Is the RSVP an Endangered Species?

I recently hosted an event at my home and was asked to provide 25 people. It was suggested that to achieve that number, I had to invite twice as many so invited somewhere on the order of 52 people.

As the event date drew closer, a significant portion of those who received e-mail and/or phone call invitations had yet to respond. I made a second round of inquiries and a few people finally weighed in.

Just 48 hours before the event, a third and final round of contacts went out and still more finally got around to responding.  After all, I needed to supply food and drink and needed something close to an accurate headcount. My fear was too many who had failed to reply would arrive and I’d be caught short.

By the time the event started, an even dozen had yet to reply to my calls or e-mails. That, coupled with a few last minute cancellations and no shows, meant I had fewer than 20 people there and I felt like a failure.

At the same time, I’m planning a more family-centric gathering and we mailed out invitations. A smaller percentage has yet to reply but the silence after several weeks is disturbing.

What troubles me even more is that when I mentioned the above incidents to others, they all nodded and told me their own horror stories. That gets me to wondering what is so difficult about a simply acknowledgement of the invitation with a yes or a no? Sure, things happen and people suddenly become available or needed elsewhere – I get that. But the utter silence or lack of comprehension that an RSVP helps the host plan a successful gathering amazes me.

Are phone calls or written invitations not good enough? Must we resort to more electronic methods such as Evite? In our household we’re divided over that as a proper tool for parties so choose not to use it. Even there, I noticed, people can’t be bothered for a simple click.

Just what will it take to get a proper, timely response?

10 comments

  • Amy

    Trust me, resort to Evite often does not help. I use Evite or Socializer, because we throw big New Year’s Eve parties and invite 100 to 120 people. We usually get between 50-80 people. There are several people who RSVP yes and then do not come with no explanation. There are several who attend year after year like clockwork but never bother to respond. And (this might bug me most of all), there are several who wait until the day of, or even an hour or two before, to respond, even when we say “please RSVP by….”

    It’s not just with parties. I’ve noticed a little bit of a trend when just inviting another couple to dinner or drinks or a movie, where the one spouse keeps saying “I just have to check with the spouse” and then the day before or the day of, they come up with a rather weak excuse. It seems as though people are 1) waiting to see if a better offer comes along, or 2) just deliberately n not making a decision so that if they had a bad work day they can just not come.

    I try to RSVP quickly, and if I say yes, I will go unless I’m actually sick. Sure, when the day comes I might feel tired and draggy and uninspired, but I said yes so I go — and I almost always have a terrific time, as I knew I would!

    (Sorry for writing a novel here. Can you tell you’ve touched on a sore spot?)

  • I wish I had a useful answer for you. It’s one of the ongoing problems of any age.

  • I think the big problem is that people have lost the ability to stand up and just say no, they won’t be attending. Far too often it seems that declining an invitation results in a flurry of questions demanding a justification for not accepting the invite.

    Perhaps hosts need to make 2 points clear in their invitation. First, that a no is perfectly acceptable and vastly preferable to no reply at all. Second, that only those who have RSVP’d will get in.

    It also helps if a tangible deadline is provided. “Must RSVP by …. date/time)”

  • Robert Fuller

    I hear you. In the past few months I hosted two separate murder mystery parties. Each one required six people (including myself), but they had to have exactly six people, or they wouldn’t work. And for both parties, nobody RSVPed (except for two people to whom I gave the invitation by hand, who simply told me they were coming). I had to contact them all to make sure they were coming, even though the invitations made it clear that an RSVP was necessary because each guest had an assigned role to play. So, yeah, I think it is an endangered species.

  • Jim Travers

    I’ll get back to you on that…

  • Bob, you might find these two links of interest:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/15/opinion/15cooper.html
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/22/opinion/l22rsvp.html

    The first was an op-ed that appeared in the Times on March 15, by a writer bemoaning the exact same problem. The other link is to the letters in response. I find the letter from Sarah Nathan particularly telling.

  • Chris C

    Bob. I’m glad you guys didn’t go with Evite because I don’t like that particular tool (or type of tools), that said, I’m sad that you ended up with the party being more stressful that it should have been. I’d put it down to how busy everyone thinks they are. (Note that I said how busy everyone thinks they are, not how busy they actually are.)

  • Peter Seferian

    Hi Bob, yes it is me. A ComicCon story sent me looking in on you –
    I see this in my boys and around me, the “instant” communication technology appears to have lead to the development of the no need to commit/decide phenom –
    The feeling seems to be that there is no need to commit or I can wait till the last minute to decide what to do (attend or not), sometimes they are hedging bets as in something better might come up at the last minue, but it happens to them so often that I don’t think it is concious thought(they are teenagers after all). Travel overseas w/o cell phones forced a return to the meet here in a hour (but who has a watch) world.

    I will admit that I sometimes worry that the I move quickly form one thing to another generation but complete nothing will have long term personal (commitment?) and professional implications (has anyone finished anything?). Talking is not always communicating and communicating is not always acting – some times doing is not the answer, thinking is. Think first then move fast, something I learned the hard way.
    If we choose to fill our downtime (waiting for elevators etc with distracting clutter, I for one would have no time for free thoughts from my lower lever brain activity pop into my head.
    On the upside, at least you had time for a party.
    Ciao

    they

  • jonathan eigen

    As much as I hate to say it, evite or something similar is your only hope and even that does not work as well as it should. I have played/coached both adult and kids soccer and basketball teams for years and it is shocking how difficult it is to get an answer to the simple question Will you be at the game? More often than not is is dead silence (both verbal and electronic).

  • Jennifer Hochberg

    Ah yes….the RSVP! I still believe in using it, whether one is able to attend an event or not. For the past 3 summers (not this summer though) I hosted a summer party at my house, & invited about 10-20 friends (a good mix), and at average, between 8-10 showed up.
    I did have a “RSVP by this date” line on the invite (yes, I sent out actual invites), & while I do realize we all have busy lives & tend to forget, I’ve had to call whoever had *not* responded by the RSVP date, especially because I was the one who was providing soda/ice, a small variety of appetizers (I had a BYOB option on the invite, and for each person coming to bring something to eat), etc. & I needed to have somewhat of a good head count before buying items…..last year’s party worked out the best because I didn’t buy as much that time around; first 2 years, I had way too many leftovers!
    So yes, I’m a strong believer in the RSVP…..& if people can’t come to a party or an event, its okay….life happens, but at least call or email the host/hostess!

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