If you have ever hosted anything, you know that there is a major problem in the world of invitation responses. I used to be the alumni director at a university. My office averaged one event per week, so I grew quite familiar with people’s lack of knowledge (or should I say respect) in this area.
In my private life, I usually host a handful of events that require a response each year. And each time I do, I am reminded how frustrating guests responses, or lack there of, can be.
There is a reason why hosts want to know who plans to attend their event. They will need to know how much food and drink to have available, how many place settings to prepare, there may be gifts for guest, etc. Maybe they want to develop a seating chart and want to place certain people next to each other. Maybe they just want to know who to expect.
In particular, the host, whether he or she is cooking or hiring a caterer, needs to know how much food to purchase and prepare. Caterers generally need to know at least four days in advance so they can order the entrees from their distributor or butcher. Most hosts will probably want a week’s notice, so that they have a final count in plenty of time to buy the supplies they need. They could be renting glassware or plates. Maybe they need to plan for parking. There are a myriad of details that are based on the number of individuals attending.
Here is a simple set of rules you need to know and teach your children. If your children are 30 years old and you never specifically told them these things, then please call them and do so now. It WILL be the difference between promotions at work and the glass ceiling, being invited to social events and being excluded, and from acting educated/polished versus sheltered/rough.
If an invitation says RSVP, you MUST respond. The invitation will normally provide a phone number or email after this statement. Call or email and advise the host who you are and if you will be attending. If the invitation was addressed to you and your spouse or a guest, then you need to state, if attending, if to expect just you or you and a guest. Please state the name of your guest, in the event the name is needed for placecards, etc.
If you are declining the invitation, it is appropriate to say, “This is Kayla Price and I must send my regrets for the May 20 dinner. Thank you so much for the invitation.” In this response, you have told who you are, what you were invited to, and that you will not be attending. You do not have to say why you are not attending. That is where many guests get in trouble, if they make up a story and then forget it. If you get caught in that situation, lucky you. That host will help you out in the future. You won’t be invited, so you won’t have to make up a story.
RSVP is an abbreviation for the French term répondez s’il vous plait, which means “reply, if you please.” This is not the same as “regrets only.” RSVP means whether you are attending or not, you must tell the host.
“Regrets only” means you only inform the host if you do not plan to attend. This refers to sending your regrets for not being able to accept the invitation. You do not need to inform the host if you plan to attend. The host assumes you will attend.
What do you do if you have told the host you plan to attend and then your plans change? You must attend the event. There are a few, very few, exceptions. If you have a real emergency (not just a better offer), you need to call your host immediately and let him/her know that unfortunately you can not attend due to an emergency.
Let me go one step further and tell you what constitutes an emergency. It means someone extremely close to you (you, your parent, your child, your spouse) are in the hospital or are headed there. If you are a single parent, it *might* mean an ill child that you must stay with. But, if your parents live next door and are always willing to sit with the child, that may not really be an emergency. If you have a real sickness, like a migraine, stomach flu, sinus infection or something catching, you may bow out. But, other than that, you have made a commitment to attend, so you better get your happy pants on and go.
What if you have guests visiting for the weekend of the event to which you were invited? You can send your regrets saying that you have out-of-town company staying with you that weekend. When the host hears this, he or she may say you are welcome to bring them. If he or she doesn’t invite them, then that means they do not have room for them.
Some people will say that you can ask the host if you may bring two more people with you. The problem with that is that it could be a sit down dinner and there is not room at the table. Or the meal is costing $100 a head, so you just raised the cost to the host. If it is a large event, you know your host well, and you know that 2 more people wouldn’t cause an undo burden on your host, you may ask your host if it is okay to bring two more individuals. HOWEVER, do not get offended if the host says no. This is their prerogative. Even if you know the host won’t mind, they might actually mind!
If you have sent your regrets and later find that you can attend, you can call your host and ask if it is okay to change your response, but ONLY if it is not long since you responded and it is not a sit down dinner. The reason the type of event matters is because when you sent your regrets to the host, he or she likely extended an invitation to another person or couple. There may not be room for you any longer. If you decide to ask, remember your host may say no.
