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RSVP etiquette: How to be a great Host and Guest + Invitation Examples!

How to be a gracious welcoming host by giving guests the details of the event, and how to be a great guest to show your appreciation for the invitation! Let’s talk about RSVPing, no shows, and food allergies!

formal attire party invitation request etiquette

My party where I explained the format for the evening and what they could expect for food, also requesting what to wear! See the party here.

‘Tis the season of hosting and going to parties! There are guests and hosts and a lot of people and details that makes a party so great! With good communication from both guest and host, the parties can go seamless I will share some tips on how to make sure things go smoothly. This blog post was a reader ask (thanks Demi), what is the RSVP etiquette and how do you handle the complexities of guests?

— Remember, if you are looking for perfect friends, you won’t have any!

No matter who you are today, a guest or a host, please read both takeaways because in this lifetime you will play both roles. I am not an etiquette expert but sharing what my preferences are. Cheers!


How I send invitations

For digital I prefer PaperlessPost.com some are free but I pay to use their service. Each guest has a tracked link you can share also by text to follow up. You can see if they have looked at it and you can change their RSVP from the backend. You can also personalize it in so many beautiful ways like an envelope, background, stamp (digital look), and it can cost you like $1-2 an invite but to me it’s worth it.

I prefer digital because of the tracking for RSVPs.

The back end a host sees, some will say “opened” but you can also change the status if you’re like me and want a count

For mailing invitations I like Shutterfly – you can customize invitations and have them print each one custom for under $2 each! It’s pretty amazing and I love they can also send on your behalf. I send my girls pajama party (sometimes) using this method and Easter so the kids can have an invitation to open and I can also print a photo from the previous year on it that they can have on the fridge. The customization for children’s name on the invitations is what gets me :)

What to include in the invitation

Communicate as much as you can about the event and let the rest roll off, because hosting isn’t the best opportunity to exercise your inner control freak.

As a host it is your job to communicate as much as you can about the event so guests know: what to wear, what type of food will served like do they need to eat beforehand, what to expect, what to bring, and maybe even when the party is over!

how to remind guests who to bring

How I remind my girl gang to bring items, this is a much more casual invitation. See the party here.


Guest Etiquette: Advice if you are the guest

There are only a few rules – to show your gratitude of being invited: RSVP yes or no (don’t ignore it), show up on time, don’t show up empty handed — or offer to bring something, and if possible, write a thank you note after the dinner or party. Also, if dinner will be served, don’t arrive and say you already ate when your hostess has gone to great lengths to plan to feed you (if you did, just don’t mention it).

You RSVP’d NO but now you can/want to attend the event but it’s days away

I would use your best judgement but instead of assuming you can show up, ask your host. “Hey so plans opened up and I would love to attend but I understand if you have solidified the guest list.” If it was a sit down dinner, I would not have your host scramble and hope you get invited next time.

You RSVP’d YES but now need to cancel last minute (under a week)

Pick up the phone and call. Last minute cancellations usually have a VERY good reason, so if your presence is something the host planned on, call and explain why and say sorry. Over the phone apologies are always well received no matter the excuse, trust me. You can’t be mad at a friend who says they are sorry over the phone. If it is a large casual gathering — like a massive thing where your presence will honestly go unnoticed (like a preview event) change your RSVP. But I say always change your RSVP, don’t just no show!!

Which brings us to —

You RSVP’d YES but FOR SOME REASON NO SHOWED!

Oh dear, I hope you have a valid excuse. Don’t avoid texts if a host asks where you are – you will have to answer eventually. If you did not show up, go back to the previous advice and call. Explain, apologize. It won’t matter what happened, you will say sorry and they will forgive you because you acknowledged your faux pas. You won’t even have to worry about your excuse, because the call of apology will definitely make things better.

You have a food allergy or intolerance

I was never sure if it was OK to mention it but as a host, I would like to know these things especially if the item cannot be picked out! I read Holly Holden’s e-newsletter and she said, “Remember, as a gracious guest, take responsibility to alert your hostess well before the event date if you have food allergies.  Nothing is worse for a hostess than finding out one of the guests is a vegetarian or has allergies after they have been seated at the dinner table!” So please mention any allergies or food intolerances to your host.

You want to bring a +1 and you are certain your host won’t mind

I did say you are certain your host won’t mind – because for the most part, invitations are for the invite only unless it says plus one! Bringing a guest is probably OK if your host knows the person you are bringing like a family member and it’s a big party. If not, I would ask and make sure that’s actually OK, and it has to be a big party for me to suggest even asking the host. When you ask, also offer to bring something to the party, a dessert, food, pick up something so it seems as though you understand asking is a slight inconvenience but you are willing to alleviate any of that from the host.

You actually weren’t invited

As a host, I have to tell you that it’s hard to decide who is invited to what. I host a LOT of events throughout the year and some are large, some are small. There are themes, reasons for small invites and different groups and it’s NEVER personal.  If you know the relationship you have with that person then know you’ll probably be at another gathering!

Sex and the city invitation and just like that invite girls night

I wanted the food to get the girls excited – NY style! Just to see the theme and if they wanted to eat before hand that was fine too but also there was a character look I wanted to encourage and it was a BLAST, see it here.


