While working on weddings and events, and receiving some wedding invitations over the past several months, I found it seemed extremely necessary to address the art of RSVP'ing. It's often that one detail on the invitation that is overlooked or postponed, but it's actually one of the most important details. "Repondez s'il vous plait" is a simple request to "please respond," and let the host know if you can make it or not, even a maybe would do. RSVP'ing is always the polite and correct thing to do, but it's especially taboo not to do so when sent any kind of formal invitation, such a wedding or any kind of plated dinner.
Let's Review some simple responsibilities for both the host and the invitee, so this request can be made easier.
1) Be Specific: Be clear about who is invited and if there are any restrictions (in numbers, children, etc.) It's always proper to invite a married couple as a unit (for formal events).
2) Give a specific mode of response: Such options might be a designated email address, phone number, or website. Make sure this is somewhere where the responses are monitored frequently and in an organized manner.
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3) Use Response Cards: If you decide to forego technology and keep it traditional, response cards are a great way to track RSVPs. The BIGGEST thing to remember about response cards are to include an additional STAMPED envelope for the invitee to send it back to you. It is absolutely unacceptable to send an unstamped response card envelope, and you should probably expect to receive less responses back (at least on time). This method will cost you the additional stationery and postage, but sometimes tradition is worth the expense.
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4) Have a Deadline: Make sure to include a closing date for RSVPs, or trust me, people will RSVP as they are walking through the door. This might work well if it's an informal birthday party or kid's party, but not so well for your wedding. If necessary, if possible, follow up with those who have not responded. Don't assume that lack of a response means no attendance, especially if the USPS is involved.
2) Follow the invitation: This means watch your numbers. Be sure not to invite additional people. If it's a formal invitation the addressing will let you know if you are invited with a guest, your spouse, your family, or whomever. If ever in doubt, simply ASK. Be understand if additional guest are an extra expense, and cannot be accommodated. Do not just show up with an unaccounted for person(s).
3) Timing is important: Read and respect the deadline for the RSVP. If you needed to double check the date set a reminder for yourself. Know that final numbers are important for the host. Final head counts are usually due to the venue anywhere from 10-2 days in advance, keepsakes or party bags might need to be ordered, seating arrangements made, and money accounted for. So be considerate and respond in time (keep mail time in mind for response cards). If you miss the deadline it's ok to reach out and ask if it's too late, but be able to accept the fault if it is too late.
4) Respond As Requested: Whatever mode of response was requested, be sure to use that. If the RSVP is requested by email or phone, be sure to email or call. It's a viable exception to give a verbal, face-to-face response in the case of a house party or children's party, especially if asked in person by the host. In the event of a wedding (or large event) always use the requested mode to respond. It's important for the bride to be able to track responses, numbers, and names of guests. There's no way she can remember all verbal responses.
5) Don't show up empty-handed: Quite as it's kept (not really), an invitation is the polite exchange for a gift (graduation, wedding, birthday, etc.) Usually the receipt of an invitation necessitates the sending of a present (especially for milestone events and formal events). So even if it's a hostess gift, such as a fragrant candle or bottle of wine, don't show up empty handed. There is no excuse for this when attending a wedding!!
The true key to the Art of RSVP'ing is communication. People just want to have an idea how many and who is attending, so kindly oblige. You would want the same courtesy if you were hosting an event. Weddings are stressful enough, so this is an easy way to help make the bride's load much easier. If you're the host, these simple tips help keep you organized and reduce potential confusion.
Hope this helps!