Yes, We’re Still On

Dear Helena,

Why is it such hard work to get your friends together for pizza? I tried to do this recently. Five of us agreed on a time and place. Two weeks elapsed between making the plans and the time of the meeting. When the agreed-upon date arrived, only one person showed up.

I called the other two—a couple—and they were like, “Oh, pizza? We didn’t realize that was still happening.” They arrived 45 minutes late. The fourth guy was a no-show, and he didn’t answer his phone either. The next day, he said since he hadn’t heard anything further about the plan, he assumed it had been canceled.

These days, when you organize an event some time in advance, people seem to think it’s just penciled in, unless you send them at least one email confirming it. Why can’t people just write down plans and then stick to them? Are they just organizationally challenged? Or does etiquette now require that we send out event reminders? —Get a Calendar

Dear Get a Calendar,

In an ideal world, people would remember to RSVP and show up on time. They would always note the details in their iPhone or day planner, and they wouldn’t need reminders. But unfortunately, they do.

Overwork is part of the reason that people lose track of their social commitments. But technology is also to blame. Nowadays, people do much of their social planning by email, which is all too easily deleted or overlooked. Since the advent of Evite and similar online invitation services, people have become conditioned to expect event reminders—even when the invitation comes by regular email. Most insidiously, thanks to the availability of instant communication, people can reschedule or cancel plans at the last minute—and so they do. It’s a vicious cycle: The more often people cancel at the last minute, the more people expect it. As a result, without confirmation, invitees may doubt the event is really happening.

When the get-together has been planned by a group, the details may be changed so many times that it’s easy to forget what was decided. For instance, recently some friends and I decided to meet for martinis at our favorite piano bar. It took 19 emails to decide on a time slot that worked for four of us (the fifth had to bow out). By the 10th or 11th email, I’d stopped paying attention. I definitely needed a reminder.

If you’re the host or organizer, make your event memorable by being specific. Don’t write: “Do you guys want to get together for a drink next week?” Try this: “Want to meet next Wednesday at Martuni’s, 9 p.m.?” If you’re inflexible about where and when you’re meeting, some people won’t be able to make it. But at least everyone who agreed to come will show up.

In addition to your invitation, you should still send a reminder if the event is more than two days away. Don’t leave the reminder until the day before—otherwise people may have made other plans. Send it at the start of the week in which the event takes place, or at the end of the previous week if the event is on a Monday or Tuesday. (Don’t send your reminder on a weekend, because many people don’t check email then.)

A reminder is a chance to get people psyched up: “Can’t wait for sour-apple martinis and show tunes!” It’s also a way to let people know their presence matters. Often events fade from people’s minds because the invitees think they won’t be missed, especially if they know from the email invitation that a large group is going. So include personal comments, like “Can’t wait to hear about Lessley’s progress on the banjo, Nell’s trip to Bhutan, and James’s thoughts on Sarah Palin.” If you jolly people along in this way, a reminder serves two purposes: As well as jogging people’s memories, you prevent last-minute cancellations.

Table Manners appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.