Hosting Etiquette: Advice if you are the host

  • Always guests if there is a food intolerance or any allergies, you don’t to serve a beef stew only to find your guest has a beef allergy!
  • Take inventory of what you order and what was left over so you don’t make the same mistake at the next party (a tip I learned from my MIL)
  • Remember every event is a learning opportunity on what worked and what didn’t

Print my hostess checklist

You want to request a dress attire

If you need to say what to wear for a themed party or special occasion that is somewhat a special request, out of the ordinary of what is expected, put the request at the bottom of the invite. See the invite examples I share on this post. “Dress to Impress.” “Formal attire encouraged.” Otherwise, you don’t need to do this for every party you host, guests know how to dress for a baby shower, Easter, etc.

Guests who consistently flake

Not to brag, but I have 90-100% attendance rate for my events. I believe it’s because of the people I select to come. They aren’t casual acquaintances and though I do understand people have plans and can’t always make it, I do not invite people who are consistent with being inconsistent. I would use your own judgment with invitations that require you to have a hard RSVP like small intimate gatherings, but still invite them to larger parties where if they did not show up, it wouldn’t affect seating or food – they are still your friends after all.

You have a new guest/friend coming who won’t know anyone else

I am sure your friends are warm, gracious and happy to meet your other friends, and I want to continue to expand my circle and so this is what I do –

1 – I have the newer guest sit by me if it’s a sit down dinner, or one of my best friends who I know is chatty and will be welcoming, like a co-host

2 – I may give a heads up, usually to my co-host to look out for them and just make sure they feel welcome throughout the event

3 – If it’s a big party, I will take time to grab my meal and sit with them, at their table. My old friends are fine and know each other but a newer friend or couple, I want to make sure they know I am SO glad they came and I want to spend a moment with them to feel like I took the time to acknowledge their presence.

You don’t want a +1 or kids to attend – or certain friends to talk to others friends about it  – for example they are not invited

Say “Invitation Only.” in hopes that guests will understand not to bring others. Show the guest list on the digital invite so guests can see who was invited (that doesn’t guarantee it though.) On Paperlesspost.com you can manage the number of guests that can RSVP. I think Evite too. You can mention to friends to not mention to others if you are afraid of them hurting others feelings.

Christmas dinner invite

This is a group of friends of mine who are very punctual and already know the drill, and I start making dinner (soup) after everyone arrives because it only takes 10 minutes.

How to respond when guests say they “will stop by” but they will actually interrupt the flow

That’s fine, if that’s the kind of party you are having like an open house style or mingling, in fact I love that and I think that’s great if they have other plans and still make time to pop in to say hi! I could have peoples stop by most of my big parties but if it’s a sit down dinner or there is an event planned where stopping by won’t work, simply let them know what time WILL work. Give yourself plenty of time after the dinner or activity and guests are mingling like it’s an open house so you don’t have to stop what you’re doing when the guests who pop in real quickly come in. “Hi I’d love for you to pop in, anytime after 8 pm would be great! See you then!”

Last minute guests who said no to the RSVP but suddenly changed their minds

Make it clear on the RSVP when to RSVP by if it’s due to limited seating, because I understand when you want 8 guests and you attempt to fill 8. BUT – I will say as a host, I will make room for anyone who can come. There probably wouldn’t be a no, there’s no room answer for me. This is because my friendships are incredibly deep like these invitations are like my family/best friends who I will go back to the design template and draft up their name and change an order or give them my seat/food. These friends for these types of meals are my family.

Not enough extra matching plates? Mix and match. Or you eat off the odd one, guests always get the best!

Still can’t make the room? Tell them you’re sorry everything has been set and ordered, or whatever the situation. But personally I’d be splitting my meal with my friend and even sharing our butts on the same chair because to me the more the merrier, always!

Need to ask for food allergies

Whichever way you decide to communicate, you can place on the invitation “Please notify hostess of any food allergies.” You won’t need to do this if you already have a variety of foods like vegetarian, vegan options, etc.

Guests who have not RSVP’d

If you need the RSVP for head count, text or call your guests.

Guests who want to bring a guest

“Invitation only” on the event. Or if they do want to, depending on the event and the size such as a large gathering, why not? Again, let’s be in the spirit of making new friends. Your friends friend will be amazed at your graciousness to welcome them into your home.

Guests who want to take your leftovers home with them

Well you were planning on having your guests eat it all anyway! If you want to enjoy it solo after the party, I just avoid serving the entire catered order. I can always put out more if we run out.

You are not serving a full on dinner

Avoiding the details of a meal if it’s not traditional seems misleading and can leave guests confused or worse, hangry. The best thing to do is to clarify if there will be something out of the ordinary for the event, or if you are changing something up from previous hosted events. For example, we got married in the morning in Sedona with 25 guests and we didn’t do a meal, on the invitation it read “Cake and Champagne toast to follow” after the ceremony so it was clear it was a quick wedding, a small toast celebration. If you are having a non traditional wedding or event that would typically include a full meal dinner, put it on your invite to make it clear to guests what to expect.


Conclusion

If you are looking for perfect friends, you won’t have any.  Just be a good friend, communicate if you can’t come, say sorry if you can’t, RSVP when asked, and show up with appreciation! And as a host, gathering close friends and loved ones to make memories is what bonds us and is one of the best things to spend our money and time on! Have fun!


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Diana Elizabeth is an author, photographer, and obsessive antique shopper. You can typically find her in her garden wrist deep in dirt, at a local estate sale or planning her next epic party.

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