RSVP to My Damn Invite!

There is no reader question this week. Instead, Helena has some new solutions to an old problem.

I firmly believe that to not RSVP when you have specifically been asked to do so is bad manners (as I’ve said in a past column). Nonetheless, I was recently forced to accept the ugly truth: Some people—even generally well-mannered ones—just don’t RSVP. I threw a cocktails-and-croquembouche party earlier this month, and mailed handmade invitations that explicitly instructed friends to reply. How often do you get a real paper invite, for an event where a tower of caramel-adhered cream puffs will be served? Nonetheless, a handful of recipients remained mute.

I decided to tackle the topic of RSVPs again, this time from the standpoint of the host: How do you get people to answer your invite? In order to develop strategies, I needed to better understand the psychology of nonresponders. So, at the risk of putting my friends on the spot, I asked a few of them point-blank why they had not gotten back to me. “I’m noncommittal by nature because you never know how you’ll feel in the moment,” admitted one shy friend. Another was a social butterfly: “I was waiting to see if I had to keep another commitment.” A third was definitely engaged (he was moving to a new house), but liked entertaining the fantasy that he might be able to make it. I used this information to develop my new approaches:

Mollycoddle MVPs. If you have a large number of nonresponsive invitees, it’s too time-consuming to remind them all individually. But you should consider doing so if the person is an important guest, or, as a friend of mine puts it, an MVP. An MVP is somebody you’re particularly disappointed hasn’t responded to your invite. This was the case with my shy friend, who tells funny stories and always spices up gatherings. Contacting MVPs individually shows that it really matters to you if they come or not, and thus helps dissolve any insecurity. A phone call is best.

Spell It Out. Guests sometimes don’t understand what RSVP means. Some think it means they only have to respond if they are coming. Eva Ingvarson, an editorial director and blog contributor for Evite, suggests writing “please reply” instead. Give a deadline for responding and—most importantly—a reason why you need a response. For instance: “Please reply by June 10 so I know how much meat to buy.” If you make guests understand how their non-RSVP affects you, social butterflies and poor planners, like my other two friends, may feel guilty enough to respond.

Use a Multitiered Approach. These days, you can’t invite people to an event just once, especially as electronic invitations often get lost in the blizzard of email. Jennifer Marples, owner of marketing firm Koa Communications, says she sends a “save the date” email as well as an electronic invitation, and sometimes a print invite too. Then she follows up with reminders. Evite, of course, automatically sends out a reminder to all your guests (or just to those who haven’t responded). Ingvarson says this causes a “huge spike” in replies.

Yes, it’s extra work to follow up with guests, not to mention a little humiliating. You feel like a kid on the playground asking the cool kids why they don’t want to be friends with you. As Marples puts it, “Why do I beg people to come to my parties? They’re always fun.” But a party is always more fun when people show up.

CHOW’s Table Manners column appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.