Service of Silent Guests

January 12th, 2015

Categories: Entertaining, Etiquette, Excuses, Manners, RSVP, Uncategorized

What is it about responding to invitations? Ellen Byron wrote about the chronic avoidance in The Wall Street Journal with two titles: In the paper, “Please. Pretty Please. R.S.V.P,” and online, “Nobody RSVPs anymore.” The “anymore” in the latter title was a head scratcher given that this breach of manners has been happening for eons in both my personal and professional lives.

Byron reported that one company hired a person to follow up with 3,300 travel agents to avoid last year’s holiday party glitch in which 30 guests weren’t served and 60 ate in the hallway because so many showed without responding.

One event planner reported that an additional 33 people appeared at a wedding to which the caterer expected 456. The staff ripped into bolts of fabric to fashion last minute tablecloths and scrounged for chairs to accommodate the guests.

Committment issues are to blame say some manners pundits. Being invited to too many events was responsible for silence according to others. Take children’s birthday parties. Parents are urged to invite the whole class so none of the children feel left out which means a parent with two young kids might be faced with 88 RSVPs if each child attends a school with 45 in each class. [While a great concept, in practice it has flaws: Can every parent afford to host and feed 45 kids and to buy 44 gifts? There must be a better way, but I digress.]

Hosts are told to follow up with guests many times even after they’ve said they are coming. I am annoyed writing this tip. Doesn’t the guest have a calendar and/or memory?

Some respondents are so dumb they return a printed RSVP card without noting their name. For this reason hosts are told to number the cards lightly, in pencil, to match the number with a guest on the invitation list.

There should be a master list of people who chronically show up unannounced or don’t show up when they say they will so that they are omitted from invitation lists forever.

Why is it up to the host to do all the work? Doesn’t the invitee have any obligations? Short of never entertaining, do you have other suggestions to help reverse this breach of etiquette? Are you a chronic delinquent responder?


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13 Responses to “Service of Silent Guests”

  1. Donna Boyle Schwartz Said:

    Donna wrote on Facebook: Many people today have astonishingly bad manners! And it doesn’t even have to be a large crowd. We’ve invited people to a formal sit-down dinner, called them and gotten a “yes,” then call the same day and cancel, and then one person showed up anyway…among others. Reprehensible!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Infuriating. Do these people ever entertain? Do they not realize that you might have invited others in their stead had you known they were not coming or that you don’t have room at your table and now everyone will be uncomfortable or you might have made tartlettes and there were six and now you are seven– or are they terminally self-centered?

  3. Donna Boyle Schwartz Said:

    Donna replied on Facebook: Well, we had re-set the table without them, so then we had to turn around and re-re-set to accommodate the one that showed up. Needless to say, they have never been invited again. And I’ve stopped chasing people for RSVPs. If they don’t care enough to RSVP, I don’t care enough to cook for them….

  4. Simon Carr Said:

    I think the French origins of RSVP (“Respondez, s’il vous plait.” meaning “Answer please.”) tell the whole story. In polite society, one was expected to be capable of understanding French and of conforming to the most rigorously formal elegant behavior. Acceptance in it was a slippery slope, and one instance of deviant behavior, like not RSVP’ing, and one was out. Nobody dared not reply.

    As the social scene democratized, and even Jackie Gleason’s Raccoons were sending out invitations with RSVP on them, people relaxed, became lazy, sloppy and thoughtless. There was no punishment for breaking the rules. The pick up in business entertainment didn’t help. An invitation to a corporate event somehow is far less personal than a wedding invitation. One is only asked because the host wants one’s business, and he or she will still want it whether or not one bothers to go or even to reply. The incentive for thoughtfulness, far less politeness, is even more watered down by this.

