People Don’t Always See The “Please”: RSVPs

The universally frustrating part of wedding planning for all brides seems to be the RSVP process.  Even without knowing what RSVP stands for (répondez s’il vous plaît, in case you were wondering, which translates to “respond please”) you’ve seen it often enough that you know it means “hey I’d really appreciate it if you could let me know if you’re coming”.  It’s on birthday, dinner, shower, you name it invites, but simply because of the scale of a wedding it seems to always bring its own set of complications.

Below are some of the issues that arise with RSVPs and what you can do about them.

1) Write-ins.  Basic invitation etiquette says that only the person to whom an envelope is addressed is the only one invited.  This is well established, and everyone seems to know this when an invitation to any other event shows up in the mail, but this idea seems to flee people’s heads when the receive a wedding invitation.  I really feel like this is a phenomenon psychologists should study.  It is unfortunately note uncommon for RSVPs to make their way back to you that have more people on them than you intended.  You may send the invitation to “Mr. Carl Fredrickson”, but get an RSVP back for 3 with the names “Russel” and “Kevin” added.  Worse yet, you may have tried to circumvent this issue and actually written out “1 seat has been reserved in your honor” and they either blatantly ignored it or even had the nerve to scratch out the 1 and write in a 3!

What can you do?  There aren’t any fool-proof ways to avoid the problem (though writing out the names of those invited with individual yes/no options on the RSVP card seems to deter it the best; that’s what we did), so it’s best to be prepared with your response should this come up.  You can choose to call the person in question and say “I’m sorry for the confusion, but the invitation was only for ‘X’ and ‘Y’, and we can’t accommodate any extra people”, or you can let it go and just accept the extra people are coming.  If you have the room and the budget, letting the extras come eliminates the need for the awkward “you apparently suck at etiquette and/or reading” conversation, however make sure the extras don’t violate any other guest rules you’ve set as this could upset your other guests.  If you said “no children”, but one couple RSVPs with their kids and you let them come, everyone else with kids is going to notice and wonder what was wrong with their kids that were told they couldn’t come but these kids are fine.  You still need to keep everything fair.

2) Substitutions.  Along the same lines as write-ins, some people seem to think that if you send the invitation for 2 people, and one of the two you invite can’t come, they’re entitled to just pick someone else in their place.  Let’s say you send an invitation to “Mr. Graeme Willy and Mr. Clive Gollings”, but Clive can’t make it, so Graeme just decides he’ll bring Paul instead.  He’s not going to ask, he’s just going to inform you of this switch.  It’s the same number, so it shouldn’t matter, right?

What can you do?  Depends on how much of a stickler you want to be.  If the only concern is numbers, then you’re probably best off just letting it go.  If the substitute is someone who violates one of the rules you’re enforcing for the rest of your guests (no kids, no cousins, etc), then you should call the offending guest and simply say “I’m really sorry, but since we told everyone else they couldn’t bring their kids/no other cousins are invited, I’m afraid that Paul’s presence would upset the other people there”.  Of course, some people will do the switch and not even tell you.  If they just show up, there’s not really a ton you can do, unless you want to risk looking like bridezilla and kick them out.

3) Picky eaters.  Some people feel it is their place to tell you what they will and won’t eat and expect you to accommodate it, even if you don’t have a meal choice on the card.  Now, some people have actual health restrictions that should be considered, but beyond that they really shouldn’t be telling you “I don’t like onions”.  It is also a good idea to have a vegetarian option for those that observe that lifestyle (after going a while without proteins of that type, they can sometimes have a bad reaction to suddenly ingesting it, and you definitely don’t want them to go hungry).  If your wedding is on Friday and you want to have mac and cheese, Sheldon doesn’t get to tell you “but it’s chinese food night!”

What can you do?  If you have a buffet or family style meal, you get the easiest way out.  In that situation you can either not do anything (since they’ll figure it out when they get there that there’s not exactly individual plates) or you can call/email the person and say “I’m sorry, but the meal is buffet/family style for everyone, so we aren’t able to accommodate individual food requests.”  If it’s a plated dinner, you have a less solid excuse, but you are still welcome to ignore the picky request.  A simple “I’m sorry, but because of the volume of food the caterer has to prepare they aren’t able to keep track of individual requests”.  Not sure if it’s a picky eater or an actual allergy?  Call to check.  Making an assumption that they’re just being picky could turn out to be life threatening.  If it’s a small wedding or its something that shouldn’t be too hard for the caterer to do (check with them first), it might just be the safer and easier alternative to just honor the request without asking too many questions.

