Sunday, September 9, 2012

On giving and receiving RSVPs

Hello Polite Readers!

Today's topic comes to us via a special request from one of my belly dance friends! She's asked me to talk about Facebook RSVPs and how little respect we all show for them, and how to politely address that when you're hosting an event.

I have to admit, I have a bad habit of saying that I will attend an event via Facebook, and then deciding the day of that I actually don't feel like leaving the house. This is very rude of me and I'm trying to train myself to use the "Maybe" function more often and to better honor the commitments that I do make. We all tend to take Facebook events less seriously than we take events that we receive paper invitations for -- and that's saying something, because I've read a lot about traditional invites getting ignored, too.

When you say "Yes" to a casual event like "Hey, I'm having a potluck, come if you can!" and then don't show up, it's rude and disappointing but the host isn't out much. When you say "Yes" to a major event that the host has to put a lot of money and effort into, such as a sit-down dinner or a dance workshop, you have wasted your friend's resources and possibly made them look bad. Likewise, if you ether say "No" or don't respond and then show up anyway, you run the risk of the host not being able to accommodate you, and then you both feel awkward.

As a hostess, I've been on the receiving end of this many times. I used to organize a restaurant dinner for out-of-town visitors to the Tucson gem show. Every year, I would have some guests not show up, and others show up without having RSVP'ed, or show up with other guests in tow. Sometimes it would balance out, other times we would have a few empty chairs in an otherwise packed restaurant, or we'd have the servers scrambling to try to make extra room. Either way, I always felt like a bit of a jerk for not having the number I told them (especially since sometimes I would have called the day-of to adjust the reservation due to sudden changes).

So, let's all try to honor our RSVPs, and let's remember to apologize when something unavoidable comes up (illness, family emergency, dead car) to keep us from attending.

Now, hosts, how can you politely stress the importance of a proper headcount? I have received some very pushy invites in the past that left me feeling like my very presence was going to be an inconvenience. No one wants to feel that way! You want to be firm but gentle, and always with a friendly tone. For instance, for a dinner party, consider something like this:

Dear Guests, I need a final headcount by Friday so that I can make the reservations (or go buy the steaks). Please RSVP for yourself and anyone you'll be bringing. Thank you!

For a workshop or performance sort of situation where it is not just your resources and time on the line, but also that of the teacher and performer(s) who may be coming in from out of town, you may need to not only require a RSVP but also a monetary deposit. I will almost never skip an event that I have already paid for, unless I am deathly ill. Pre-selling tickets or workshop slots allows you to judge whether there is actually enough interest in the event you'd like to host. Consider offering a small discount to early birds (even $5 off is usually enough to get me to buy early), or if you can't afford that, consider offering some other perk -- early birds might get front-row seats, or maybe if they purchase their workshop spot within the first two weeks of pre-sales, they're entered into a drawing for a free copy of the teacher's latest DVD.

In your event description, just make it sweet and to the point:

We need a minimum of 10 attendants to bring Sophia Ravenna to Phoenix! Please purchase your workshops and show tickets now to ensure that we can bring this performer to our community. Tell all your friends!
 (Yeah, I used my own stage name there. No, I do not actually teach workshops)

When people are concerned that an event they dearly want to attend will get canceled, they will not only purchase their spot ASAP, they'll also try to get their friends who are on the fence to sign up. Even after you've reached your minimum, you can post the occasional reminder: "One month until this great series of workshops! Act now before it sells out!" Always keep the tone breezy. Do not start with the guilt-trip if sales are slower than you expected. No one likes the reek of desperation!

In summation, with a little more mutual respect and a little gentle prodding and kind wording, we can all work together as hosts and guests to make fun, successful events.