Dear Friends, RSVP does not mean “Refreshments Served Very Promptly.”
In the late 18th century, French tradition mandated that guests “RSVP” or répondez s’il vous plaît, (“please respond”) to events as a polite gesture to help the host know how many people to expect. This tradition spread outside of France and continued to be used through to the 20th century when expert-on-etiquette, Emily Post, formalized the concept writing that not responding to an invitation was “inexcusably rude.” For the better part of the century, the rule held firm be it for a wedding, birthday or dinner party. Not responding wasn’t really an option and changing your response was something that would only happen in the case of rare, if not drastic, circumstances.
The “I probably won’t come but want to show my support as your friend while leaving my options open” Button
As the times have changed and paper invitations have been replaced by emails and electronic invites, the meaning of the RSVP has diminished to the point where the majority of people don’t even bother responding at all. Part of this has to do with the overwhelming amount of information online, but it also has to do with the fact that we’ve become a last-minute, non-committal society. Smart phones allow us to constantly survey the world for our ‘best option’ at the last possible moment be it in the form of a text, phone call or tweet. We’re always afraid to RSVP in advance in fear that something a little bit more exciting might arise. We’re confident that we can easily look up the new address or cancel out on the event we were supposed to go to thanks to the hand-dandy computer in our hand. The 21st century has also given rise to the “I probably won’t come but want to show my support as your friend while leaving my options open” button disguised as a “Maybe.”
From feast for a few to appetizers for almost no one
Unfortunately, these changes have left out one very-important consideration – other people. We expect that a host can quickly adjust their event if we decide to come or not come minutes before. We don’t even consider that they might have spent a decent amount of time calculating how much food to purchase or who would be sitting where. Sure, one person here-and-there doesn’t make or break a party, but when our entire society adopts this philosophy, a party can swing from 5 people to 25 people in a matter of minutes. A well-planned party can quickly appear like a haphazard event when a feast for a few people turns into appetizers for almost no one. Likewise, a large get-together can quickly become an under-attended event with a ton of wasted food and underwhelmed guests.
Think like the host
Don’t get us wrong, we don’t think people are blatantly rude. We just think they haven’t looked at things from the host’s perspective. Unless you’ve hosted a party recently, there’s really no reason why you’d think twice about making a decision five minutes before the party. When we talk to friends about their philosophy on RSVPing, most say they just planned on showing up the day of the event. They say it’s become the norm, or that if they aren’t 100% sure they will be there they just don’t respond at all. As a result, hosts are now forced to cast a wide net by inviting way more people than they’d like to assure they hear back from a few. Studies show that for each added guest, the rate of hearing back decreases since guests feel like the personal invite is instead an advertisement causing the dangerous cycle of not responding to invites to continue and for the problem to only get worse.
More is less
As sociologist Barry Schwartz says in his book “Paradox of Choice”, it’s a misbelief that choices make us happy. If our original choice doesn’t work out well we kick ourselves for not picking another option. If it does go well, we’re left wondering if one of the options wouldn’t have been even better. While it may be true that TOYWO (Text on your way over) is the new form of “RSVP,” We’d like to at least think there’s still a fighting chance for the lost art of making a choice and sticking to it. Next time you get an invite in your box, why not take a few seconds to help the host out by responding? Believe us, they’ll appreciate it