Invitations & RSVP’s

by Jill Bremer, AICI CIP

Holiday time brings with it many festive social and business-related parties and events.  To put your best foot forward, it’s important to know how to both extend and respond to an invitation.  There are etiquette guidelines for each role, so whether you’re the host or guest, read on to learn about your responsibilities.

Issuing an Invitation

Invitations may be extended via mail, telephone, or email.  The world in which we live is certainly becoming more casual, and you may be tempted to simply pick up the phone or send a quick email to invite your guests, but I urge you to consider sending printed or handwritten invitations whenever possible.  Receiving an invitation in the mail makes the recipient feel special and honored to have been invited.  These invitations also allow you to set the mood, build anticipation, and express your personality.  They can be the perfect “kick off” to your event.

For a formal event, such as a formal dinner, reception, or wedding, choose white or ecru cards or double-fold paper for the invitations.  Engraving has become prohibitively expensive these days; a combination of quality paper and a good printer is all you need.

For events that are less formal, such as an open house or casual dinner, you can use fill-in cards from the stationary store or handwritten notes.  Evites are also acceptable.  A number of creative designs are available and a better choice than simply jotting a few words within the body of an email.  If the event is very casual, such as a get-together with friends, a phone call will suffice.

Whether formal or informal, envelopes should always be addressed by hand.  Never use computer-generated address labels.  Another no-no – using a postage meter.  Better to select a beautiful or intriguing commemorative stamp from the post office.

For large, formal events, mail the invitations 4-6 weeks ahead of time.  For cocktail parties or casual events – 3 weeks ahead.

Decoding an Invitation

When you open an invitation, take a look at how the envelope is addressed.  With a formal wedding invitation, you’ll want to look at the inner envelope.  Whatever names are listed on the envelope – and only those names – are the invitees.  If the hosts want you to bring a guest, your envelope will indicate that.  It puts the hosts in a very awkward position if you show up with an unplanned guest or call them ahead of time to ask if it’s okay to bring someone along.  Don’t do it!

Special instructions will be in the lower corners of the invitation, such as “Valet Parking,” “In case of rain…,” “No gifts,” etc.  If no reply card is enclosed, you will find instructions in the lower left hand corner explaining how to RSVP.  The lower right hand corner usually offers information about clothing requirements (“Black tie” “Business dress”).  If you’re unsure as to what to wear, it’s fine to call the host, hostess, or secretary for insight.  You can also ask others who have attended the function in the past or read

Responding to an Invitation

Every invitation you receive requires a response.  The exception to this rule is the invitation that asks you to pay money to attend, such as a benefit or auction.  Every other invitation should receive a response from you within seven days.

Many formal invitations, including most wedding invitations, now include a reply card for your response.  Send it back promptly, again within one week’s time.  For the record, it wasn’t that long ago that enclosing a reply card was considered in poor taste.  However, as most people have become remiss in their manners, it has now become necessary and quite acceptable to include this built-in “nudge.”

If no reply card is enclosed, RSVP instructions will be included in the lower left-hand corner.  If there is a phone number, you may call to accept or regret.  If only an address has been offered, you must write your response.  Passing the host or hostess on the street or in the hallway and telling them, “I can be there,” doesn’t count.  You must still respond according to the instructions on the invitation.

To respond in writing to a formal invitation, there are guidelines to follow.  It should be handwritten using black ink and centered on white or ecru paper.  It should also be written in the third person, just like the invitation:

Mr. and Mrs. Walter Johnson
accept with pleasure
Mrs. Allen’s
kind invitation for
Sunday, the second of June


Mr. And Mrs. Walter Johnson
sincerely regret that
due to their absence from the country
they are unable to accept
Mrs. Allen’s
kind invitation for
Sunday, the second of June

Notice that with the regret, an explanation is given for their absence.

To respond to an informal invitation that was issued in writing, email or via phone, you may respond in the same manner in which it was issued.  However, if you must regret, the best choice is always to write a personal note or call, explaining why you’re unable to attend.

© 2007 Jill Bremer