Real Simple’s Modern Manners columnist answers a question from Justine Rathbun of Gallatin, Tennessee.

By Julie Rottenberg
Updated October 19, 2009
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It may be best to give your parents an allotted amount of spots they can fill as they wish. If there are certain people you do not want in attendance, it’s best to have a private and honest conversation when you first discuss the guest list. Don’t insist your parents feel comfortable with the situation, but be clear about your wishes.
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I must confess that I’m a recovered delinquent RSVPer. So I understand that it usually stems from disorganization (“I know that invitation is here somewhere”) combined with good intentions (“I just have to check if I’m free that night”), with a little commitment-phobia thrown in (“Who knows what my life will be like a month from now?”). But having been on the receiving end of no-shows, I’ve reformed. In fact, I’ve adopted my mother’s approach. She always promptly RSVPs yes to any invitation, assuming she can attend. Then, if she discovers she can’t go, she calls the host. I like this technique because it’s efficient and it forces me to adopt a yes position instead of equivocating.

But for those who never RSVP, I don’t recommend hounding them. It’s demeaning to be on either end of that “Are you coming or not?” call. Obviously, a formal affair, like a wedding, requires a more aggressive approach (a brief e-mail or phone call should do), and a small dinner at which every person counts warrants some follow-up, too. But for most parties, even if your non-RSVPers do show up, you’re just as likely to have no-shows, so you’ll wind up even in the end.

Read more of Julie’s advice about etiquette conundrums.