Ask Ellie: Etiquette 101 when it comes to parties and RSVPs

Jan 02, 2020 at 11:00 am by Ask Ellie

Ask Ellie

Recently I have received a few letters about etiquette, so I thought I would go over the basics as requested, and then weekly discuss a few points at length.

'Tis the season for parties, so many questions have been surrounding hostesses, gifts, time, R.S.V.P., and other matters. Let's dive in.

Is an RSVP necessary and what does it mean?

R.S.V.P. is a standard receipt return for "répondez s'il vous plaît," meaning in English literally "please respond" or implying "do you plan to attend?"

If you have been gifted with an invitation to someone's home or an event, for them to enjoy your company and you to enjoy them, yes, an R.S.V.P. is necessary. The only time this does not apply is if the invitation says, "regrets only."  Furthermore, when you R.S.V.P., you attend, you do not bring additional guests, your children, your dog, or your Great Aunt Sally.  If you, and you alone are invited, you do not bring your entourage with you. The R.S.V.P. should only include the individual or individuals invited. 

Be on time to the event. It is not acceptable to be late. If you are running late, be sure call your hostess and tell her you are running late and to please begin without you.

If you have been asked to bring something with you, bring it. Don't make excuses that you don't know how to cook, or you didn't know what to bring. If you don't know, ask.

When you receive the invitation, make sure you understand the theme, dress, and the occasion. If you do not understand the theme, or dress, Google it so you are prepared, or ask your hostess. Your hostess has gone to a great deal of effort to make this party special, respecting her theme is being the best guest you can be.

A hostess gift is always appropriate. Give the gift in private, and on the side, or leave in a place your hostess will find later, for example, in the kitchen. Wine, chocolates, a favorite tea or trinket is always appropriate. Making yourself the center of attention giving a hostess gift is in poor taste, do this on the side and leave a sweet treat for your friend.

Enjoy the company of others. Don't dominate conversations, eat or drink too much, or be insecure by forcing yourself upon being the center of attention. Your hostess is always the center of attention, he or she is always the center of the gathering. If you have had too much to drink, ask a friend to drive you home or to call you a ride-share/cab. Inebriated guests bring absolutely no pleasure, they bring only unneeded and unnecessary complications for your hostess.

Leave on time. Do not be the lingerer. Do not hold your hostess up at the door, she has other guests to attend. Give your compliments and leave on brilliant terms.

Thank you note. Yes, this is necessary. My Grandmother used to say that the thank you note should be in the mailbox upon leaving the party. A week is a good time line. You were invited, you enjoyed yourself, you are thankful, and your hostess was gracious. Yes, a thank-you note is necessary. 

Please continue to send your letters and notes to


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