of 16 people. You have room for 16 people around your various dining tables. You invite them and only 12 RSVP. You plan for 12, set tables for 12, cook for 12. You get the picture. On the night of the event, the 12 who replied arrive … then two more arrive! All of a sudden, you have to scramble to set two more places at tables, shuffle food to make sure you have enough, and essentially find yourself in an awkward position. The guests likely feel awkward, too (they should!). Nobody wants that!

We can’t take advantage of our host, even our friends.

Replying to an invitation is considerate. If you reply that two people will attend, don’t take three or four. Don’t even call the host and ask if you can bring extra people. It’s rude. It puts your host in an awkward position. It might even put you off the next party invitation list!

If you reply that you will attend and something happens that keeps you from attending, be kind and let your host know. Don’t just not show up. It’s rude. It can put your host in an awkward position.

If your kiddo gets invited to a birthday party, reply that s/he will attend (or not) and stick to it barring unforeseen illness. Unless your child is old enough to be at the party unattended, stay during the party. Offer to help out if you can. Don’t expect the host to also babysit. Trust me, the birthday boy’s mama has plenty to keep track of.

How long can I take to RSVP?

Ideally, you want to reply within a day or so of receiving the invitation. If there is a date specified on the invitation (RSVP by August 13th), then certainly reply prior to that date. 

My RSVP Pet Peeve

What do you do if you reply to an invitation that you will attend then get invited to an event for the same day that you know will be more fun?

My daughter recently had this problem. Grandma planned a luau to celebrate our new swimming pool. We hadn’t set a firm time, but knew it would be on a Saturday night. Noodle was then invited to a friend’s birthday party late in the afternoon on the same day. It was actually kind of funny when she realized we probably couldn’t do both. She asked me what we should do, so we decided since we already promised Grandma we would be at her party, we should be polite and go to that. We got lucky with the weather; a slight delay with pool instillation caused Grandma to reschedule the luau. The lesson was learned, though, and that’s all that matters.

That’s a long story to tell you the short answer. My dad used to say people “wait for the best offer” when he complained about folks who decided option #2 was more fun. Trust me, you always get caught when you do this … I’ve caught people doing this … and it’s rude. There are a few exceptions I would let slide as the host … family or work events that you’re obligated to attend … but I’ve even ignored those to honor an RSVP.

What are your RSVP pet peeves?





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