RSVP in the Modern World



“Whether it is online, over the phone, or by old-fashioned snail mail, the RSVP remains a critically important part of good manners.”  ~~Daniel Post Senning, Emily Post’s Manners in a Digital World: Living Well Online

What Does RSVP Mean?

invitation-32378_1280Répondez, s’il vous plaît is French for “Respond, if you please,” or “please reply.” Confusion abounds about the meaning of RSVP. Does it mean reply only if I’m coming, or “if I please”? Is it just to let the host know how many folks I’m bringing with me? Is it considered necessary only with formal events like weddings? Judith Martin, “Miss Manners,” suggests reducing confusion by ditching the French abbreviation and simply asking “Please respond.”

The custom of putting RSVP on invitations began about 1845, and around 1900 it came to be considered rude. It hinted that you did not trust people to respond on their own, without prompting. Sometime in the late 1960s, the RSVP request returned. When responses slowed again, hosts started adding a “respond by” date to give the invitee a deadline. Lately we see “Regrets only” on invitations—you only call if you cannot attend—but this has proved no more helpful than a standard RSVP.

What to do about an RSVP

table settingLack of replies creates havoc for hosts, who must plan food, drink, seating and more. A rough idea—at least—of the number of guests to expect is imperative.

How much time before you answer? Answer at once! At the least, get back to the host before a week has passed. This is the respectful, kind and considerate way to treat someone who has requested your company. A prompt reply:

  • Means you are less likely to forget to respond.
  • Helps your host plan the event.

If you truly don’t know whether you can attend, thank the host for the invitation and let him or her know you have to resolve a situation before you can say “yes.”

  • Do not change your “yes” answer to “no” unless you have a strong reason, such as illness or unexpected business conflict.
  • If you hold off answering in hopes of getting a better offer, you don’t deserve to be a guest!

Generally, reply to an invitation in the manner it was sent to you: formal by mail gets a posted response, call in your RSVP to a telephone invite, respond electronically to an e-mailed invitation

“RSVPs can be counter-productive, too, in the stress they can cause for both the host and the guest.” ~~Facebook comment

Why do We Stress Over RSVP?

  • Hosts can suffer financially if invited guests do not reply. (How much champagne should I buy? How much chicken satay and tzatziki do I order?).
  • Hosts may endure social anxiety. (What if I give a party, and nobody comes?).
  • Invitees may feel anxious as they face a whole string of actions to take: check with the spouse, the boss, the babysitter. Can I make a kennel reservation for Fido? Do I have the right clothes? Can I cover expenses the event will necessitate? An instant “yes” is sometimes not possible.

Why RSVP is Ignored in the Age of the Internet

social-media-580301_1280Social media has blurred the idea of a definite yes or no.

  • Often, invitations simply fall to the bottom of hundreds of received e-mails over the course of a few days. We lose track.
  • An e-mail does not stand out. The invitation is camouflaged by spam, ads, blogs, notes from friends and associates—no wonder it is often dropped from our personal memory.
  • The colorful photos and frenetic addition of information on Facebook almost assures that an invite will be lost in a sea of stuff. Facebook flattens and equalizes messages, so, an invitation will seem no more important than a vacation photo sent by your Aunty Alice.
  • yes no maybeThe “maybe” option: What is this? It tells your host nothing that will help with preparing for a gathering. It encourages stalling.
  • An e-invitation has a built-in procrastination factor, because the recipient knows a reminder will be sent later.

What not to do with an RSVP

  • Don’t bother to RSVP, then show up anyway.
  • Say “yes” when you know you can’t attend. You’ll hurt someone’s feelings worse by not showing up than by telling them “no” upfront and on time. “Yes” is not the same as Facebook’s “Like.”
  • Ask for special food choices and then don’t show up.
  • Bring extra, uninvited people with you, unless they were specifically invited (your invitation reads “and guest,” or “bring the children along”).
  • Lie about why you can’t come when you say “no” because you have a different party to attend. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram will get you. It’s OK just to say you have a prior commitment.

How Can a Host Encourage RSVPs?

  • save-the-date-914055_640Send a “Save the date” message. Then your RSVP will be, in truth, a reminder note.
  • Mail the invitation. It will have a better chance of being taken seriously. Including a postage-paid reply card will up your odds for a response.
  • Specify a cut-off date to RSVP. Make that date earlier than your true deadline for responses.
  • Do not offer a “maybe” response—it just prolongs the suspense.
  • Offer all of your addresses for a reply: e-mail, home, telephone.
  • Wait until after the RSVP deadline, and contact the non-responders with a gentle “Are you coming?” Let them know you are preparing food, seating, etc. Most folks will give you an answer at this point.

For more help in responding to all kinds of invitations and reducing RSVP stress, check out


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