The Etiquette of RSVPs


I remember, when I was a kid growing up in the 80s, being invited to birthday parties. Invitations would come in the mail, or get handed to us at some social function, with all the pertinent details for the party. It was always fun to read the invitation, and as was always customary, we’d always RSVP to the host to let them know if we’d be able to make it or not.

Somehow or another, this concept got lost, and it’s time to blow the whistle. RSVPs still matter, and you should take them as seriously as you did that birthday party invite as a kid.

When someone hosts an event, it takes a fair amount of planning. At the very least is choosing a place, lining up any required provisions, choosing the right time and date, and making sure the guest list is appropriately constructed. For all this work, the host asks one simple thing of the invitees: to let them know if they’ll be there or not.

RSVPs are a matter of respect. Get that in your head right now.

Today, here’s what’s happened. Events are more and more common - places like Facebook and Eventbrite have made it easy to distribute invitations, so we’re invited to more and more things. As a result, people have taken RSVPs lightly - as if they’re an optional part of an event. Here’s a hint: they’re not.

So, let’s go over the rules again. If you were never taught the rules, consider this your lesson. If you were, and knowingly ignored them, let this serve as a reminder about what appropriate social interactions look like:

  • If you are invited to an event, regardless of method, RSVP to the host as soon as possible. The non-RSVP doesn’t help anyone, it keep the host unsure about how to prepare. Saying you can’t attend isn’t going to hurt their feelings. Decide one way or another.
  • If you RSVP “yes”, you better show up, short of something serious happening. RSVPing “yes” isn’t a way to say you like the event. You’re telling the host they can count on you being there. They’re planning around your attendance, so show up.
  • If you RSVP “no”, you better not show up. Surprising a host isn’t as fun as you think it sounds, and it’s equally as rude as being a no-show. They’ll stress about not having prepared for your presence, which makes their time worse. Don’t do it.
  • If you RSVP “yes” and suddenly can’t attend, CHANGE YOUR RSVP. If it’s a Facebook event, change from “yes” to “no”, and provide a quick note with an apology. If it’s within 24 hours of the event, personally call or message the host to apologize and tell them your plans have changed. Again, this is about respect. They respect you enough to invite you, so do them a solid, and return the respect.
  • If you RSVP “no”, and suddenly can attend, call or message the host to ensure that it’s OK to change your RSVP. This is increasingly important the closer to the event that it gets, as people have likely planned around you not being there. Again, respect.
  • For hosts, when hosting an event, if an RSVP is not required (meaning, you don’t care if people say they’re coming or not), explicitly say this on the invitation, so that guests know it’s OK not to RSVP (and they don’t bother you with needless replies). You might also choose to say “Regrets only”, which means guests should only tell you if they’re unable to attend.

There you go, the rules of RSVPing. We have a lot of events flying around today, and that’s awesome. More stuff to go to, more people to meet. That said, just because it’s easy to create and respond to invitations doesn’t mean that it’s OK to just throw away social courtesy. Remember: RSVPs are a matter of respect, treat them that way.

By the way, this goes for any - and I mean ANY - event that you get invited to. Everything from a wedding to a get together with five people. That includes meetups as well - basically anything where an invitation is made available to you.

Have you experienced the pain of non RSVPs? What do you think the problem is? Can we get better social manners back into the world, or are we doomed to a sloppy social life? Let’s chat about it in the comments!

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