RSVP Etiquette

You've just received an invitation for an event. You're not sure you want to attend, so you toss the invitation in a pile of papers and forget about it. Weeks go by and suddenly the host is upset, wondering why you're ignoring their invite. Now you're the bad guy. Check out Modern Manners Guy's tips on how to avoid RSVP faux pas.

Richie Frieman
Episode #284


After writing and podcasting as Modern Manners Guy for a few years, you'd think that I was never guilty of any etiquette faux pas that I discuss.

And if you think that, you're seriously mistaken.

In fact, I often write from my own experiences, either due to my own errors or from witnessing the snafus of others.

Today's episode is no exception as it comes on the heels of a mannerly mishap. I was recently invited to a party, which I had every intention of attending. Unfortunately, I took a bit longer than I should have to send in my RSVP to the hosts. Gasp!>

If you’ve ever hosted a party, you know the feeling of having to wait for everyone to RSVP. So, before you leave the host wondering if you’ve fallen off the face of the Earth, check out my top 3 quick and dirty tips for proper RSVP etiquette:

Tip #1: It’s Always Important to the Host

In a perfect world, people would put RSVP'ing to an event at the top of their to-do lists. But let’s face it, this is rarely the case. What really happens is you get an invitation (either via email or snail mail) and although you may be excited about the event, you put off replying until a later time. And then that later becomes even later, until the next thing you know you get an email from the host inquiring whether or not you're attending. And now you look like you have zero interest, when really you were just being lazy.  Don’t roll your eyes, we are all guilty of this.

All a guest has to do is show up, but for the host, planning an event takes a huge amount of time, effort, energy, and money. 

In fact, just last month, I took my time in responding to an event invitation for an organization for which I'm a board member. Talk about embarrassing! Let me first say that I had every intention in going to this event, but (as it always does), life got in the way and I simply forgot. Thankfully, I caught my mistake in time, but if I hadn't, it would have been a major show of disrespect.

This is an example of a guest (me) not fully understanding or respecting the effort of the host. All a guest has to do is show up, but for the host, planning an event takes a huge amount of time, effort, energy, and money. All we have to do is RSVP, but while we're doing (or rather not doing) that, someone is planning, finding a venue, booking the caterers, etc. -- all things that we as invited guests likely forget to take into consideration. And to top it all off, the host's success is measured by how many people attend the event (but they won’t know that for sure because no one has RSVP’d yet!).

Tip #2: Do You Really Want to Go?

Regardless of the event, we all know right off the bat if we truly want to attend or not. And don’t put on a front now, folks, you hear your gut talking the minute you open the invitation. It’s that initial, instinctual reaction that says, “Great, a party!” Or, “Great… a party…” And that’s when improper RSVP etiquette occurs. When you lack interest in something, you tend to delay your reply. You feel rude saying "no" (which you shouldn’t) and what's more, you don’t want to say it right away because that would make it seem as though you really don’t want to go. Why do we do this to ourselves?

This back and forth mental torture is ridiculous. Do you think the event will cancel itself and save you the trouble of having to come up with an excuse for why you can't attend? Don’t lie, you know you secretly wish that it would take care of itself somehow. But it won’t.

Here’s the deal: If you don’t want to go or can’t, just check "cannot attend" right away and be done with it. At the end of the day, it’s your life and your time. Don’t search for an excuse because frankly, it’s rude for the host to pry for reasons behind your decision. But if the host does inquire, you have two options: either fess up and tell them the real reason why you can't go and hope they understand. Or – better yet – make other plans for that day and time so you have a good excuse, should you need one. 

Tip #3: How Important Is the Event?

One key factor to RSVP etiquette is how important the event really is. For this, you have to read deeper into the invitation. If it’s a barbeque at a friend's house, you’re looking at a casual day with a loose structure. However, if it’s a wedding, that is something that people have waited a lifetime for, so the planning comes down to the tiniest of details. And with these two very different events, come very different expectations of RSVP etiquette.

Weddings, anniversary parties, and any other event where there is a table setting environment, they call for an exact headcount. You can’t RSVP as a Yes and then decide that night, “Nah, I’m too tired. I’m not going.” That is very rude and you can be sure that the venue will charge the hosts for your spot anyway. In this case, you have a responsibility to at least show up for a bit, greet and congratulate the hosts, then leave early if you wish. 

The same thing goes for the reverse scenario. You can't RSVP as a No and then call a day before and say, “Yeah, actually I can come to your wedding tomorrow.” Well, you may want to but there may not be any room now. Sorry, bud, you missed out.

Bottom line: Look at every invitation as a sign that someone is thinking about you and wants to spend their special occasion with you. Remember the hard work involved in planning and executing an event. So if you can’t make it, let them know right away (within a week of receiving the invitation is best). And if you can come, make sure you’re on time.

As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.

Do you have any recent graduates in your circle, or perhaps someone who is looking to start a new career, check out my new book, Reply All…And Other Ways to Tank Your Career for great tips and advice on job success. It's available now!

RSVP card and woman checking watch images courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Richie Frieman
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