RSVP Etiquette: How To Respond To Any Invitation

Let's be polite, party people!

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Photo: Poh Kim Yeoh / EyeEm / Getty Images

When contemplating whether to include someone in a gathering, social conventions encourage us to extend the invitation—even if we know the person can not attend.

Invitations to casual events like a luncheon or memorable as a wedding are an expression of thoughtfulness and inclusion. Therefore, invitations always, always, always deserve a gracious response. Pay attention to whether an invitation includes an RSVP, how the invitation is delivered, and the expected response date. Here, we're tackling the complexities of RSVP etiquette. It turns out it's not as easy as you'd think!

RSVP Etiquette

When an Invitation Arrives and Says "RSVP"

RSVP is the abbreviation of the French répondez s'il vous plait, or "please respond," so your host is asking you for a response to their event. So respond, and respond quickly, preferably within 24 hours.

A speedy reply ensures the host can plan accordingly, demonstrating enthusiasm for the event and appreciation for being included. If your schedule won't allow you to respond quickly, call or text the host to let them know you'll be in touch with your RSVP as soon as you figure out your schedule. One more note: Responding on the day the RSVP is due is technically permissible, but it's far more polite to send your RSVP in well before the due date.

When an Invitation Arrives and Says "Regrets Only"

While you're only required to respond if you cannot attend, it's still polite to reach out to your host and let them know you're looking forward to the event. A "regrets only" RSVP is typically reserved for large events (think 250 guests and up) and should not be used for smaller gatherings.

When an Invitation Arrives and Doesn't Include an RSVP

You should still reach out to the hostess and let her know whether or not you will be able to attend. Once upon a time, hostesses didn't have to list RSVP on their invitations because people took social graces as law and replied without prompting. What a wonderful world!

When a Wedding Invitation Arrives With No Response Card

It wasn't a mistake! Here's the short explanation: Invitations to formal weddings typically forego the included RSVP card. As such, a handwritten response should note your presence at the event.

When an Invite Arrives via Text or Email

Technology is a beautiful thing, but it's muddied the waters when it comes to etiquette. Generally speaking, it's appropriate to respond to the invitation in the same manner as you received it. For instance, if your friend texted you about the birthday celebration he's hosting next month, it's appropriate to send a warm, friendly text in response, whether or not you can come. Because of the more immediate nature of texting, it's best to respond as quickly as possible. If you don't know at the moment of receipt if you'll be able to attend, thank the host for his invitation and tell him that you'll be in touch as soon as you've had time to check your schedule.

Be sure to follow up as it is key. The same thing goes for email. Just be sure to tailor the formality of your response to the original sender: Professional invitations, for instance, will require formal salutations and closings, while an email to a friend can be more casual and light-hearted. Evites, like Paperless Post, make things especially easy: All you have to do is click a button to reply! If you can't come, it's always nice to type up a quick note to thank the host for the invite and express appropriate well-wishes for the occasion.

When Your Guests Don't Respond

Hosts, this is for you. If certain people have yet to respond and your event is just weeks away, reaching out with a gentle nudge is fine. You can say something like, "Hi Susie! I hope you received the invitation to our dinner party. I'm putting the last few touches on the meal now and would love to get a final headcount. Please let me know today whether or not you'll be able to join us. Hope to see you then!"

How to Cancel Plans As Politely As Possible

Sometimes, even the best-laid plans fall through. Kids get sick, meetings come up, and you're periodically too tired from a busy schedule. Life happens. But when it does, there are a few ways to maneuver canceling plans politely. Some expert-approved ways to handle the sometimes awkward task of bailing include calling immediately to let them know, trying to reschedule immediately, and remembering honesty is the best policy.

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