    I saw this first hand where I worked. When we received invitations to events like Chamber of Commerce luncheons, at which we were expected to take a table, we used to send junior staff to paper the house rather than wasting valuable time going ourselves. As you point out, conventions and corporate events were a veritable nightmare. Despite dedicating numerous expensive people to tracking potential guests, we never did know who or how many were likely to show up. Early on, I decided to dispense with large gatherings to the maximum extent possible and to focus on entertaining with small lunches and dinners at which it was far more likely that we would be able to enjoy something more than pointless, superficial conversation.

    Not surprisingly, I’ve come to feel the same way about non-business entertaining. Consequently, while I’m good at responding (and showing up) at one-on-one lunches, I’ve come to dread events such as weddings and Christmas parties. Consequently, I’ll admit to being inexcusably tardy in the way I reply to such invites.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Of course you had extra last minute work to do, translating to stress–and nobody cared a bit about your TIME. If the reason for last minute refusal was a true emergency–friends calling from the ER or on the way to the airport to catch a flight to see an injured relative or being diagnosed with a contagious disease, then OK. Otherwise NOT OK. I am glad that the two are off your invitation list for good. Who needs this? Bet they have no clue why “we never hear from Donna anymore.”

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    If you don’t want to attend something and especially if you are certain nobody will be insulted so no strategy is involved, get the refusal over with immediately. That gives the hosts the option of inviting others–especially to a wedding where guest lists may have been carefully if painfully cut to fit budgets. They can invite someone else without the person thinking they were second string. Same with a private Christmas party if the party is given in a restaurant or in a small place. By dragging your feet you penalize the hosts and prevent someone else from having an enjoyable time. Some people like celebrations and gatherings with friends.

  7. Donna Boyle Schwartz Said:

    Donna wrote on Facebook: Oh, I’m pretty sure they know we were NOT pleased, and why! (I didn’t exactly have my “happy face” on while pulling the extra china and crystal out of the cabinet and asking everyone to scrunch their chairs together….)

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Under such circumstances it’s so easy to forget the garlic toast in the broiler until the acrid scent of burnt garlic and smoke wafts through the house….

  9. JBS Said:

    This is a big issue in Minnesota, too. Bill wrote a column about this issue for the Association newsletter and there were so many complaints about the column that he resigned. I don’t know how you fix this, but I’ve quit asking people if they are coming, I just assume that if I am lucky, only 10 percent will not be polite enough to let me know

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I suppose a person should give cocktail parties and skip dinners–except for impromptu ones. Have on hand a big ham, a big turkey, beef tenderloin and lots of plates and be done with it. Send folks home with leftovers if they are excessive. Amen.

  11. RCF Said:

    I have two thoughts on this one. One is the note that is on some invitations: “Regrets only.” That means the hosts are planning relatively loosely, but need to know if you are NOT coming. The other idea is to give a deadline for responses. i.e. “if I don’t hear from you by x-date, I will assume you are unable to come.” Trying to put myself in the shoes of those who do not respond, I am assuming that they think that their presence may not be important, so that if they can make it, great, if not, so much the better, or worse, it does not matter. The only times I have not responded properly are when I have lost track of the invite. That happens when I am asked so far in advance that I have no way of predicting what will be happening in my life at that time. So the only responsibility of the host might be to remind invitees closer to the event time if the original invitation went out long before the event.
    Interesting question! Thank you!

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I love the concept of “Regrets Only.” However, as you note, it must be for an event for which numbers of chairs or cost of each attendee are immaterial. Obviously if I or a client is paying $300 per person or more for dinner, this wouldn’t be the appropriate option. Given the track record of so many to not bother to respond, the meal guarantee or seating capacity would be based on a severely inflated number.

    Save-the-date emails or postcards are helpful so you can mark your calendar and you’ll know what else is going on by the time the invitation arrives.

    For a client’s or organization’s events, I always send reminders. However it seems insulting to me to have to track down friends and family for personal events.

  13. Lucrezia Said:

    Non response to any invitation is just plain bad manners, and unfortunately stupidity, inconsideration and rudeness are always with us. Further comments on the subject are redundant.

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