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What Does RSVP Mean?

Discover what RSVP stands for, why it’s used on invitations, plus when to send one and how to reply

RSVP card for a wedding with modern typography and block colouring in blue reading 'you in?'

We’re not sure there’s anything that unites stressed out nearly-weds quite like a late wedding invitation RSVP. For such a small piece of paper they sure cause a lot of anguish. But other than being a fiddly bit of admin to chase up, what actually is an RSVP, what does RSVP stand for and do we *really* need to put it on our invites? (Yes, sorry).

“RSVPs are vital because they let you know who is attending your wedding so you can plan your catering requirements and seating plans,” says Linzi Barford of That Black and White Cat Weddings


What Does RSVP Mean?

We’ve seen it our whole lives on birthday party invites (only from the fanciest kids at school, granted) and wedding invitations, but many of us don’t know what RSVP actually stands for. 

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.

Why Do We Use RSVP?

Navy blue and pink stationery suite complete with matching RSVP cards

Aside from it looking fancy? 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 to know by.

What Can I Say Instead of RSVP?

If you don’t fancy a little touch of French on your invites, you could ask guests to ‘please/kindly respond by…’ 

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. “This gives you plenty of time to deal with any late responses before confirming your guest numbers,” says Linzi.

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.

What Should We Do When Guests Fail to RSVP?

Boho style wedding stationery suite including RSVP cards reading 'respondez sil-vous plait' displayed with dried flowers and the couple's wedding rings in a ring box

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? “I'd suggest a gentle nudge first on social media or via a family member or friend,” advises Linzi. “If they still haven't responded then you'll need to contact them directly. Don't shy away from asking directly - you need to know.”

Keep things light, underline how excited you are to share your big day with your guests and ask them to send their RSVP as soon as possible to ensure that they can share every element of the event with you.

RSVPs Explained for Wedding Guests

How Do I Respond to an RSVP?

Reply exactly as the couple has requested. There might be an enclosed RSVP notecard with a tick-box, 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 put it postbox ASAP. They’ve done all the hard work for you! 

A couple may opt to save on postage and paper and instead ask guests to respond via 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 couple and leave it at that. They 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 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 a favour for you unnecessarily (nobody wants their pack of personalised Lovehearts going to waste!).

RSVP Wording Etiquette

Black save the date and RSVP card with 'pencil us in' written on it in white, positioned against a mustard yellow background

If you’re putting off replying to the RSVP because you don’t know what to write, look to the couple to see what kind of response is warranted. You can't really go wrong when it comes to RSVP messages (unless you add in plus ones who aren't included on the invitation, but that's a whole other piece...).

If they’ve sent a tick-box card in with the invite, you’re sorted and nothing needs to be added unless you want to express excitement with a simple ‘can’t wait’ or a short explanation of why you sadly can’t be there.

If the couple hasn’t included an RSVP card, it’s up to you to pen a few words. You can buy RSVP cards online (check Etsy) to make more of an occasion of it - trust us, the couple will appreciate it! 

Write something along the lines of “We would be delighted to attend your wedding on XXX, we can’t wait to celebrate the day with you.” 

Tailor as appropriate for your relationship with the couple. If they’ve asked for dietary needs, include this too. “With regards to meal choices, as you know, we’re vegan” or “I’m gluten-free” will be fine. 

Declining is a little trickier, but still nothing to fret about. Something such as “Regrettably, we will be unable to attend, we can’t wait to hear all about it” will do nicely. If you want to explain in detail why you can’t make it, that’s your call. 

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. 

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. Don’t delay in letting them know if you’re planning on coming. 

What if You’re Not Sure You Can Make it?

Tropical style floral wedding stationery suite with matching RSVP cards decorated with palm leaves

If you’re unsure as to whether you can make the wedding, 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. Ducking out last minute, on the other hand, is just plain rude unless it’s on account of unforeseen circumstances or an emergency. 

What if Your Plans Change?

If you RSVP yes and your circumstances change, let the couple know as soon as possible so they can invite other guests or make amends to their table plan. 

When Should I Not RSVP?

Save the dates don’t normally require an RSVP, however if one drops onto your doormat and you know 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, this way they won’t waste sending an expensive invite your way. 

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 arrive before sending an official RSVP. Everything in weddings is perfectly timed, so your RSVP could end up getting lost. 

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.

Why It's Important to RSVP

Place setting for a guest who has RSVP'd to a wedding, with a place card and a menu visible

Couples waiting patiently for their RSVPs to flood in will shout a resounding yes to the question ‘Do I need to RSVP?’

An RSVP is an essential when it comes to many wedding admin tasks including table planning and meal ordering. Plus if you can’t make it, the couple may be able to invite other people they’re keen to spend their day with.

Despite their significance, replying to an RSVP actually didn’t used to be a requirement 

In the past, unless a guest responded to an RSVP with their regrets, any invitees were expected to attend. 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; as mentioned, 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. 

It might be tempting to just whizz over a WhatsApp or drop the couple an email to let them know you’ll be there, if a formal RSVP has been requested, do send one. An email won’t cut it!

Now you've RSVP'd, the fun can begin! Browse our list of the best wedding gift ideas to take along to the big day.