Knowing the rules of etiquette allows us to feel comfortable and confident in every social situation we encounter. Etiquette is not frivolous; it’s based on common sense. It’s really all about how to get along with other people by treating them the way you would like to be treated.
When I was a director of protocol for Mayor Willie Brown of San Francisco, I learned that diplomacy isn’t just for diplomats. It’s about how to make our way in the world by being kind and thoughtful with others.
In the protocol office, we received copious amounts of invitations. We responded in a timely manner to all of them, whether or not we could accept them. The ones we did accept went into a special file in case something came up at the last-minute and we had to phone the host. But in the private social world, I am amazed at how many individuals don’t understand the importance of responding to invitations. It’s really an unkindness to your host not to do so in a way that helps him or her plan an event.
If you don’t know whether or not you can attend an event, you should at least call your host and give him or her a heads up. There’s nothing worse than wondering if an invitation has been received and if so, why the person is taking so long to respond. Giving a party requires a lot of time and energy, not to mention expense per guest. Yet I have many friends who say they have to call invited guests to check on their response, although the invitations have been mailed well in advance. Caterers need final numbers for food, flowers and wine and decorations must be ordered, and none of this can be done without a guest count.
Good manners are not just about which fork to use or where to place your napkin. In terms of invitation etiquette, they apply to both guests and hosts.
• Include information about the event so that guests will know how to dress.
• Enclose an RSVP with a response date of one week before the event.
• It is okay to call guests who don’t respond by the response date to see whether or not they are coming to the event.
• If you don’t know by the response date whether or not you can attend the event, at least phone your host and let him or her know this. Then do notify your host as soon as you know whether you can attend.
• If you accept an invitation and then have to cancel at the last-minute, call and leave a message so your host won’t be wondering where you are. Follow up with a note of apology!
• Don’t wait until the last-minute to respond.
• Never show up at an event if you have not responded to an invitation.
• Depending on the event, bring a small gift for your host.
• Call your host the next day to thank him or her for the event, and follow-up with a thank-you note within 24 hours.