How to RSVP

RSVP stands for the French phrase "répondez s'il vous plaît" and means "respond, please." It is used when someone issues you a social invitation and wants to be able to plan ahead. Although many people mistakenly believe that you need to reply only if you are coming, it actually means that your potential host wants to know, and soon, whether you intend to come or not. Here's how to give the inviter the proper courtesy when asked to RSVP.

  1. Check your calendar. See if you are free on the appointed date and time. If you previously accepted another invitation for that time, you will have to decline the new one.

  2. Do you want to attend this new event?

  3. Make up your mind by the date specified on the invitation; if a "reply by" date was not listed, reply within 24 hours of receiving the invitation. What if something better comes up later? That doesn't matter. Maybe it will, maybe it won't, but it is rude not to reply quickly to any invitation and show up as promised.

  4. Don't leave your potential hosts in suspense. If you want to hold your schedule open, the proper response to an invitation is, "Thank you for the invitation, but I'm afraid I will not be able to attend" -- say, "No thanks," instead of, "Please wait until I see what else comes along." True, you might not get a better offer after all, and if you turned down the first invitation, you could end up having nothing else to do that night, but you are abusing the graciousness of your hosts if you keep them on a string as your back-up plan.

  5. Reply in writing or in kind. To be most proper, one would reply in writing, by hand. But one may reply in the same format that one was invited; for example, an email invitation can be answered by email. For an RSVP to a wedding or other formal event, write the reply on a small plain piece of stationery, mirroring the layout of the initial invitation. The lines are centered. Write in the third person. "Ms. (Your name) accepts with pleasure / the kind invitation of Mr. and Mrs. Jones for Tuesday, the thirty-first of October." If unable to attend, change "accepts with pleasure" to "regrets that she is unable to attend." You never need to give a reason for not attending. Just let the host know whether you're currently planning to be there or not.

  6. Communicate last-minute changes. What if the time comes and you can't attend after all? Maybe you're not feeling well, or there was some real emergency. Then, as soon as you know, you must get in touch with the host (by telephone is fine) to let them know you can't come, and apologize. Acceptance of a social invitation did not constitute a legal obligation; your RSVP just communicated your best intentions.

Because exasperated hosts were making a lot of follow-up phone calls to inconsiderate invitees, the "reply card" was invented and is often considered standard and even necessary. However, if a reply card is not included with a formal invitation, you still need to reply in writing and provide the stamp.

If you want to bring extra people, re-read the invitation. It may allow for your guests, in which case you can respond for your party. "Hi, Jane, yes, I would like to come, and my sister is also available; thanks for thinking of us." If not, you can call the hosts and weasel a bit: "I'd love to come to your party on the 31st, but my sister will be visiting me then." The host can either say, "OK, thanks for letting me know, see you next time," or, alternatively, "Well, why don't you just bring your sister along?" Never bring people who were not invited by name, even your own children, unless you clear it with the host first.

If you have special needs (e.g., you're a vegetarian), tell your hosts in advance. When you RSVP, mention that you are, say, a vegetarian, and offer to bring a dish that you can eat. The host may volunteer to make something themselves, and you can accept. But don't just show up and expect that there will be something for you to eat.

People you'd never think care about these things often do, from dates and grandmas to friends and employers. Depending on your crowd, you will get a reputation as either "rude" or "flaky" if you habitually fail to respond to invitations.

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