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Uninvited Guest Quandry

As a function of my job, I am sometimes invited to black tie affairs via email invitations. I've always assumed that if one is invited to such a function without any mention of bringing a guest in the invitation that one is simply invited solo. I have noticed, however, that my colleagues often show up to these events with (non-spouse) guests (for whom they've RSVP'd), despite the fact that their invitations are identical to mine. Is it rude to reply to the host to ask if a guest is included in the invitation? I'd rather not put the host organization on the spot, as they may consider it rude to outright deny the inclusion of a guest, but otherwise I find the process confusing without the helpful clarity of a paper envelope addressed to “attendee + guest.”
S. H., Alexandria, VA

Your question implies that colleagues who have spouses receive invitations that are addressed to both people so the spouse clearly is included in the invitation. The invitations for invitees without spouses are addressed only to the invitee which, as you correctly surmise, implies no ”plus one” privilege.

While your colleagues are clearly overstepping the bounds of the invitation by bringing a guest, at least they are indicating their intent in their responses. Better that than simply showing up with a guest. Bringing a guest without at least letting the planner know throws the count for the number of meals and the number of seats and tables into confusion. But still, they shouldn’t have imposed on the host’s generosity and assumed they could bring a guest. On the other hand, the host appears to be condoning the practice.

If you wish to push the envelope and invite a guest to the next event, your best course of action is to call the organizer when you receive the invitation and ask. Don’t simply indicate on your RSVP that you are bringing a guest.

In general, I believe if spouses are invited to an event, then invitees without a spouse should be given the opportunity to bring a guest as well.

Finally, the RSVP is a most vexing etiquette issue. By failing to convey the right information the sender leaves the recipient confused; while by failing to answer the invitation or not complying with what the invitation asks, the recipient causes headaches for the sender. One of the biggest complaints we receive at the Emily Post Institute is about people who don’t respond to invitations at all. So, kudos to you and your colleagues for RSVPing to the invitations.

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