Event and Wedding Invitation Etiquette – A Complete Guide for Hosts and Guets

ring and invitation photo

RSVP and INVITATION ETIQUETTE: Dos and Don’ts for Hosts and Guests

ring and invitation photo

Event planning is stressful.

What is almost always the most stressful is deciding who you should invite, especially when the cost is out of your pocket. Of COURSE you WANT to invite your closest 200 friends, but your budget only allows you to invite 100. What to do? Some of the most common dilemmas we see from our clients when planning their wedding or special event:

Are you obligated to invite you friend’s significant other to your wedding even though you have never met them?

What do you do when your guests don’t send in their RSVPs?

To whom and how do the inner and outer envelopes get addressed?

How do you address unwanted “+1’s”?

Can I skip traditional response cards for an electronic response service?

Guests have questions of their own:

When should I send my response in?

Can I bring a “+1”? What about my children?

What if I need to change my RSVP?

These questions can be tough, and the last thing any guest or host wants is for a simple misunderstanding to cause a burden on someone’s special day. Read on for insight on how to deal with common invitation and RSVP gripes.

Wood and flower invitation

What is an RSVP and why is it so important?

RSVP is a French acronym that stands for, “respondez s’il vous plait.” Literally this mean, respond if you please. If you are receiving an invitation, the right thing to do is to read it and respond in the requested manner, by the requested date and time. Guest count is an integral part of planning an event or wedding. If you don’t respond, you are not helping the host plan the right amount of food, drinks, party favors, etc. needed and could potentially cost them money. A timely response is the polite thing to do whether or not you accept the invite.

How soon should you respond to an invitation?

Maralee Mckee of Mannersmentor.com says 24 hours. She believes that a quick response shows your enthusiasm for the event and appreciation for the invitation. She uses an analogy saying that if someone held a 100 dollar bill in front of you that it wouldn’t take you two weeks to decide if you wanted it- very true! However, responding by the date and time indicated is fair and polite enough.

Remember that your host needs to plan. The date indicated for RSVP’s was most likely set in accordance with the deadline the host has agreed to with their caterer for final head count and other final planning details. This also means that it should be sent in time for them to RECEIVE it by the indicated date, so plan ahead.

NOTE TO HOSTS: Whatever way you choose to send the invitation, it is your obligation to make sure the guests are able to reply with as little effort as possible and no cost. If you would like them to mail in their RSVP’s, you are obligated to provide and addressed and stamped envelope within your invitation. Are you asking guests to response electronically? Ensure that the RSVP URL is easy to find on the invitation and the website is extremely user friendly. Give guests an email or phone number to use in case there are technological issues when they try to RSVP. Even if you are going to the electronic route, it might still be worthwhile to send paper cards for elder guests who aren’t as tech-savvy as your friends.

City masquerade themed invitation

What if some of my guests don’t respond?

Other than perpetually labeling them as irresponsible and inept, you should pick up the phone and call them. They are receiving a great honor by being invited to your event, and you have every right to get a clear answer on whether or not they plan on attending.

What if I need to change my RSVP?

According to Debby Mayne of Abount.com, if you confirm an invitation, you are obligated to go. “Cancelling an RSVP without a good reason is bad form and rude, so if you do this, don’t expect the host to ever invite you to anything again.”

What are good reasons to cancel? Death and illness. That’s about it. Cancelling to attend something else, no matter what it is or who it’s for, is not only rude but insulting. Now, we are all subject to circumstance and sometimes we make genuine mistakes. If you are a guest who needs to cancel their RSVP, be upfront and honest with the host, and contact them as soon as possible.

If you are unsure if your schedule will allow you to attend, call the host and explain. Call them the day you receive the invitation. This shows that you appreciate them inviting you, you are interested and that you respect their time and finances.

Hosts- always account for a few last minute no-shows or cancellations, as well as guests who may show up unexpectedly or with an invited guest.

To that point….

Can I bring a guest to an event that I received an invitation to?

If you are invited to an event and have visitors during that time, the polite thing to do is decline the invitation. Do your best to refrain from asking the host if you can bring them. Most people will feel obligated to say yes and that is no way to be invited to a party. Instead, politely decline explaining that you have company from out of town during that time and will be unable to attend. This will give your host the opportunity to extend the invitation to your house guest if they so choose.

 NOTE TO HOSTS: be very clear on the invitation whether or not guests can bring someone. You can do this by leaving a blank line (usually indicating that you may bring a certain number, most commonly a “+1”). In this age of social media, it is very easy to see who your friends are dating and whether or not the relationship is serious. If a guest has been with a partner for a decent amount of time, or you know that the relationship is serious, it is good form to invite their partner BY NAME (if at all possible), even if you have never met them.

Also consider that if no one likes to be alone, especially at a wedding. If you are inviting a college friend from out of town who will know almost no one at your event, it is good form to  add a “+1” for them and their enjoyment.

But what about my children?

This is cut and dry. If your invitation states your name, your partner’s name, and the words “and children” or “and family”, then you are welcome to bring your little ones along. If it does not, they are not invited. You ARE indeed being asked by the hosts to secure a baby-sitter for the evening (or as I like to look at it, being offered a free date night). Don’t make your host feel awkward by asking if your children can attend, especially if the words “adult only” are printed anywhere on the invitation.

Note to hosts: If you are asking out of town parents to leave their kids at home, make some helpful accommodations for them if at all possible. Securing a babysitter at the hotel for out of town guests will help parents who don’t feel comfortable leaving their children behind as they travel to celebrate your event.

And it is perfectly acceptable to request “no children” but still have a flower girl or ring bearer. If a guest seriously gives you grief that you allowed “those children” but not theirs to attend your wedding then they are clearly insane and should be removed from your life immediately.

Do I need an inner AND outer envelope? What’s the difference?

In short, no you don’t NEED both an inner and and outer envelope. Traditionally, both were required as the outer envelope would usually get near destroyed en route (think Pony Express mailing era) and the inner envelope served as way for the invitation to be presented elegantly when it was received by the recipient. Nowadays, the formal thing to do is to address the outer envelope specific to mailing purposes, and use the inner envelope to specify intended recipients. Our friends at The Spruce have a great resource for you to decode how to address your various guests on both types of envelope.

What does “regrets only” mean?

Some invitations request RSVP’s for regrets only. This means that you only need to respond if you are sure you cannot attend. If you fail to respond to a regrets only invitation, you are expected to be there.

I was invited to a friend’s wedding last year, but my budget is much tighter than hers was. Is it rude to not invite to my wedding?

With today’s ever changing social standards, it can be difficult to decide who to invite and who you just cannot afford to attend. One might feel obligated to invite another because you were invited to their wedding. Customarily this is true. If you receive an invitation to someone’s wedding, you are obligated to extend the same courtesy. However, if this acquaintance or distant relative invited you to their large, 500+ person wedding, you are not necessarily expected to include them in your intimate event for 75.

Modern elegant white wedding invitation

The final thoughts…

Just remember that if you are receiving a formal invitation, you are being asked to be a part of something very special and important to that person. You should feel honored and respect the fact that your hosts will have a lot of planning ahead of them and responding promptly will help them out tremendously and show your enthusiasm and appreciation. It is such an easy thing to do and can save some hurt feelings and possible conflict. And if your host sends an invitation impolitely (doesn’t include an addressed/ stamped envelope in their mailed invitation,) be the bigger person and respond accordingly.

When in doubt, call your wedding planner.