Things Utah is known for being all kinds of awesome: jaw-dropping landscapes, fry sauce, the highest literacy rate in the nation, “The Greatest Snow on Earth,” clean living, the Osmonds, and pulling a successful Olympics out of its ass in 2002. On the down side, it also has the worst of some things, and I’m not just talking about lame liquor laws and that foul cloud of toxic air we’d best be gettin’ rid of ASAP. Amongst folks who are professional event throwers, Utahn’s have a national reputation, and it’s not for fantastic dental health. Ya know what we really suck at, and it’s making people batshit crazy? We are anecdotally known as The Worst RSVP Respondents Anywhere [close second: New York.]
Now, before y’all start thinking that in the scheme of things, not responding to invitations is a relatively insignificant mannerly infraction, think again. Quite a few party planning professionals and lots of friends who are 'hosts with the most' weighed in on the topic, and they all concur it’s getting worse every year, much to their misery and confusion. When I first moved here nine years ago, I took it pretty personally, the not-responding. There was a lot of fretting: “don’t they like us?” and “how much booze should I buy?” And most of the time I was told, eventually, “We’re totally going to be there! We’re just really casual about things here.” Psht. There are lots of ‘casual’ aspects of life in Happy Valley that are awesome [my personal fave? Flip flops with ski pants]. But simple replies are non-negotiable, friends. So, let’s catch up here, ‘cause this is the easy shit: rudimentary communication to make life a little easier for everyone. Unlike our air quality; that’s a serious pickle.
Weddings bring out the best and absolute fucking worst in people, and nobody knows this better than Michelle Leo, voted several years running as Utah’s “Best Wedding Planner,” by numerous publications and her chorus of adoring newlyweds [who I’m sure always write their thank you notes in a timely manner]. She’ll tell you right off that all of “her couples” are cheerful, organized, gorgeous, and gracious people. Their guests, however, are a whole other species. The horrors this poor woman has had to contend with, all the while keeping her smile and serene demeanor firmly in place, and in most cases could have been solved by folks just answering the goddamn invitation in the first place.
Examples? How about twenty of the groom’s fraternity brothers [none of whom RSVP'd] show up and commandeer two tables reserved with name cards for the elderly relatives at a fancy-schmancy reception at a posh ski resort. Not only did these dear relatives--who at this point just want their beef tenderloin and salad--wander around aimlessly wondering where the hell they’re supposed to sit, but the entire kitchen and wait staff were thrown off trying to come up with twenty additional full meals and places to put them. Another friend told me about how she “just knew” none of her family would RSVP, so they planned on double the number of people for her reception above the ‘yes’ RSVP. Triple the number showed up and plowed through the entire buffet like a cloud of locusts before the wedding party finished their photo session. In another instance, although the invitations made clear that theirs was an evening event not suited for youngsters, a slew of guests brought their children, then accused the bride and groom of thoughtlessly not providing enough “child-friendly food options and entertainment.” The wedding party and parents forfeited their own meals at their own goddamn party to keep their uncouth and ungracious guests happy. You see how this is making my blood boil, y’all? And this is just the wedding edition of Terrible RSVP Behavior--don’t even get me started on planning a seated dinner party in the Beehive state, let alone a gala or fundraising event.
RSVPs, like most instances of consciously using your “good manners,” are not meant to beat people over the head with unnecessary formality or exclusionary snootiness. Rather, it’s an application of common sense and basic reciprocal kindness knocking up against the self-centered wall of most modern human interaction. What one person thinks is “no big deal, they get paid to figure this stuff out,” [yes, that’s a direct quote] becomes multiplied by twenty individuals similarly afflicted with douchebaggery, and then we’ve got a major problem. That pebble of shitty behavior—not sending in one little card with a “yes, I’m coming, and I’ll eat steak” –started a ripple in the pond that spread outward and threw off the whole night for dozens of people, paid and unpaid. What should have been a fun evening filled with champagne, awkward line dancing, and applauded kisses turned into hours spent smoothing ruffled feathers and the mortified embarrassment of the groom’s family. Guess who he’s not hangin’ out with on Friday nights anymore, fellas? That’s right, his asshat frat brothers.
