One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is: "What is the biggest business etiquette faux pas that people commit today?" In a world where rudeness is rampant, it's hard to narrow the list.
Business people constantly violate the rules of etiquette with their e-mail practices, their phone behaviors, especially with regard to the use and abuse of cell phones, their casual attitude toward professional dress, their inattention to proper table manners and their lack of courtesy in dealing with customers and coworkers.
However, in considering one area where the majority of business people (and the population in general) come up short, it is in prompt and appropriate response to invitations.
"RSVP" might as well be Greek. Actually it's French, and it stands for the phrase, "Repondez, s'il vouz plait" or "Please respond." The practice of asking for a response to an invitation has been around at least since the time of the court of the French king, Louis XIV. It must have been about that time that people needed to be reminded to reply to invitations.
The minute you receive an invitation, whether it is for a business luncheon or dinner, an after-hours reception, the wedding of a client or colleague, a casual office get-together or any business/social event, check your calendar. Your next step is to respond. Don't put off replying unless you need additional information or have to check with someone else. The person issuing the invitation needs to know as soon as possible how many people will be attending in order to plan properly. Be considerate.
"RSVP" clearly means to reply one way or the other. It does not mean reply if you feel like it or only if you are coming. The words "Regrets Only" mean just that. Send a response only if you don't plan to attend.
Respond in the manner that the host suggests. If a phone number is given, you may call. If a postal address is on the invitation, your reply is expected in writing. If an e-mail address is listed, head for your computer.
Once you have replied, do what you said you would do. If you said you would be there, go. If you responded that you couldn't attend, don't decide to go at the last minute. If something comes up to prevent you from attending, let your host know as soon as possible. If you can't do so before the event, contact the host first thing the next day to explain your absence and to apologize. For a meal event, like a dinner party, you must call before the party to say you can't make it. If you get a flat tire on the way to dinner, use your cell phone to contact your host that you have hit a snag.
Take note of who is invited. If the invitation reads "and guest," you make take a friend. If you see the words, "and family," take the kids. If it is addressed to you alone, go by yourself.
The whole purpose for "RSVP" is so the host can plan the food and arrange the venue for the right number of guests. When people fail to reply to invitations, those planning the event are at a distinct disadvantage. There is always the risk that there will be too much or not enough food. A firm that I worked with recently had a party for their clients and colleagues. Thirteen people replied that they would attend but forty showed up. Of course, there wasn't enough for everyone to eat or drink. How inconsiderate is that?
The rule for responding to any invitation is to reply immediately, say what you will do and do what you say. Next time you may be the one planning an event and you won't want to be left in the dark, waiting to see who shows up.(c) 2006, Lydia Ramsey. All rights reserved. Reprint rights granted so long as article and by-line are published intact and with all links made live. Lydia Ramsey is a business etiquette expert, professional speaker, corporate trainer and author of MANNERS THAT SELL - ADDING THE POLISH THAT BUILDS PROFITS. She has been quoted or featured in The New York Times, Investors' Business Daily, Entrepreneur, Inc., Real Simple and Woman's Day. For more information about her programs, products and services, e-mail her at email@example.com or visit her web site www.mannersthatsell.com