You have 18th century socialites to thank for the familiar acronym that crops up at the bottom of formal wedding invitations, hen dos and birthday parties. RSVP stands for ‘répondez s’il vous plaît’ and was borrowed from the French by well-to-do Brits in the 1800s because, let’s face it, ‘reply now please’ just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
Fast forward to the 21st century and the sophisticated imperative has become far less of a mouthful, but what does it really mean?
Past usage normally implied that, unless a guest responded to an RSVP with their regrets, any invitees were expected to attend. This is possibly because the Royal Mail wasn’t quite up a speed a few centuries back, so maintaining a ‘no news is good news’ approach to event planning was simpler and more economical all round.
In modern convention, however, an instruction to ‘RSVP’ normally requires a concrete response either way, unless ‘regrets only’ is clearly stated on the invitation. This isn’t just because we’ve become socially flaky in the era of instant contact; in the case of weddings in particular, everything from guests' meal choices to whether they’ll be accompanied by a plus one are required knowledge alongside the basic attendance aspect.
Similarly, just because today’s technology allows for speedy communication via Whatsapp, that doesn’t mean that you should ignore a formal request to RSVP. Here’s why it’s still ‘a thing’.
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Why Do We Use RSVP?
Aside from it looking fancy? It saves money on wording for wedding stationery for starters, plus it’s a simple call to action for guests. ‘RSVP’ at the bottom of your invite gives clear instructions for how you need your guests to respond and when you need it by.
What Can I Say Instead of RSVP?
You could ask guests to ‘please/kindly respond by…’ if you prefer. That said a prominent RSVP request alongside a clear explanation of the best means to confirm or decline attendance is less likely to get lost in the small print of a wedding invitation.
How Far in Advance Do We Need RSVPs Back?
Wedding invitations are typically mailed out between 10 and six weeks before the wedding. Your date for guests to RSVP by will likely be about three to four weeks before the wedding so you can get final numbers to your venue and caterers.
If you've sent out a save the date, then you'll likely have already got some nos back from those who definitely can't attend before the invites even go out. We recommend creating an A list and a B list of guests so when you begin getting yeses and nos back from your A list (those you can't imagine not being there on your big day), you can start sending invites to the B list (those you'd like to be there but you don't have the space for unless you get some nos). This is why getting RSVPs in as early as possible is helpful as you can quickly get extra invites out.
How Do I Respond to an RSVP?
The best answer here is – exactly as the couple has requested. It may be that there is an enclosed RSVP notecard with a tickbox, meal option and other essential information, in which case you’ll need to fill in the information required, stating exactly who will be attending from the invited party. Often there will be a stamped addressed envelope enclosed alongside your RSVP slip, so trot on down to the postbox ASAP.
A couple may opt to save on postage and paper and instead ask guests to respond by way of email or a dedicated wedding website. This could give you more scope to write a personal message to the couple alongside your RSVP.
Whatever you do, don’t simply DM the bride and leave it at that. The couple will have an RSVP system in place and will need to pass on the final headcount to wedding suppliers ahead of time to ensure that every guest is quite literally catered for. Sliding into the DMs with a casual ‘yay or nay’ is not only disrespectful but it could result in your seat being allocated to a guest on the ‘maybe’ list or, even worse, the couple saving a space, meal and favour for you unnecessarily.
If you’re unsure as to whether you can attend, don’t simply sweep an invite under the carpet. Let the couple know as soon as you can and, if in doubt, decline the invitation. You can always get in touch nearer the wedding date if your circumstances change to enquire whether there’s still a seat at the wedding reception table. Ducking out last minute, on the other hand, is just plain rude unless it’s on account of unforeseen circumstances or an emergency.
When Should I Send My RSVP?
Ideally as soon as you know whether or not you can attend. Filing a wedding invitation away in a drawer until the RSVP deadline is likely to mean that you forget to respond altogether, so tick the boxes as soon as you possibly can. No one is fashionably late in the RSVP stakes. Also, if you’ve received a digital invite, chances are that whoever sent it has received a notification to alert them that it’s been opened and received. Just. Do. It.
What Should We Do When Guests Fail to RSVP?
Many digital invitation tools allow you to gently nudge guests who are yet to RSVP - give it a week after the requested RSVP date before you follow up. Still getting radio silence from a few wedding guests? It’s time to pick up the phone. Keep things light, underline how excited you are to share your big day with your guests and ask them to send on their RSVP as soon as possible to ensure that they can share every element of the event with you.
When Should I Not RSVP?
Save the dates don’t normally require an RSVP. If you know from the off that you won’t be able to attend you could call the couple to let them know that you can’t be there but that you wish them well and would love to celebrate on another date. Ask them to send on details of a wedding gift registry regardless. If you’re happily ‘saving the date’, wait for the formal wedding invitation to drop onto the doormat before sending an official RSVP.
RSVP Dos and Don'ts
- Don’t RSVP for guests or plus ones that aren’t included on the invitation. If in doubt, check with the couple as to who has made the cut to avoid any confusion or awkwardness. Hopefully they make it very obvious if the invite is for you and a partner or if it's an adults-only wedding, for example.
- Do state what part of the wedding your guest is invited to. If it's your wedding, make it clear if the guest is invited to the whole day or just the evening reception.
- Don't wait until the last minute to prompt your late RSVP'ers. For friends and family members, you're perfectly within your rights to drop a friendly message gently nudging them towards sending in their RSVP. They honestly won't mind.
- Do think about what else you want on your RSVP card or section of the website. It's the time to get information from your guests about their meal choice, whether they need a parking space at the venue, and even a few song suggestions for the DJ.
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