Some RSVP facts and a few tips to doin' it like a boss:
1) WTF does RSVP mean? RSVP is an acronym for the French phrase, “répondez s'il vous plait,” which means “reply please.” So, please, please don’t write, “RSVP Please,” no matter how much you're begging for a reply. It’s très dorky. And not in an intentionally hip way.
2) Mean what you say, say what you need. A friend recently wrote me, “I was invited to a wedding, and the invite said ‘RSVP Regrets Only,’ so I didn’t reply since I’ll be attending. The mother of the bride called me yesterday all bothered that no one responded so she didn’t have an accurate head count.” #myheadjustexploded Hosts, y’all are part of the problem here, sorry to say. The clearer and more simple your directions are to achieve your finalized numbers, the better. “Regrets only” means “I’m thinkin’ y’all will be there, lemme know otherwise.” Adequate for immediate family or best friends for a small gathering, or a standing “first Tuesday of every month” group of comrades for wine club. If you absolutely need a head count [I’m lookin’ at you, mother of the bride], send out an invitation requesting a “yes or no” reply by a specific date. Otherwise, plan on spending a lot of time hounding people with irritating and unnecessary phone messages. Your call. Literally.
3) It’s not always 'all in the family'. One of the great things Utahns are known for is being “family friendly.” That doesn’t, however, mean that the entire family is or should be invited to every event. It’s perfectly okay to leave the kiddos at home, friends. Really. Personally, I’m thrilled to have an occasion where I get to clutch a tiny purse and don’t have to cut up someone else’s food. On the host’s side, make sure you make it clear who’s invited: “Mr. & Mr. Andersen-Johnson” on an invitation means you are ONLY inviting a couple, no kids. “Devon Smith & Guest” means said single fella can bring a date, not his entire current ménage pool. If it’s just your individual name alone on the invite, that means no nooky...unless you find it on site. “Addams Family” means you are welcoming the whole household, regardless of age, food preferences, or incontinence issues.
4) Get with the times. According to wedding planner extraordinaire, Michelle Leo, more weddings are switching to on-line RSVP confirmation on invitations because people are more apt to respond in a timely manner if they’ve got a link right in front of them, rather than going to the [ahem] incredible hassle of checking a box, stuffing the card in the stamped envelope provided, and throwing it in a big blue box. Sigh. Hence, the popularity of sites like The Knot, Evite, etc. for invitations. Admittedly, this takes out a big segment of the potential guest pool. Talking to badass event planner, Michelle Peacock Thompson, of Peacock Events, she reiterated that modern invitation-sending -- especially in Utah -- requires intense levels of cajoling to get a response: email RSVP requests, paper invitations, more email reminders, then lots of follow-up phone calls. Good Lawd, it makes me tired just thinking about it. That’s, like, another $500 of people hours spent hounding replies that could have been spent on better wine or sponsoring a cause in need of some serious funds. Let’s just break this ridiculous cycle, now, shall we? Hosts love the guests who followed directions in the first place, not the ones they’ve spent an afternoon tracking down.
5) The Final Word. Any invitation, whether on paper, by Evite, skywriting, or group text—for a wedding, baby shower, divorce decree booze cruise, Game of Thrones premiere party, whatevs—deserves a reply within the time specified on the invite. Someone took the time to send that out to you in the hopes you’d join them on their big day; at the very least you can let them know if they need to plan for five or five hundred lovely table settings by Diamond Rental, or whether to put another leaf in the dining room table. Consider it good karma that’ll come back around when you in turn invite these fine folks to your next event. Share the love, and there will be enough cake for everybody. Mmmm, cake.
Take a peek at the photos below [by Ashlee Brooke Photography]--when the COLLECTIVE's own sage of staging, Emily Thurman, got hitched at our state's lovely Capitol, you can damn well be sure that she was counting on RSVPs to help make sure this downright enchanting event was done right. You think those beautiful tables set themselves? Uh-uh.