Should An R.S.V.P. Always Be Sent With An Invitation?

Should an R.S.V.P. always be sent with an invitation? If it's anything where you need to have an exact head count then you should ask for an R.S.V.P. R.S.V.P. is an abbreviation for the French sentence "Répondez,...

R.S.V.P. is an abbreviation for the French sentence "R├ępondez, s'il vous plait." A literal translation would be "Reply, if you please." However, Judith Martin, in Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, says that an English equivalent which better captures the meaning would be "Kindly give me an answer." In other words, when R.S.V.P. is written on an invitation, it is a command, albeit a politely worded one, directing the recipient of the invitation to do something. It is not a mere suggestion; it does not mean that the recipient gets to choose whether or not to reply depending upon how much it pleases him to do so.

Many people, though, do treat replying as optional. That makes life difficult for the hosts. In an attempt to solve the problem, people sending out invitations, especially wedding invitations, often enclose reply cards along with stamped and pre-addressed return envelopes. Reply cards make it very easy and convenient for invitation recipients to respond, and the hosts hope that the ease and convenience will inspire more people to reply.

Miss Manners, however, "hates response cards, although she admits they are widely used. Her feeling is that someone too rude to answer by hand will probably also fail to take the trouble to mail the card, so there goes your stamp, as well as your head count." She says that one possible solution is to call the people you haven't heard from a week before the event, "and ask them whether you will have the pleasure of their company. If that doesn't shame them, nothing will."

Not every invitation requires an R.S.V.P. Robin Thompson, owner of Etiquette Network and the Robin Thompson Charm School, says that if she is "just having some friends over for an informal gathering, an R.S.V.P. is probably not necessary." It depends on how important it is to know in advance how many people will be attending. "If it's something like a child's birthday party," Thompson says, "the parents will need to know how many gift bags to prepare and how much food and drink to buy. For a wedding, an R.S.V.P. helps the bride know how to arrange the seating and so forth. So, if it's anything where you need to have an exact head count, then you should ask for an R.S.V.P."

As far as whether to write R.S.V.P. on the invitation, enclose reply cards, or use a more informal approach, Thompson says, "You can put your phone number on the invitation. Usually only for weddings would you have a written response or response cards." She agrees with Miss Manners that reply cards don't do much good. "It helps to remember," Thompson says, "that even if you put an address and stamp on a response card, many people will still not send it back." She has heard "every excuse: I just haven't gotten around to it yet; I am waiting to see if another offer comes up; I don't how to write a response; I lost the response card; I don't know what R.S.V.P. means."

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