You’re thumbing through your mail, bill after bill, when you see your name gracefully calligraphed across an envelope way too nice to be a credit card statement—a wedding invitation! But before you start fantasizing about what to wear or stressing about a plus one, you need to RSVP. Whether you accept with pleasure or decline with regret, it turns out there is a right way to respond.
Below, we’ve gathered intel from Heather Wiese Alexander, a modern etiquette expert, and Jordan Kentris, a graphic designer, on how to decode RSVP etiquette and fill out an RSVP card properly.
Meet the Expert
- Heather Wiese Alexander is a Dallas-based modern etiquette expert who promotes contemporary etiquette. She is also the founder and creative director of the stationery brand Bell’INVITO.
- Jordan Kentris is a graphic designer and founder of A Good Day He has worked with major brands like Pepsi, Visa, and Mercedes, and his passion for striking design and amazing user experience has brought him to the world of weddings and events.
When to Respond
As soon as possible. “My advice—take no longer than one full weekend to make your plans and respond,” Wiese Alexander says.
What should you do if you miss the RSVP date? “First and foremost, don’t assume you’ll be accommodated—that ‘respond by’ date is in there for a reason!” But these things happen, so she advises calling the hosts as soon as you realize you’ve missed the date, so they have an accurate headcount. Then, send the RSVP note anyway especially if the host has already made the effort to include the response card (with postage!); plus, many couples keep their RSVP notes as keepsakes (more on that later).
How to Fill Out an RSVP Card
Before putting pen to paper, it’s helpful to first understand the form and function of invitation response cards. Your host is going to use the information you give them to finalize their catering count, create a seating chart, and address you properly on place cards, escort cards, or personalized favors.
Typically, a response card will include three elements, according to Wiese Alexander—the first two are essential, the third is good etiquette. One, space to include how many guests are coming; two, space for those guests’ names; and three, space for a short personal note to the couple. These elements present in a variety of ways across different designs and Kentris notes there are several common styles he is asked to create: those with a preprinted response card, those without a preprinted response card, and those without any response card at all.
With a Preprinted Response Card
“The most traditional [style] is where we have space for guests to write in their names...the second is a more restricted version where the hosts of the event will write in the guest names on the RSVP and how many guests they can bring (this is more so in cases of families with kids),” says Kentris. “Another trend we are starting to see is including 'attending in person', 'attending remotely', and 'unable to attend' on a single card. This gives the guests options to choose how they participate in the event.”
On these cards, if there is an “M” preceding a blank space, your social title (Mrs./Mr./Ms./Mx.) goes first followed by your full name. Wiese Alexander advises writing your name exactly as it was written on the envelope. This means if the envelope is addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the response line should state, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith…” but if the envelope is addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Maggie and Drew,” then the response would include: “Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Maggie and Drew...”
Use a number as opposed to a checkmark to confirm your response. For example, ___ accept and ___ regret would be filled out as _2_ accept and _2_ regret if the kids aren’t coming. Should an entree selection be included, the choices should be initialed by the guest, so the host knows exactly who is getting what.
Without a Preprinted Response Card
Kentris calls this option “a more free-form style”, where a blank card is included to allow guests to write a personal message. Some couples may add a prompt at the top to guide guests on what they hope to receive back, be it well wishes, song requests, or attendance. Wiese Alexander states that this is actually the more traditional approach to the RSVP—it’s a bit more old-school, but it is proper etiquette.
On these replies, you want to include your full name and how many are coming in a full sentence as if you were speaking directly back to the host, matching the host’s formality. If addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Maggie, and Drew, an ideal reply could be: “Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Maggie, and Drew will attend. The four of us wish everyone the best and look forward to joining you in May.”
If allotted a plus one, write your name first, and then your guest’s full name. “Never assume they know your boyfriend of seven year’s last name,” says Wiese Alexander. “Always include a full first and last name for your guest no matter who it is."
Without Any Response Card
Some wedding invitations forego the RSVP card entirely. Kentris says this is another common style he sees, and instead of a response card, they may include a “details” card with a wedding website.
Wiese Alexander says this is where you follow the leader, and only respond in the manner that is asked. “If an email is left as a method of reply, don’t shoot your friend a text. It’s daunting to host a party, and even more so when guests are sending info from all different directions.”
If a formal invitation says “kindly reply” with nothing more added, it’s time to break out your own stationery. Use the same approach as the pre-printed response card but add another line and make it more personal. This might seem uncommon or intimidating, but Wiese Alexander notes that it was once considered garish to include a reply card as the proper host would assume their sophisticated guests know how to RSVP, of course. “This is hardly ever employed in 2021,” she says. “But you might come across a nostalgic host or two—and now you know what to do.”
If you’re still looking to brush up on your RSVP etiquette, Wiese Alexander shares more tips below. No matter the style, she advises that the most important thing is to just make sure you respond, s'il vous plaît.
Remember Your Name
Most often a checkmark is used where a blank is provided, but you should be using numbers instead. A checkmark doesn’t clarify the number of guests, which is really what the host needs. And don’t forget to add your names! It’s amazing how many people forget to write their names.
Commit to Your Plus One
If you are invited to bring a plus one, it is advised to include that person's full name at the time of your response. That's right, you have to commit to your date in order to respond!
Opt for Ink
A pencil may smear too easily, so many will prefer a pen and either blue or black is fine. While other colors could come off as juvenile, everyone’s individual character is more appreciated these days, so if you use a signature purple ink pen for all your writing, by all means, use it here too.
Make It Personal
This is etiquette 101—and the most often missed opportunity to shine. Think of the response card as a note, not a form, and write a few sentences in your reply. Thank your host, send well-wishes to the couple, be encouraging, be yourself—this isn't a formality requiring stodginess. Couples love to hold on to these and look back at all the excitement.
Disclose Allergies (Not Preferences)
If you have an allergy that may result in a medical issue, it’s advised to call the host after you RSVP. As the host is likely overwhelmed, it’s a nice gesture to offer to contact the planner or caterer yourself to disclose serious allergies and discuss options. If it’s simply a dietary preference or a sensitivity, it’s best to simply try and go with the flow.