The RSVP Nazi


Dear Missy Mannerlee,

I am at my wit’s end!!! As an occasional hostess, I enjoy having people over for dinner parties and such. Really, there’s nothing I like better than to see friendly faces around my dinner table. However, I am really fed up with inconsiderate yokels who unabashedly disregard my pleas for them to RSVP.Has an overabundance of ward potluck dinners spoiled us for the concept of a sit-down dinner with placecards? Is it the singles’ ward mentality that trains normally polite people to hold out until the last minute for the bigger, better deal? Has the cultural hall wedding reception/open house ruined the saints for more formal modes of discourse? It’s especially insulting when I take stock of an evite, and see that numerous people have viewed it, and haven’t yet responded by the requested date. Don’t they know that delicious food takes preparation, and doesn’t just appear out of the oven when they arrive at my doorstep unannounced for a party? What can I do to bend them to my will and compel them to RSVP?

RSVP Nazi

Dear Gentle Reader,

Ahh yes. As the holiday season draws nigh, I share in your seasonal tut-tutting at the incivility of non-RSVP-ers. It really is a dreadful affliction to be confronted with among one’s friends, or friendly faces. The simple answer would be to declare a moratorium against such people, and ban them from experiencing your culinary delights. However, as I suspect that you have gone to considerable trouble to create and maintain friendships with such yokels, this may not be an acceptable solution. On the other extreme is the option to play the martyr, and suffer (non)silently (to, and) about the incivil, unwashed hordes. This manner of expression, unfortunately, will do little to bring about positive responses.

Therefore, Gentle Reader, allow me to steer you a middle course. If you do insist on using evites (Missy Mannerlee has always preferred the exquisite thrill of running he fingertip along the lovely, black embossed lines a of cream colored formal card), be sure to be quite plain about expected RSVP dates. After all, communication is everything. Secondly, be sure to utilize the email reminder option. Thirdly, remind those of your erstwhile friends, when you happen to see them, with a breezy, “Oh, the party is coming up so soon! So many things to be done … shopping, cooking, setting the table, placecards. But I am so excited to get this fascinating group of people together, and hope you can come!” And fourthly, for those boorish friends who have not been civil enough to respond, having at least once seen the invite, a direct phone call should be enough to settle the matter (and should clear the air for those unsuspecting invitees who haven’t yet viewed the evite at all).

Yours truly,
Missy Mannerlee

Jana

Jana is university administrator and History professor. Her soloblog is http://janaremy.com/pilgrimsteps/

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  1. AmyB says:

    I’ve been realizing lately that my Utah Mormon upbringing did not leave me with particularly refined ettiquette. I have a tendency to ask what part of the meal I can bring when asked to dinner, and people are a little taken aback. I’m still uncomfortable at a fancy restaurant. I’m working on knowing the appropriate ettiquette in various social situations.

    At least I RSVP!

  2. jana says:

    Um…I am truly horrible at RSVPing, whether it be to one of Dora’s lovely dinners (ack!) or to the bday parties of my kids’ friends. It is embarrassing to me that I have such awful etiquette. I know I need to do better. But somehow I just don’t.

  3. JKS says:

    amyb,
    I didn’t realize that my upbringing which DID include a lot of ettiquette neglected the “hostess gift” idea. I was really shocked when my very broke just-separated-with-two-kids bought a hostess gift for a party she went to. I didn’t realize it was standard ettiquette!
    I then realized that Mormons tend to bring food. You come bearing a dish, and it is polite to ask beforehand what to bring.
    Nonmormons bring a bottle of wine, or flowers, or some other gift like that without asking beforehand.
    After my friend explained the “hostess gift” idea, I then understood why some non-mormon friends had shown up with flowers for me when we invited them for dinner. I had thought it was kind of odd.
    You learn something new all the time.

    I am not great about RSVPing for three reasons:
    1. My husband doesn’t like to talk about plans (he’s more a spontaneous guy) far in advance so I have gotten used to not really making plans or discussing them really.
    2. I get social anxiety and the worst thing is having to make a phone call. I always procrastinate or avoid phone calls. I’d much rather speak to someone in person, or have them call me.
    3. Sometimes I think I will go, but as it gets closer I get more nervous and stressed about babysitters, or feel overscheduled and then I wonder if we can actually go or not, so I still hesitate to call.
    4. Actually, the only times I seem to need to RSVP is for kids birthday parties because apparently no one else invited me to anything. I usually manage to call one to three days before the event to RSVP.

  4. Paula says:

    A few years ago, my husband and I hosted an Elder’s Quorum party, at our house. Signup sheets were passed around at church for food, well in advance. But to my horror, as more and more people arrived (very late), they arrived with excuses, rather than food. The checkout line was too long at the store, they’d just gotten home from work, etc. I’d made enough barbeque chicken for the bunch, and someone else had brought enough rolls, but other than that, we had 35 people, and one lemon meringue pie, and a bag of chips. I ended up out in my garden picking enough lettuce and tomatoes for a salad, and thinking grumpy thoughts about them all. Now, I’d probably not bother with the salad for them, just let them eat what was there. The next evening, we were hosting a somewhat smaller party for a group which included non-LDS folks, and some less-active LDS folks. They arrived on time, brought well-prepared, interesting food, and were good company. The contrast was so obvious that I’ve never volunteered to host any ward function at my house again. I did make the mistake of having a lunch here for a birthday of a woman in the ward a year ago, and that made me swear off totally on anything to do with a group from the ward. People who didn’t RSVP still showed up. People who had called early and announced food preferences, such as vegetarianism went ahead and ate the regular stuff, even though I’d provided two entrees, so everyone could be happy. (I’m not bugged that they ate the meat, but if your dietary restrictions are flexible, why call and ask for a special diet?) Anyway, after that I doubt I will ever invite have anything to do with hosting a general group of folks from church.

