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RSVP Etiquette


Each year I resolve to throw more small dinner parties – in the 6 to 10 person range. My goal is to do one a month and in my mind this small group is sitting around a table talking, laughing and, of course, loving every bite of the food! 

And now I’m going to take the chance of alienating people but I’m hoping they will understand…

Each year I do one or two of these small parties before I give up.  I don’t give up because it’s too time-consuming or too expensive or because I lose interest.  I give up because so many people don’t really understand RSVP etiquette. 

When I plan these smaller parties I really try to balance the guest list with a good mix of people who know each other and those who don’t know each other.  My goal is that each guest will have a certain comfort level yet be introduced to new elements.  I also like to balance the profile of the people.  This is the most challenging part for me, as I know lots of single women, a few straight couples, several gay men – either single or coupled and comparatively very few single straight men.  If I’m not careful I can easily end up with 7 single women, 1 single gay guy and 1 straight couple around the table.  People don’t mind the first time it happens, but the second or third they start getting a little tired of it all.  The mix is just a bit off, no matter how nice everyone is or how well they get along. 

So, I’ll carefully compile a guest list and even work out the "backups" so if anyone declines I can still fill the seats with a good balance.  Well, this all sounds well and good but the reality is that people don’t always answer in a timely manner.  Or they answer but they reply "maybe" or they reply, "Well I can make it but I don’t know about (insert partner’s name here)". 

Now, I am flattered that people do not want to decline because they’d really hate to miss one of my parties  Really, I am.  But I wish they understood what kind of havoc this causes.  Especially if (and this happens quite a lot) several people have this situation.  I’ve tried hinting that, "Well I’ll just make sure you’re on the list for next time", but that doesn’t even work.  People insist that this other obligation might not happen or will fall through so they stay as a maybe until it’s too late to graciously invite one of the "back-ups". 

And, there are those who accept and then a couple days prior or day of the party cancel.  Sometimes they have a good reason (they got sick that morning) but sometimes, it’s just that something else came up or I find out that they accepted without really checking with their partner and the partner also made plans for the same date. 

If you are having a larger, unstructured party all of these things are a bit irritating but can be overcome (although there can be other impacts, but don’t get me started on that right now!).  With a small dinner party, however, they have a huge impact.  There have been times that in the 48 hours prior to a party I’ve gone from a table of 10 to a table of 3.  Not only has the food already been purchased and, most likely, the preparation work already been done but I feel badly for the people who come expecting an interesting mix of people and find they are the bulk of the party!

So, it’s January 2005.  And again, I’m thinking that I’d really like to do a small dinner party each month.  But I’m sitting here struggling with the logistics.  I love it when it works but I hate the agony of the "maybes".  Hmm, which way will I go?  Maybe I should make them really small like for 4 people.  But I already do several of that scale.  Maybe I should just always invite 20 and hope 10 actually show up; with my luck all 20 would show up or, maybe worse, 12 would.  That’s just two too many for my table. :-) 

In the meantime, if you are invited to a dinner party, RSVP within a day or two.  If you need additional time at least let your host know that you received the invitation and that you just need an extra day or two to reply.  And then make sure you reply, when you said you would.    And make it a definite yes or no.  If you can’t make it your host will miss you – they did invite you after all – but they will appreciate your quick response and you will soon be on their list of invitees again. 

  1. Unknown permalink
    24-Jan-2005 3:54 pm

    People who can\’t commit to a dinner party should be given only one (at most) two chances and with no options for backing out. If they do so, let them know what an inconvenience it is and that future similar behavior will remove them from the invitee list. I would certainly let the last-minute backer-outers how rude and ungrateful they are. Sounds like you have lots of people to choose from to attend these delightful affairs — pick some that appreciate your efforts.

  2. Culinary permalink
    25-Jan-2005 8:19 am

    Thanks for the comment, Baytownman!I do have some "rules" about who is invited. I think the main issue is that people don\’t stop to think that they may not be the only ones hedging or cancelling late in the game and don\’t believe that their actions have an impact. I mean, my friends are all good people – otherwise they wouldn\’t be my friends! :-) And this all may be worse here in Seattle, where we have a very casual society. I\’d rather try to get people thinking about the impact of their actions so that maybe they will modify them – not just for me but for all the people who invite them. B

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