Every Wednesday, Steven Petrow, the author of five etiquette books, and the forthcoming “Mind Your Digital Manners,” addresses questions about digital etiquette. Send your question to [email protected].
Dear Mr. Manners: I recently hosted a party at my home, and sent out invitations about two weeks ahead of time. I used both Facebook and Evite, hoping no one would miss it that way. Significantly more than half of my invited guests never responded with an RSVP. I sent out a reminder email the week of the event, asking again for a response so I would know how much food and drink to purchase. The reminder email picked up just a few responses. When the day of the party rolled around, there were several guests who showed up who had never sent an RSVP, and there were some who’d said they were definitely attending who were no-shows. I understand people’s plans can suddenly change. But is it too much to expect a quick text or email: ‘Sorry I won’t make your party… I am stuck at work.’” – Miffed in D.C.
A: Ah, yes, RSVP fiascos continue to ruin parties and destroy friendships, though we cling to the notion that technology is our savior. Well, to paraphrase Mr. Shakespeare: “The fault, dear Miffed, is not in our devices, but in ourselves.” The truth is that we have all become much worse at the RSVP obligation (if that were possible), much to the consternation of hosts everywhere.
As regular readers know, I don’t cling to “high manners” on principle and have for many years now promoted Evites and even those artful Paperless Post invitations as worthy substitutes for many kinds of invitations (just about anything short of a wedding or a state dinner).
But I’ve changed my mind: In the past week alone I myself have been roundly (and properly) admonished for not RSVPing to an electronic invitation. Frankly, the reason is that I couldn’t find the bloody thing. Lost in my inbox, sent by an unfamiliar e-mail address, the invitation never reached my eyes, so I was the very perp you describe. On the other hand, my friend, the writer Allan Gurganus (author of “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All” and the new book, “Lost Souls”) recently sent a simple but lovely paper invitation to his book party, which I had posted on the fridge (both to look forward to and respond to). Said one reader: “With an Evite, ‘yes’ means ‘maybe,’ ‘maybe’ means ‘no,’ and ‘no’ means ‘screw your party.’”
The other part of the problem, as one reader of my Facebook page responded, is the casual, nonchalant nature of these invitations (let’s call them “Flakebook).” Many people ignore Facebook invitations, assuming they’re more like event announcements that have been blasted out to everyone on the host’s friend list. Again, just last week I received a Facebook invitation to an art opening—along with the host’s 844 other “friends.” As a poster on my wall said: “I don’t assume that a Facebook invitation is a real ‘request for your presence.’”
I agree, folks. If you really want your friends to attend your soirées, you need to do more and better.
So, what’s a host to do? I like what some of you suggested:
- Include a note within your invitation to the effect of: “Please RSVP even if you are a maybe. If I don’t hear from you I will assume you aren’t interested and I will not invite you to future events.”
- Get rid of this B-list of “friends” (using air quotes) and get real ones.
- In my house, the non-RSVPers are told that we were not expecting them and they were disinvited after the RSVP date.
But rather than cut friends loose, I have three other suggestions for casual get-togethers:
- Use a simple email instead of either Facebook or Evite; it’s more personal, thus more likely to be read. Just don’t CC your entire guest list (use the BCC function) to avoid RSVPs going to everyone.
- Create an old-fashioned paper invite that you can hand deliver in your ‘hood or send out by snail mail. I know, it’s very retro… which is very cool again.
- Hire strippers for your next party—and let your guests know that on the invitation. (OK, maybe that goes too far—but do make your party sound fun!)
The Takeaway: I don’t know that we’re going to ever fully solve this problem, and it’s clear that new tech methods aren’t helping. In the meantime, here’s some basic math to help you: Assume that about two-thirds of your invited guests will attend, and plan your food and drinks accordingly. Finally, one way to get a more accurate count is to call your guests who’ve not responded; tell them you need to give a headcount to the caterer (who may just be yourself). As The Eagles song “Take It Easy” goes: “Come on baby, don’t say maybe.”
Are electronic invitations helping or hurting with getting RSVPs?
Steven Petrow is the author of Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners, and can be contacted on Facebook and via Twitter, @stevenpetrow. If you need advice about a digital dilemma, send questions to Mr. Petrow at [email protected]. (Unfortunately, not all questions can be answered.)