Holiday Parties: The Sticky Business of RSVPs

usualsuspects-0153.jpg‘Tis the season for parties! Whether you’re throwing parties or going to parties, RSVPs are not optional. I love throwing parties, both large and small. I love cooking for parties. Indeed the only bad part of a party are those pesky RSVPs. There are two conflicting aspects to RSVPs: the host’s need to know how many are coming, and the strange ways people invited to parties think about RSVPs. Whether you’re throwing a party or going to a party this holiday season, I hope this post will shed some light on the Mystery of the Missing RSVPs!

Those people who don’t RSVP in a timely manner often have a “one more won’t make any difference” attitude. They are, of course, correct that one more won’t substantially alter the amount of food prepared, but if five people — and their spouses and children — think that, then the total number for party in which 2 dozen people have said “yes” is suddenly increased to around 3 dozen. That does make a difference. In the case of a smaller party, if 4-5 people show up or RSVP a couple of hours before the party starts, the host may be faced with twice the people and only half as much food! By the way, grabbing a dessert at the store on the way doesn’t compensate: five desserts does not make up for the five more substantial servings that are missing due to not letting the host know you were coming before she or he buys the groceries. (Ditto for catered parties!)

I think a lot of people don’t have a clear idea of what it takes to plan and throw a party. For instance, I have to know in advance how much food to buy. Even if it’s a small casual thing; I still need to know whether I’m cooking for 6-8 people or 2-3. It makes a huge difference in how much food I buy, and can affect the menu. (One side dish or three?) The host or hostess can’t assume that no response is either “No” or “Yes”. Responding “Maybe” is almost as bad. I know people who always give me “maybe”s right up until the minute they show up on my doorstep. They will never commit one way or another because they’re waiting to see if something better comes along for the weekend. They want to keep their options open, see what all the offers are, and then decide within a few hours of the party. A friend of mine, when someone gave him the runaround of “maybe” because they wanted to keep their options open for a better offer, then just told the person, “Fine. Don’t come.” And never invited them to another party. If you jerk people around, you could find yourself dropped from some people’s party invitation distribution list. (I haven’t done this, but I cheered the friend who did.)

Not RSVPing because you’re waiting to see if something better presents itself is not very nice…and makes party prep a nightmare. For instance, for a big Christmas party I will do most of the grocery shopping 5-6 days ahead and cookie baking starts 4-5 days ahead. Fresh vegetable items or other perishables are bought a couple of days before the party. Some food prep is done 2 days ahead and some cooking and prep is done the day before. RSVPing the day before or the morning of an afternoon party to say you will be coming is as bad as not responding at all. It’s not any help at all for the person who’s already bought the food and is rattling around in the kitchen when the phone rings. (On a number of occasions I’ve had someone RSVP literally hours before a party they’ve known about for weeks.)

This is why I send reminders, do follow-up phone calls and basically plead with people to let me know if they’re coming. Not RSVPing causes a lot of unnecessary aggravation for the person who invited you. They’ve invited you to a party; they’re going to feed you good food. The very least you can do to show your appreciation to them is to give a definite RSVP, even if you have to say “No, sorry”. It’s the season of Good Cheer, of Peace on Earth, and Goodwill to your fellow beings on this planet. Be gracious and considerate to those who invite you to parties. That means RSVPing soon after you get the invitation.

I know you’re probably saying that if you don’t RSVP, or RSVP late, that it’s not because you are waiting to see if you get a better offer, but stop and think about that for a minute…what, exactly, are you waiting for? Surely if a worse option presented itself you wouldn’t plump for that instead of a party a friend is throwing? If you wait, you’re always waiting for something better. When you drag your heels about RSVPing you’re really saying to the person who invited you that you don’t give a damn about them or their party — which they are busting their ass to prepare for. (And if you feel that way, you really should just say “No” up front.)

Sure, there are sometimes extenuating circumstances that make it hard to give a firm answer. Say, an elderly parent in the hospital or other extreme circumstance that you have no control over and which might at any minute require your presence. Read that italicized phrase again. If the reason you haven’t RSVP’d doesn’t fit that criteria, you need to RSVP now. Don’t whine that you don’t know what you are doing at the time of the party, so you can’t RSVP until “later”. You’re just fooling yourself, but you’re not fooling anyone else. Make a damn decision. If you drag your heels then you’re just another jerk “waiting to see if there’s something better” and you’re insulting the people who thought enough of you to invite you to their party. The cases in which you can’t RSVP in a timely manner are rare occurrences, unless you’re James Bond or your life is such a living hell that you are living from crisis to crisis, minute by minute and day to day. (In which case, you really do need to party.)

If you truly don’t want to go, just say no. If you’re hoping something will come up so you can get out of a social situation you don’t want to go to, there’s no reason to delay RSVPing. Since you never intended to go, go ahead and say you won’t be there. (Social networks, and online invitations make this painless; you can say no and don’t have to stammer through an excuse.) Even though you’re declining the invitation, by RSVPing soon, you at least won’t be causing any problems for the host planning the party.

Sometimes something unexpected that you have no control over happens and you may have to bow out at the last minute. Sick kids, car trouble, the unexpected arrival of relatives, some disaster at work you have to deal with, the earth being threatened by super villains, etc. If you RSVP “yes” then can’t make it due to circumstances beyond your control, the friends hosting the party will understand, because we’ve all had our plans wrecked from time to time by events beyond our control. But, you know, you need to make those plans!

Remember: “Maybes” are utterly useless to the person throwing the party. Even if you know the party will be catered so they’re not buying, prepping, and cooking the food themselves, they have to put in an order for food for a certain number of people well ahead of time. If they have to guess because of non-responders and “maybe”s, then you’ve either caused them to waste food and money by getting too much, or are responsible for wrecking the party because there won’t be enough food. (If you didn’t RSVP or RSVP’d late, you don’t get to bitch about a party being lame because they ran out of food.)

Most people are so scheduled — or over-scheduled — that they know if a time is free at least a week in advance, maybe more. There is no legitimate excuse for not RSVPing, or waiting until it’s too late to RSVP.

So what do you do if you’re throwing a party and people don’t RSVP? You can beg and whine for RSVPs. You can do like the friend of mine who stopped inviting people who wouldn’t RSVP. You can set a deadline for RSVPs and send reminders. You can’t yell at them, but you can share this on social networks and hope they get the hint. After all you aren’t calling them on their gaffe…I am! 😉

Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

These cookies are rapidly becoming a Christmas favorite. Click the pic for recipe!

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