The Lost Art of the RSVP
There was once a time when a guest would be mortified if they forgot to respond to an invitation. Today, not so much. As a party hostess, I always request a RSVP. Then, I always spend too much time trying to track down guests’ answers.
Why don’t people RSVP anymore?
RSVP is the process of acknowledging and answering an invitation. It stems from the French term, répondez s'il vous plaît, meaning "please respond.” Most people are familiar with it from a wedding invitation. It not only shows respect to your hostess, but allows her to better plan the day by knowing the number of people who will attend a dinner party, cocktails, or a children’s birthday.
In modern society, though, guests seem to think that not responding or last-minute canceling is acceptable, even when it comes to weddings. Sure, all hostesses know some things come up—we’ve all been there. But it’s disrespectful to not respond or fail to follow through with invitations outside of typically excused circumstances, such as illness, death in the family, or complications with children. (Note: My opinion on work excuses below.) And here’s why it’s so bad-mannered and, to be perfectly honest, borderline insulting.
The primary purpose for a hostess to request a RSVP is for the logistics of the event. Not surprising to the hostesses reading this, but if you have never planned your own party, you may not know. The host needs an estimated headcount for a cocktail party to ensure there is enough wine, liquor, and mixers, plus glassware, snacks, and even space in the closet for coats, bags, and umbrellas. For a dinner party, the headcount is essential. Your host needs to have a seat for you, set a place, and ensure there is ample food. If any shindig is taking place at a third-party venue, such as a restaurant or an event space, then the hostess needs the headcount to tell that venue! The same goes for a catered event at home. And by the way, your hostess is paying for you to be there, off-site or at home. Consider that before you cancel next time. For weddings, couples are on the hook to pay in advance for many catering and venue costs. That’s why they ask for the RSVP so early in the process. You many not think it matters, but that decision is not up to you. It’s up to the host who is shelling out the massive amount of cash to celebrate their love with you. How hard it it really to pop the RSVP card in the mail or hit the button on Paperless Post?
The more emotional side of the lack of the RSVP or the last-minute cancellation is the fact that is viewed as disrespectful. There’s no other way around it. It feels as if you do not care enough about their time, effort, or even money to take the two seconds to send a response, “yes” or “no.” Most hosts also take it personally if you ditch at the eleventh hour. The hostess cannot go back in time and undo the production involved in making a place for you at the event. If it’s an intimate group, it’s the worst offending—it can throw off the entire dynamic of the room.
You are invited to events because you mean something to the host, either personally or professionally. You have a relationship. However, how you conduct yourself in interactions with the host can affect the relationship. That totally makes sense with your friendships, right? If you always had a flaky friend, you’d be a bit upset it was challenging to hang out. That’s sort of how it is with the lack of RSVP or last-minute cancellations. Know that doing so may get you demoted to the B-list of invitees or worse, black-listed.
A note about work: As a New Yorker, “work” is probably the most common excuse I receive for guests not making a party. I get it—work is work, and we need to get it done. I’m also no stranger to deadlines—I’m a journalist! Deadlines rule my life, and things need to be done fast; sometimes, the same day (hello, breaking news). But I also know it’s an excuse that walks the safe line, so it’s overused even when the guest doesn’t really have to be doing that “work.” Case in point: If I, a journalist, and many other journalists I know can still manage to make it to events during post-work hours, I sincerely think most of you can too. It all comes down to time management. On Sundays, I look at my week and what events I have coming up, both personally and professionally. I know which days I can spend time after 6 p.m. to write and edit, and which days I know I’ll want an earlier stopping point to go to wine club, dinner with friends, or a publicity event for a brand I may write about. It has only ever been a rare occasion when someone passed me “work” at the end of the day and it was due immediately. If it is due the next day, but I have made a commitment to a hostess, I’ll at least stop by the party for a bit. I may leave early so I can accomplish something before bed, or better yet, wake up early to start it fresh the next morning. That usually results in better “work” anyway!