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How to handle unresponsive guests

The ABCs of RSVP etiquette

Community Newspaper Group
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We can send a text, an e-mail, and Tweet a picture of our grandma’s mouth-watering matzo ball soup with lightening speed, but for some strange reason, some of the people you invite to your wedding will not respond with a RSVP. Why is this? And what should one do when they find themselves in this kind of situation? The answer is as elusive as the secret ingredient in bubbie’s delicious soup (Parsley? Bone marrow? Fairy dust?)

So, we decided to ask an expert.

Jessica Sick is the Etiquette Concierge at the fine stationery company Crane & Co., where she offers advice to brides, grooms, businesses, and good old-fashioned stationery enthusiasts on everything from the appropriate way to word a formal wedding invitation to how to properly write a letter to a Duke. (Hint: It isn’t “Dear Duke”).

We figured if anyone would know, she would. So, we asked, and she — unlike some of your guests — answered:

The Wedding Guide: Is there a certain type of tactic one can take to gaurantee they receive an RSVP from all their guests?

Jessica Sick: Guests tend to be more responsive to an invitation RSVP with a printed deadline, so I suggest including a line that says “Please respond by such-and-such date.”

WG: How soon should someone respond with an RSVP?

JS: If there is a “please respond by” date, a guest should oblige. If there isn’t a specific date, however, it is always best to return it promptly — within a week of receiving it is considered prompt. Also, do not assume because you are a close relative or friend that the host knows you will be attending. Telling him or her in passing you are doing so is not sufficient. A proper mailing of the response card with a “yes” is required. Finally, do not assume not sending a response at all indicates you will not be attending. A prompt “no” is just as important as a prompt “yes.”

WG: Is it common for someone not to respond at all?

JS: Sometimes close friends and family members of the host believe that a verbal response will suffice in place of sending the RSVP card. However, it is always proper to send the RSVP card with a “yes” or “no,” as this makes it easier for the host to keep track of the guest list. Planning an event, whether it is a wedding or a dinner party, is a daunting, detail-laden task. The last thing a host needs is to have to recall your response over martinis two months ago.

WG: What do you do when guests you have invited to your wedding fail to respond by the RSVP date?

JS: Pick up the phone. Emails and text messages are easily ignored. A phone call indicates importance, and, if he or she answers, it’s the best way to ensure an immediate response. Don’t place blame, simply express concern about whether or not they received your invitation.

WG: Being that communication is so instant nowadays, why do you think people sometimes don’t respond in a timely manner?

JS: One reason is that instant communication has made our lives much busier (and much more distracting) in terms of how many tasks we are handling at once. You stop filling in the RSVP card because you need to text your husband to make sure you’re both free that day, then see that your friend just posted new pictures of her baby on Facebook, which we immediately go online to see, then forget what we were doing in the first place. Another reason may be because people are so used to responding to people instantly that the act of responding via snail mail seems cumbersome. Actually writing something by hand, even if it’s as simple as a checkmark, and then physically delivering it to a mailbox has unfortunately become as foreign as going to the bank to deposit a check.

WG: Do you have any advice for RSVP culprits?

JS: I recently got married, and I was surprised by how many guests didn’t send in their response cards — even close friends and family. I suppose they assumed I knew that, of course they would be there, though some admitted that it became buried under other mail or that they simply forgot. For the host, I would suggest not taking a lack of response personally. Be prepared to pick up the phone and call those guests who haven’t replied. Chances are they either have every intention of attending and are genuinely excited about your special day, or they aren’t sure whether or not they can make it just yet. I found that guests would rather not say anything than give you an answer they have to later rescind. For guests, I suggest replying as soon as you receive the invitation — you’ll avoid losing the RSVP card or forgetting about it and the host will be very appreciative. If you’re not sure whether or not you can attend, call the host and tell them so. Ask them when an answer is ultimately needed and then promise to give them one by that date.

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Reader feedback

Jhon says:
Aug. 16, 2018, 5:40 pm

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