Take your cues from the invitation. As I have mentioned before in a post, a proper invitation will indicate (by style of the invitation, if not by stating it) how to dress. The most formal of invitations is white cardstock with black printing, no designs. Attire for this would at minimum be suits and dresses, but could be tuxedos and evening attire. Of course, the type of event will help you decide how formal. A lunch, would be suits and dresses, and 7 p.m. dinner and dance would likely be evening clothes. You may ask your host when you respond to the invitation.
When I worked at the university, the president’s office always sent invitations on white fold over linen paper with the invitation written in black ink. The front cover had the university seal. In this case, the tenor of the company dictated the look of the invitation. Guests were to take their clothing cue from the event, such as a backyard cookout, or in some cases the invitation would include the attire, i.e. black-tie optional.
The invitation should also tell you who is hosting and, possibly, why the event is being held. If it is a sit-down dinner, you will want to arrive on time so as to not hold up dinner for the entire group. If it is a come-and-go event, then arrive and leave when you want. However, don’t show up early or in the last ten minutes of the event, bad form in both cases!
As a recap for hosts and guests, here is what to expect from an invitation:
Kayla Price (host)
invites you and a guest (who is invited)
to attend a garden party (type of event) in honor of the Queen of England (why)
6 o’clock in the evening (time)
Saturday, April 1, 2016 (date)
106 Trafalger Square, Sulphur Springs (location)
RSVP 903-555-1212 by March 15 (respond, either way, is required by a deadline)
From this invitation we have learned several things: you and a guest are invited, the event is outside (so dress for the weather), the party is in honor of the Queen of England (so dress nicely and practice your courtesy) and a response is required. This is all what is written.
Now for the unwritten: We know by the look of the invitation that the event is nice dress, we also know that since it is being held at 6 p.m., there is likely to be heavy hors d’oeuvres and probably cocktails. Since it involves the Queen, we may need to be cleared by a security detail, so once we send regrets or acceptance, we won’t be changing our minds. And, this is not the kind of event I would ever ask to bring other people with me.
Envelopes also tell us information we need. If it is addressed to Mr. and Mrs., then you are both invited. If only your name is on the envelope, then only you were invited. If “and family” follows you and your spouse’s name, then your children are also invited. If not, then you will need to find a sitter for your kiddos.
The world of desktop printing and electronic invitations has changed the invitation process somewhat, but the basics have not changed: Respond when asked, by the deadline prescribed. Not only will this assist your host with their plans, but it will help to keep you on the invitation list for the next event. It also shows you know how to be courteous and behave properly. And sadly, this is a dying skill!
Let’s discuss hostess gifts. Recently, at least in my community, more and more guests are feeling the need to bring a hostess gift. This can be a thoughtful gesture. But a thank you note and/or flowers sent after the event is equally as thoughtful.
You do not have to take a hostess gift to each event you attend. If you choose to take something, make sure it is something easy for the hostess to deal with, i.e. set it down so she can continue greeting guests or cooking. Don’t expect that she will serve the wine, light the candle, or change out the flowers on the serving table, just because you brought them.
You might also consider sending flowers a couple of days in advance, just to say you are looking forward to dinner. In this case, the hostess would have time to decide where to display the flowers. They might grace the dinner table, but they might not be visible at all. You should not have any expectations. It is a gesture on your part that shouldn’t have strings.
As for host/guest behavior, do not use the real housewives of anywhere as a guide as to how to act. Actually, you should use their behavior as a guide as to how NOT to act.
I have seen on some of the RH shows, the host or guest saying, “I should not be treated like that in my own home.” Or, “I was a guest, I should never be talked to like that.” Being host or guest neither outranks the other. If proper behavior dictates how we behave, neither host nor guests should be offending the other. For that matter, guests shouldn’t be offending each other either.
Sadly, many of the RH characters showcase individuals with money, but no social graces. I am hard pressed to think of a single actress on those shows that seems to be well-versed in etiquette or manners. But, they don’t know when to use “I” versus “me” in a sentence, either!
Bonus: Did you know that the Queen does not invite individuals to an event, but rather commands them to attend. All commands should be obeyed, so sending regrets DOES require a good excuse (prior commitment is not good enough). Invitations are sent by a member of the Queen’s household on her behalf.