The Number One Business Etiquette Faux Pas–Failure to Reply

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We are living in a world where rudeness is rampant.  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 and smart phones, their casual attitude toward professional dress, their inattention to proper table manners and their lack of courtesy in dealing with customers and coworkers.

I am frequently asked to identify the worst business etiquette faux pas that people commit. It is a challenge to narrow the list. In considering one area where the majority of business people come up short, I have to say that it is in their failure to respond appropriately to invitations.  It is epidemic.

“RSVP” seems to be Greek to most although it is in fact French. It is the French acronym for “Repondez, s’il vouz plait.” Translated it means “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 of good manners and to answer invitations.

Here are my recommendations for handling “RSVP.”

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.  

Respond immediately. You either accept or regret. It is that simple.  Don’t put off replying unless you need additional information or have a potential conflict. The person issuing the invitation needs to know as soon as possible how any 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.  “Please respond” means just that—send a response that is a “yes” or “no.”

The words “Regrets Only” are very clear.  You only need to reply if you will not attend.

Respond in the manner that the host suggests.  If a phone number is given, you 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. In today’s world of multiple communication options, the host may give you choices.

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 at the last minute to go. 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.

If the invitation is for a seated dinner, you cannot delay. Let the host know immediately that you cannot attend. A phone call the next day will suffice in this situation.

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 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 work 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 and awkward is that?

In summary, 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.

If you had to choose the number one business etiquette faux pas, what would it be?

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Hire Lydia to work with your staff to improve customer service and employee relations through the use of those priceless and often over-looked soft skills called manners. Lydia is the “unstuffy” business etiquette expert who helps individuals and organizations add the polish that builds profits. We’re talking about your bottom line here.

Since 1996, countless people have benefited from her wisdom through keynotes, seminars and conference breakout sessions.  Her Southern charm and sense of humor have made her a sought-after speaker and consultant.

Based in Savannah, Georgia, Lydia is available for national, regional and local speaking and training engagements. She has suitcase; will travel.

Contact her via email at lydia@lydiaramsey.com or call 912-604-0080. Sign up for her free monthly newsletter and visit her website, lydiaramsey.com.

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