4) The “I don’t need to actually send this.”  It is almost as sure as death and taxes, there will be some people who don’t send the RSVP in.  Whether it’s because they think it isn’t necessary or that they’re just special enough that you will just know they’re coming and what they want to eat is irrelevant, personally I think this is the most annoying of the RSVP violators.  When our RSVP date came, we were still missing 12 responses (that’s about 20% of our guest list!).

What can you do?  Once your RSVP date comes and goes, assume that some of the ones you’re missing resulted in “oh look it’s due today! I’d better drop it in the mail right now!” and that they will show up in the next few days.  After that point, you have no choice but to try to contact the people you’re still missing answers from.  Etiquette says you should call them (etiquette also says they should have sent their darned cards in, but I digress), but you know your guests better than Emily Post and there might be more reliable/better ways to get a hold of them.  For instance, one of the people we were missing a card from is a nurse on the night shift; there was no good time to call her where I could have caught her and not woken her up, so trusty Facebook was the best way to message her.  Put your best effort in to get a hold of the missing guests, but if they can’t be bothered to send their card in (or respond in whatever form you had set up your RSVPs) or return your messages, it is safe to assume they are not coming and proceed as such.  If you submit final numbers to your caterer and then hear from them, it is up to you how you want to handle it.  You can either take the high road and take their RSVP, updating your headcount with the caterer, or you can take the “look, you couldn’t take 5 seconds to call me back, and I already had to submit my numbers, you’re SOL” approach.

I don’t understand why all these things (well, except for the last one) are an issue for weddings, but not for any other party invitation.  I have never heard of someone calling up a birthday party host and saying “hey, I know you said little Timmy was invited, but I’d like to send his brother Johnny as well” or “when you order the pizza, Timmy doesn’t like pepperoni, so you should order a plain cheese for him”.

On an only partially related note, the same part of me that giggles at “ATM machine” and “PIN number” also giggles at “please RSVP”.  I know, I’m a bit of a snot.

Also only partially related, + 10 bonus points if you get the references I made with the example names I used.  For the record, I would have totally let the etiquette faux pas of all these people go because that would be an awesome reception.

What was your biggest problem (or is your biggest concern if you’re not there yet) with RSVPs?


Posted on May 24, 2012, in Guest List, Media, Reception, Wedding Planning Isn't For Sissies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Paul was an awesome movie 🙂 We’re doing online RSVPs, so hopefully that will prevent some of those things from happening. I’m sure we’ll still have issues with people not responding by the RSVP date, but at least we won’t have to worry about waiting for cards to arrive in the mail before we start harassing people.

  2. We are doing postcard RSVPs and I like the idea of having individual yes/no options. Right now we just have a statement like “only the people whose names are on the envelope are invited due to limited space…” but now I am worried that people won’t read it/will throw away the envelope before sending in/reading the RSVP. We already tried to do this more subtly with the save the dates (only the people who were going to be invited had names on the envelope) but when we gave a Save the Date to the parents of one of my childhood friends (off my mom’s list), the friend (who I haven’t talked to in YEARS) got all excited and assumed she was invited too… So I guess we’ll see about whose names actually go on the envelope for the invitation. :-/

    We also have a friend who has complained about the food at every wedding we have both attended so we made sure that there were some gluten free options at our buffet (it’s BBQ so it was actually really easy…) and that’s that…

    Blahhhhh why is it so complicated?!

    In other news, Cobalt and I were just discussing PIN number and ATM machine and their silliness last night… 🙂

    • Ick, good luck with that. It’s always hard to tell people “no, you’re actually not invited….sorry”.

      I tried to cheat and look up some more overly redundant phrases to make a new joke. I came across a list that says “very pregnant” is redundant, and that made me laugh out loud at my desk.

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