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Ask Team Practical: Late Wedding RSVPs

I’m getting married in November. We sent our our invitations in July. Our “RSVP by” date is approaching in mid-late October, and we’ve only received 10 RSVP cards back out of about the 50 invitations we sent out. Around the time of our RSVP date, we need to give our caterer the final head count so they know how much food to prepare.

This is where I’m concerned. We have a limited budget, and therefore want to know exactly (or as close to exactly as possible) how many people we can expect to feed. I’m worried that a majority of the people we invited will not RSVP (which I find incredibly rude—why did we send the card with the invitation…for sh*ts and giggles?) and simply show up the day of the wedding with huge appetites, clear out the buffet and leave those who were courteous enough to RSVP to go hungry.

Is it not “the done thing” this day and age to send back the RSVP card? Everyone I’ve talked to so far says that we should assume they’re all coming and provide enough food accordingly. I disagree. Why should I shell out more money to pay for food for someone who may not show up? In my opinion, if they want to be fed, they should be polite and RSVP. Everyone seems to think that’s just the way it goes, and it would be rude of us not to plan for everyone we invited to turn up. I don’t want to police people and start calling asking “Hey, are you coming?” (And I shouldn’t have to. After all, it’s a wedding I’ve invited them to, not a public flogging.)

Short of acting like a bouncer during my reception, wielding a megaphone and yelling at people to please drop the lamb chop and back away from the buffet, what is the best way to handle the situation?

Before I get into your question, we need to have a conversation about RSVPs. First some facts. RSVP is an acronym for répondez s’il vous plaît, which is a French expression meaning “respond, if you please.” Generally, it was an addendum to an invitation and you’d respond to the person sending the invitation with your acceptance or regret. RSVP on any kind of invitation means that they are requesting a response from the people the invitation is addressed to; either a yes or a no, along with the name of your extra guest if your invitation was addressed to “and Guest.” If the invitation says “RSVP, regrets only,” they only want a response if you are not coming.

Easy, peasy, rice and cheesy, right?

Nope. That sound you just heard? That was the sound of every single reader who is a current or former bride laughing in scornful frustration.

One of the most irritating things you may have to do as a bride is chase down your RSVPs. The use of response cards have streamlined this process, though etiquette mavens like Miss Manners hate them as they eliminate the need for a personal, hand written note. (Forgive us, M.M., but they make our lives easier, though Meg says she still writes a hand written note, if only in your honor.)  However, there are serial non-RSVPers out there. They either always lose the cards, forget to mail them, assume you know they’ll be there or think that telling your partner that they’re coming is an appropriate response. And, honey, it’s not.

Serial non-RSVPers, I get it. I’m married to one of you. You’re super busy and things come up and mistakes happen. But there is no good reason for not sending an RSVP. Unless you are ill, dead or on fire, you can send an RSVP. Someone went through a lot to trouble to have teeny little cards printed that matched their invitation suite, buy adorable stamps that color-coordinate and then send it to you so that all you have to do is write your name on it and check a little box next to “yes” or “no”. Respect that and send the dang card in. And honestly? Write a note somewhere on that card too, even if it just says, “So excited to see you get hitched!” or “Terribly sad we can’t make it.” There is something vaguely discouraging about getting a RSVP where “1” is scrawled by number of meals, with no return address, like you’re just ordering up a meal in a restaurant. For free. But that’s extra credit, not mandatory, and I digress.

The problem is that as busy as you are, so is the couple who sent you the invitation. The reason they sent you an RSVP card is because they don’t have the time to send three emails and eight text messages going, “Hey, just checking to see if you’re coming???” You already know if you’re going by the time the date RSVP date; if you don’t, pick up the phone and tell them that. It’s not rude at all—things happen and you might not know until two days before the wedding if you can get off of work, find a sitter, etc. But tell the couple that, and let them tell you if they still can include you, or if they just can’t. A “maybe” is better than nothing at all, and it lets the couple decide what to do.

Now that I’ve gotten all the unsolicited chastising out of the way, back to the question.

Yes, the polite thing to do is send in an RSVP. And no, you shouldn’t have to chase these people down or beg for a response. But, unfortunately, that’s what you’re going to have to do. The problem is that, despite what I said previously, most people really do mean to RSVP. However, if you have 100 guests, you can bet that about 9 of them will lose the RSVP card, 7 will be unsure if they can come at all, 4 will think they already sent the card, 6 will have told your mom/partner/father-in-law that they’re coming and assume that counts as an RSVP, and 3 of them will have lost the invitation altogether. And every single one of those people will be apologetic and swear they ALWAYS send in their RSVPs.

Because of your loveable scatter-brained guests, you’re going to have to make some phone calls or send some emails. Sure, it’s irritating, but what’s the alternative? Stress and freak-out about the guest list until the day of? Pay for an extra 16 pounds of mashed potatoes for guests who aren’t coming? Copy and paste my previous paragraphs and mail them anonymously, hoping they get the hint? Don’t use your wedding as a lesson in respondent etiquette. Put aside a hour or two, send a mess of emails to friends, make some phone calls to relatives and vow to teach future generations better manners.

If you’re still worried, talk to your caterer. They may swear that they need an exact head count for your event, but they’ve been in the business a while. Your caterer knows that mishaps happen and they will have a few extra plates available for inevitable eventualities (and reality check: you might end up paying for a few people that don’t show. You will probably want to light them on fire, but you will also live through it.). Of course, your caterer is not going to tell you this because they want your count to be as accurate as possible. But ask them what they do about extra guests who show up; they’ll be able to reassure you a little and you can breathe easier and put your megaphone down.

But before you do ANY of that, wait a bit and cut your guests some slack. By my count, you sent your invitations at least nine weeks beforehand and while that’s plenty of time for your guests to make travel arrangements, that’s also plenty of time for them to forget they have a response to send in. I have a feeling that you’ll get a mess of RSVPs back either the day of your deadline or a few days later. And you can guarantee what happened to them was what happened to me recently: they put the RSVP on their fridge, forgot it was there until they noticed the date while grabbing a popsicle and screamed “Oh SH*T!” while racing to the post office.

Forgive us. We promise to bring a nice present.

And finally, a pro-tip. For those of you who haven’t yet sent your RSVP cards out, NUMBER THEM, and give corresponding numbers to your guest list. You will be shocked by the number of people who send an RSVP card just marked “yes” without any hint as to who the hell is responding. You can thank us for the numbering system later, after you’ve made note of which of your friends and relatives struggle with, well, logic.


‘Fess up, Team Practical. Do you have an RSVP sitting on your desk right now that you need to send in? How did you handle your lackadaisical guests? Was there a megaphone involved? Let us know in the comments!

Photo: Emily Takes Photos 

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Alyssa at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though we prefer if you make up a totally ridiculous sign-off like conflicted and rageful but deeply in love in Detroit (CARBDILID, duh). We’re not kidding. It brings us joy. What, you don’t want to bring your editors JOY?!

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