    I do RSVP, and my other quirk is that I am almost obsessively punctual. I’m not sure how I acquired that trait as a seventh generation Mormon.

  5. Caroline says:

    I’m embarrassed to say that I may be one of the yokels that Dora is referring to. These days I’m usually ok about rsvping, but in the past I’ve not been good with the evites. I think that’s because I didn’t get the concept for a year or two. And I fear committment.

    One thing I never do is show up when I have not RSVPd. I’m far more likely to not rsvp and figure that people will guess that means I won’t come.

    I have never been much of a hostess. The most I’ve ever done is have my UCI institute friends come over for a potluck. That’s my kind of entertaining.

    Paula, those are some brutal ward hostessing experiences. I’ll remember to avoid volunteering for something like that.

  6. Deborah says:

    I had one of those weddings were I really needed people to RSVP because I had to give the Inn a head count two weeks before the event. Oh, the headaches of trying to get those last few cards confirmed! Made me feel bad for all the times I’ve neglected to promptly reply — I’ve been much better about it ever since.

    Ettiquette deficit . . . I’ve always wondered if this was a Utah thing, class thing, Mormon thing? Since joining my husband’s [upper-class, New England, Jewish] family, I’ve been much more immersed in the RSVP, bring a bottle of wine for the hostess, and write a post-dinner thank you note world. I must confess I love writing thank-you notes mostly because I’ve realized how nice it is to be on the receiving end of such a note . . . or a proper invitation, or a timely RSVP, or a bouquet of flowers for the hostess (Speaking of, AmyB — the flowers you brought to dinner bloomed for almost THREE WEEKS! Almost as lovely as your marvelous company . . . overdue time to get together again).

  7. Anonymous says:

    I have two ideas for increasing your rates of RSVPs. First, (although kind of tacky it may be necessary), make it clear (either on the invite or in later communications) that places will only be set, and food will only be prepared for those who have responded.

    Second, give them a question to respond to with their invitation, something like ‘chicken, beef, or fish?’ It gives them a bigger incentive to respond. While it might be harder to prepare more than one type of main course, it may take off some stress knowing that you have a more accurate head count.

  8. janeannechovy says:

    I LOVE to host parties, but I hate it when people don’t RSVP for a sit-down function. I host a big dinner every January, and my rule is that if people don’t RSVP, I don’t invite them the following year. Also, if people DO RSVP but say no two years in a row, I get the message that they really have some place else they’d rather be, and don’t invite them again either. It’s hard enough keeping the numbers down as it is! (One year I had a higher-than-expected rate of acceptances–24 as opposed to the more usual 16 or 18–and had to get a bit creative with seating.)

    As for whether to bring anything, how I deal with it as hostess is to have something in mind (over which I don’t mind ceding control) to answer if they say, “What can I bring?” If they don’t ask the question, I don’t expect them to bring anything. And sometimes, especially for small gatherings, my answer is “nothing, just yourself.” I always appreciate getting hostess gifts, but sometimes they end up being something I don’t really like–on my kitchen counter as I write is a jar of fancy canned mixed fruit (from Trader Joe’s) brought as a hostess gift last January. Guess I’d better make sure it’s gone before next January’s event!

  9. Dora says:

    Amyb ~ I wish I were more comfortable at fancy restaurants. Personally, part of it is knowing my limits … like never ordering any fish or meat course on the bone. I just don’t feel coordinated enough to deal with bones in polite company.

    Jana, Caroline, Starfoxy, JAC ~ I’ll be the first to admit that I love potluck dinners. In fact, instead of our usual large Christmas party, last year we just invited the people we like best over for a fancy potluck dinner … and on the evite, we were able to get people to sign up for specific “courses,” appetizer, bread and butter, soup, salad, veggie, side dish, etc. We took care of the main dish. This was a great way to get people over for a sit down dinner, let each person show off their culinary talents, and not serve up overdone hostesses in the mix.

    That said, it was key for our guests to RSVP so that everyone involved would know how much of their dish to bring. Also, we needed to know how many extra tables and chairs to bring in.

    JKS – Generally, there are some people who just won’t be able to predict the course of their evening. In cases like this, a simple, “I’m hoping to come, but won’t know for sure because of X” is a good tactic unless it really is a formal affair with special seating arrangements. It’s also a good idea to no overuse this tactic.

    Paul ~ I feel your pain. I was the Activities Committee chair (single woman, newly in a family ward) for a year. One time, the only person who signed up to bring refreshments to a ward activity was one of the convert single mothers who was on welfare. I ended up cajoling my friends to come and bring some basic refreshments.

    Deborah ~ I love thank-you notes! And I try to be diligent for the same reasons you articulated. And I have a great respect for those who send them. Besides, thankful people are wonderful to be around.

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