What RSVP Really Means — And How To Do It Right

Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
What do black tie galas and backyard barbecues have in common? You typically need to RSVP for both, whether by a formal written confirmation or a quick tap on the "Yes" button on a Facebook event invite. Despite how common the practice is, "RSVP" is one of those phrases that gets thrown around a lot, but not many people can quite put a finger on what it really means.
The term actually originated from France, and is a shorthand for respondez s’il vous plait — which translates to: respond if you please. The phrase first made its appearance in the English vernacular in 1845. Back in the day, a response was only needed when the invitee won't be able to make it — "with regrets." However, "RSVP" in the modern age means that the host typically expects a reply from you either way, according to Lizzie Post, an author and host of the Awesome Etiquette Podcast.
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It's convenient to just shoot off a text message to your host, but that's not necessarily the best way to go about things. We've asked Post — who also happens to be the great-granddaughter of Emily Post, the OG etiquette expert — to share the best approach to avoid accidental social faux pas.
If You're The Host
Depending on the size of your event and your planning needs, the time you need to give for the RSVP varies. For casual get togethers, Post suggest implementing a two-to-seven day notice period. For catered parties, where you might need a formal headcount, asking for a final confirmation one to two weeks in advance is best. For more important occasions, it's best to stay away from the Facebook invitations route. "It's best to send paper invites for something you want people to take seriously," says Post.
Follow Up With A Call
"Calling is one of the best ways to nudge your guests. With the tone of your voice, you can convey the excitement and joy over their presence," says Post. "If you receive an RSVP via text message, make sure to craft a response that indicates how much you're looking forward to seeing them."
Be gracious and patient if someone has to decline at the eleventh hour: "Saying 'I'm sorry to hear that — you'll be so missed!' is always the best way to handle it," says Post. "This shows that your disappointment is really about not being able to enjoy the company of this person,"
If You're The Guest
For Post, the biggest etiquette rule for a guest to keep in mind is to respect the RSVP by date. "This is similar to any situation at work: You wouldn't ignore a deadline set by your boss or coworker," says Post. If you're not in the position to give a definite answer just yet, mention that you got the invitation and need to check in with your schedule. "Try your best to give the host an answer really quickly, and do it in the fashion the host has requested — whether it's by post, phone call, email, or text."
When You Have To Flake
Life happens, and sometimes unforeseeable events can change your plans at the very last minute. When you find out that you have to cancel, apologizing profusely is always the best way to go. "Use a phone call to express your regret: It's important to show how sad you are ... and that you hope it won't throw a wrench in hosting plans," says Post. "You should always convey in your tone how much you appreciate being invited."
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