Over the last nineteen years of publishing The Social Book, the one social faux pas that I have noticed more than most others is disrespecting the art of the RSVP. I'm not sure why, but increasingly it seems that only the most conscientious guests bother to respond to social invitations, whether due to lack of interest or manners, or perhaps simply because responding via internet or email has made the once imperative RSVP something so casual as to be deemed unnecessary. We can thank Facebook and E-vite for promoting this lackadaisical approach to notifying hosts of our intentions. (For example, Facebook makes it impossible to get an accurate RSVP count for an event; it does not allow you to list your guest(s) or whether you're coming alone.) But I don't place the blame solely on social media and technology. We are all personally responsible for our own etiquette (and failures thereof).
What many don't realize is the amount of effort and money that it takes to put on an event. Be it something as simple as a birthday party or seated dinner in someone's home to an extravagant gala for 3,000 people, costs have never been higher for food, alcohol and beverages, décor, staffing, flowers, valet parking, photography, invitations, printing and postage, etc. Appropriately estimating attendance is critical to securing adequate resources, avoiding waste, and—in the case of fundraisers—breaking even or losing or making precious dollars.
Whether the event is free or a fundraiser, whether it is a cocktail reception or a seated dinner, if you RSVP that you are coming, then you must attend. Telling a host you will attend a seated dinner and then not showing up is an unforgiveable breach of etiquette, except in extraordinary circumstances. Changing your mind, deciding to relax at home, or accepting a "better" offer doesn't count as extraordinary. Short of a real emergency like being in a head-on collision and being taken by LifeFlight to the hospital, show up. Even if you have paid for your seats, your last-minute no-show could cost the organization the opportunity to include other paying guests.
A contributing factor in the downfall of RSVP etiquette has as much to do with invitation designers as it does with those who don't respond to invitations properly. No one should assume that an invite is intended for more than one person. Check the envelope first to see how it's addressed, then review the invitation to see how it is presented. If it says "invites you" or "invites you and a guest," then you will know how to proceed. If it doesn't specifiy, the polite invitee will contact the host via telephone or email for clarification. Whatever the purpose, every dollar being spent on an event is precious; hosts seek to optimize the potential of the event and the guest list is important to achieving that goal. Hosts, it is your responsibility to be direct and thorough with the envelope and invitation so that questions do not arise in the first place. Clarity is imperative: whether it is permissible to bring a guest, the suggested attire, whether or not food and drinks will be served, and a phone number or email address for that hopefully-rare question. These considerations in crafting the invitation will make a host's life easier and contribute to a successful event.
My hope in writing this is to enlighten and remind readers that "Répondez s'il vous plaît" means "Please respond," that hosts should say what you mean and guests should mean what you say, and that these concepts relate directly to the success of any event for host and guest alike. I hope your events are extraordinary.