Invitation Etiquette

When you receive an invitation to a business meal, one thing is imperative, and the sooner you do it the better: RSVP immediately. Event planners are more frustrated by the lack of courtesy shown by invitees who don’t respond than by any other part of the event planning process. Even if you don’t know if you can attend, be sure to respond right away and explain that you have received the invitation and will let the organizer know by a certain date. Then, be sure to follow up by that date with your response. Otherwise, event planners are left having to call recalcitrant invitees, a chore which takes time and is galling to have to do. The planner needs to know how many people will be attending the event so he or she can coordinate with caterers or the event location. Not responding to an invitation is a quick way to have yourself excluded from future events.


Once you accept an invitation you should find out the particulars:

Is a spouse or significant other included? While it is always nice when a spouse or significant other is included, bringing one when they have not been can lead to a very embarrassing situation. Some business social events are just for employees, clients, or members of an association.

What’s the attire for the occasion? Different events and venues will require different levels of attire. An invitation to a country club will necessitate knowing what the dress code is and adhering to it. Often that means a jacket and tie for a man. I‘ve been to clubs that have a small selection of jackets and ties for guests who were unaware of their dress requirements. It would be a poor start to the event to arrive and have to “borrow” a jacket and tie. A meal at a restaurant may be business casual whereas a sporting event might be more casual. One maxim I like to use when dressing for a business event is, “It’s easier to dress down after you arrive than it is to dress up.” More than once I’ve arrived at an event with jacket and tie and soon realized I could lose the tie. Conversely, if I arrived without a tie and discovered everyone else was wearing one, I would be out of place unless I had tucked one in a pocket just in case.


Is it a working meal or business social? If it is a working meal, be prepared with the materials and information for which you are responsible. If it is business social, let your host decide whether to talk about business or not. As the guest you should follow his or her lead.

Double check the date, time, and place. Once you’ve confirmed the when and where, be sure to arrive on time, and if you arrive at a restaurant ahead of your host, wait in the lobby rather than be seated at the table.

If you have a business etiquette question, please email it to [email protected] You can hear more Emily Post etiquette advice on the Awesome Etiquette podcast featuring Lizzie Post and Dan Post Senning. Listen and subscribe at


Post’s newest book, The Unwritten Rules of Golf, Morrow, is available at

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.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.


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