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Out of Our Minds
Wednesday, December 14, 2005 10:33 PM
Kevin Salwen on Culture

My wife and I threw a holiday party at our house last weekend. The party itself was fine -- people ate, drank and seemed to have a good time. That's not the point of this post; I writing instead about invitations. We personally invited 115 singles and couples, the mail obviously from an individual since each envelope had our name in the return-address corner.

As of the day before the party, 55 people had responded. I don't mean 55 people had said yes; we got 55 total responses, yes and no. Put another way, more than half the invitees never said a word.

That had us scratching our heads. How the hell do you buy cocktails, prepare food or plan when you don't know if 50% of the invited guests are coming? So, early Friday morning, I sent a followup email to the nonresponders, telling them we hoped they were coming, but to please let us know either way. I got 4 emails back -- two nos, one yes, one I can't open your attachment (which said the same thing as the body of the email, a polite version of 'Are you coming, nonanswerer?').

The party was a success, the turnout was good (none of the nonresponders showed up). But what's going on here? Is this normal? Have people become so callous that being invited to a party no longer requires a reply?


Leanne Leclerc - 12/31/2005 6:30:38 PM

The good thing is, you now know who you're friends are - those who, whether they replied yes or no, thought you were 'worthwhile' of a response, making it even easier to plan your next party.
Leanne Leclerc - 12/31/2005 6:29:55 PM

The good thing is, you now know who you're friends are - those who, whether they replied yes or no, thought you were 'worthwhile' of a response, making it even easier to plan your next party.
Kevin - 12/28/2005 10:58:56 PM
A brief update: We just hosted another party in which we sent evites instead. The system is wonderful -- you can track who has replied, who has opened the invitation and not yet replied, etc. We had 100% response.

I don't think I'll ever send paper invitations again!
Susan - 12/28/2005 4:48:49 PM
Laura and a few others need to re-read the original message. Kevin sent his invitations via regular US mail - with envelopes. A request for an RSVP should tell the recipient that someone wants to know how many people will attend so they can plan for food and drink. Email replies are fine, phone calls are fine, and even written replies are fine, but a reply is only common courtesy. Try planning for a sit-down dinner without knowing who is coming1
Will G - 12/21/2005 7:10:59 PM
In the NYC and Hollywood (and beyond) professional party scene, the meaning RSVP has morphed into 'respond only if you want to come and get your name on the list.'

Which creates an inverse problem! A lot of people who respond that they ARE coming, never show up!

It makes planning increasingly more difficult in Century 21...
timbu - 12/21/2005 11:03:18 AM
Your experience is totally normal except I think your friends are more polite than most. When I've asked my friends about RSVP parties, people have talked about getting a 10-20% response rate, couting both yes & no responders.

I think people just weren't taught about good manners at home or never were in a position to see how an RSVP is helpful.

People do not understand the value of social capital and what it adds to the community. For more thoughts on that check out Robert Putnam's work at http://www.bowlingalone.com/

What do you do in response? I have almost stopped asking for RSVPs since it seems like a waste of my time.
Douglas E. Welch - 12/15/2005 7:33:11 PM
Funny, we had our 12th Annual Cookie Party last weekend, too.

My take on the non-responders is this...we hold 2 major parties (50+ people) every year and face the same problems that you do. Unfortunately, we only have, maybe, 2 friends who also have parties. I think that most people don't understand the importance of an RSVP as they have NEVER had to rely on an RSVP themselves. They simple don't know what it is like to try and plan a party when you are unsure how many people are coming. If we could get these folks to have a party or two, one day they might understand what we are talking about.

These same people are also probably used to responding to RSVPs for public events, then not attending. While this doesn't effect large events that much, the effects on a small party can be quite great.

In the end, it all comes down to a lack of understanding of their effects on others.

Laura - 12/15/2005 12:55:05 PM
I also think it's rude not to answer a party invitation but having said that, I'm sitting on an invitation for a party this weekend as we speak. My reasons are particular to me - I'm pregnant, due any time soon, and I'm not sure how I'll feel on the day. I suppose that at the back of my mind, I'm not fully committed to going and don't want to put anything in writing. Not a very well thought out approach is it as it would be just as easy to reply saying we may or may not be there but hope to make it.

My bigger thought on this though is that this is just a symptom of a more general problem - people just don't respond to emails. I am always disappointed but never surprised when I send a request out and it disappears into a black hole. I don't expect it to be done immediately but I do really appreciate an acknowledgement and an indication of whether my request will get done and an indication of when that might be. It saves us all time but yet, so few people do that. I'll even wager that a few of the commenters here are guilty of that too.

Enough waffle, must go reply to my email invitation immediately :)

Jenny - 12/15/2005 12:26:24 PM
Kevin, while it could be considered callous to not respond to an invitation, how do you know that each person got what you sent? Did you send everything return-receipt? Did you set your email to notify you when people opened your message? I think I'd give all the benefit of the doubt simply because you don't control all forces once mail leaves your domain. Of course, if these nonresponders habitually do not respond, then why do you torture yourself by inviting them? Anyway, I'm sure a little lite investigation into some of the more glaring nonresponses would help you conserve the epithets for those more deserving. And once those more deserving are identified, you can feel confident in aggressively pruning the guest list for your next shindig.
Mason - 12/15/2005 11:31:48 AM
I also disagree, strongly, with attitudes like Christopher R. If someone is nice enough to invite you, you take 30 seconds of your 'busy' day and respond like a curteous and polite human being. You don't blow it off, figuring your lack of respect for the host will be interpreted as a gracious decline. Attitudes may change by generation, but that's different from the ugly fact that our behavior is getting more and more frigging rude.
catherine howell - 12/15/2005 10:38:59 AM
Maybe this is why people have started going to Evite instead -- so they can have a system that tracks it all, can send autoreminders, and most importantly can let the world see who hasn't responded so they can be ridiculed for being the inconsiderate louts they are.

I have to say, I'm in your camp JT. What happened to common courtesy (free stuff or not)?
JT - 12/15/2005 10:27:38 AM
I have to say I take umbrage with Christopher R's attitude. It's just common courtesy to respond, especially when asked to do so. As the host, we're offering to give you free stuff (food, drink, fun). All we ask in return is the courtesy of letting us know if you can/will make it. I'm guessing each of us respond to 100+ emails/day. You're not too busy to answer one more. You've got 10 seconds to spare. I'm sure of that.
Christopher R - 12/15/2005 10:18:32 AM
Obviously if people don't reply, they're not interested in coming. Why is that so hard to figure into the mix? We're all busy -- so what if we don't respond. We're not coming.

Harold - 12/15/2005 9:35:55 AM
Jane, in answer to your question 'confused yet?' I respond 'yes'.

Kevin, what sort of party was this? 115 singles and couples all in your house? Are you a masochist or perhaps a modern day Daddy Warbucks? As for your non-responders, perhaps they just don't like you.

Living La Vida Harold.
Janet Auty-Carlisle - 12/14/2005 11:17:12 PM
Hey Kevin, Glad to hear that the party went well. Guess my invite is still in the mail :) Anyway here's another perspective. Attitudes change as generations change. What we would have been expected to do is no longer the norm. I too have been in that situation with the party rsvp naysayers and didn't know what to do. So I planned for more hoping less would show up in case too many showed up and I wouldn't have enough. (confused yet?) Bottom line seems to be if they don't contact you they won't be there. Sad to say that seems to be the way it is now. I'm for old school ettiquette personally and have actually begun returning to those roots that served me so well as a kid. Living la vida fearless, Jan www.tobeyourbest.net


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