I had the pleasurable experience last week of speaking before the Junior League of Larchmont, New York. Close to 100 women were in the audience as I talked about etiquette in America today. The polite positive reception I enjoyed was turned upside down when I asked the group whether they ever experience any problems getting people to respond to invitations -- the R.S.V.P. issue.
It was like sending a jolt of electricity through the room. Hands went up. The background chatter suddenly became very noticeable. Women twisted and turned in their seats. Clearly, I had hit a hot-button issue.
"What is it with people who won't respond to an invitation?" one woman implored. "Why won't they make the effort?"
Lazy or forgetful? Yes, those are certainly reasons. The invitation is put down, and the invitee either doesn't bother to do anything about it, or it gets buried in the mail pile.
Not sure if they can make it? That's another reason, although I pointed out to the group that even if you're not sure, you should have the decency to call and let your host know you received the invitation and will get back by such-and-such a date with your answer. That takes the mystery out of the situation for the host.
Looking for a better invitation? Always a possibility, but clearly, that's not an appropriate way to think about invitations.
One woman in the audience is a caterer, and she pointed out how difficult it is to plan an event or a party when you don’t know how many are coming. A "guest-imate" means you may suddenly be stuck with a catering bill for more meals than are actually served. It certainly isn't reasonable for the caterer to take the hit for people who don't respond to your invitation.
After a heated discussion, the ladies were in accord with my advice: The only remedy is to pick up the phone and call the recalcitrant non-responders and ask if they received the invitation and are they going to attend.
I can't help but wonder why you'd want to send another invitation to a person who can't even take the time to R.S.V.P.
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About the author
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."