We were at a party this past weekend and the host brought up an etiquette question that we said we’d pass on to you. What is the percentage of people who RSVP that they will attend your party, but then don’t show up and don’t ever offer an explanation? (She had heard 50%) And, do people only RSVP if they are coming? What if they’re not? Do they still RSVP?

T. H., Asheville, NC

I’m not sure of the percentage of people who RSVP positively and then don’t show, but I doubt that it is as high as fifty percent. Regardless, the fact that people do respond positively and then don’t show up is galling to be sure. Illness or an emergency are legitimate reasons for changing a “yes” to a “no” at the last minute, but any change in plans requires a phone call to the host with an explanation and regrets.


More common are the people who either only RSVP if they are coming, or worse yet, don’t RSVP at all.

RSVP (in French: répondez, s’il vous plaît), means “answer the invitation, please.” Whether it’s to accept or to regret, the host would like to know. When people don’t answer, they put the host in a difficult position. Do I purchase food and set the table for eight or six? After all, I did invite the Curmudgeons Who Don’t RSVP. Unfortunately if Mr. and Mrs. Curmudgeon haven’t RSVP’d, then as the host you’ll have to call them. You could stoop to their level by saying, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you know what RSVP means? I can’t plan my dinner until I know if you’re coming or not. So, what’s it going to be?”

A more appropriate way to begin the conversation with Mr. or Mrs. Curmudgeon is to comment that you’re concerned they might not have received the invitation and let them know you hope they can make it: “Eva, I’m calling because I’m worried you might not have received the invitation to dinner I sent two weeks ago. I’m finalizing plans, and so I hope you and John can make it. Will we see you Saturday night?” By asking the question directly, you put them on the spot to give you an answer.


By the way, I think the most common reason for not answering is the invitee simply doesn’t know for sure so he puts the invitation away to get to “later.” Well, later never comes, and the response is never made. Next time an invitation arrives at your house, respond immediately even if it is only to let the host know the invitation was received. “Margaret, thanks for the invitation. I’d love to come, but I have to see if I can get a baby-sitter. Can I let you know by Wednesday?” Then, be sure to follow up by Wednesday. A regret doesn’t require an explanation. “Margaret, thank you for the invitation. I’m really sorry we won’t be able to join you, but hope you’ll think of us again.”

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