The RSVP

Répondez s’il vous plaît. Please respond. Such a simple concept but something that is so often overlooked.

RSVP, whether placed as corner copy on a larger invitation or as a separate response card intended to be returned by mail, is a simple request that your guests let you, as host[ess], know who will attend and won’t. Depending on the type of party, this information can be crucial to both planning and the budget.

For my parties, if it has a printed invitation, it has RSVP information included. The less formal a get-together the less I need a for-sure head count but most of the time there are rentals involved (tables and chairs) and a menu to plan–I like having leftovers but there’s a line between not having to cook for a few days after an event and just plain waste. So it can be frustrating when someone doesn’t pick up a phone or send an email to let me know they have other plans.

First thing to consider is how much lead-time your party may require. For a wedding with a sit-down dinner, for example, your caterer should be able to tell you when they need an absolute number. If you’re doing it all yourself, try to figure out how late you can squeeze in extra chairs or make one last trip to the grocery store. When you have that information, add it to the invitation or response card.

When you’re hosting a pot-luck or something where it’s just a case of adding another pizza to the order or a few more burgers to the grill, you can consider who you invited and deduct about 10%. Small dinner parties or game nights being the most common exceptions, any time you invite a group of people over for anything you can guarantee that at least a tenth will have other plans or just not come. If it’s a holiday or other big event day, it might actually be 15 to 20-percent.

If you have included RSVP information (a name and phone number for the short notations, emails are appropriate for less formal situations) and it’s a week or so before the party with the majority of your guest list unresponsive, it’s completely appropriate to call or email those you know well to as if they will be joining you at the party. But only do it once–hostessing isn’t about badgering the guests, after all. A quick note about how much you’re looking forward to seeing them again is a nice way to make them feel, truly, like an honored guest and not just a name on a list.

Still, if even that doesn’t work you’ve got 2 choices: prepare for those who replied or count the non-responders as maybes and prepare accordingly. Since my biggest nightmare of having a party is running out of food, I go with the latter and send leftovers home with willing guests.

One of my favorite scenes from the movie Clueless is the debate over Hatian refugees. In it, the main character, Cher, says

. . . when I had this garden party for my father’s birthday right? I said R.S.V.P. because it was a sit-down dinner. But people came that like, did not R.S.V.P. so I was like, totally buggin’. I had to haul ass to the kitchen, redistribute the food, squish in extra place settings, but by the end of the day it was like, the more the merrier!

And that’s what really matters, isn’t it? In a perfect world everyone would RSVP, there would be no glitches during party preparation and we’d all meet our guests at the door in a calm manner and not scrambling to get that last dish (or 2) out onto the buffet. Until then, we just have to deal.