Sundeep Bhutoria

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ess bee

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Monday, July 19, 2010

The importance of RSVP

I was at a friend’s for the weekend lunch. The small gathering was quite a mix of politicians, bureaucrats, artists, industrialists and diplomats and their better halves. After the starters and mocktails, we all were about to settle in for the main course on the dining table with nametags marking the seating arrangement for the guests.
Just then, a couple announced their arrival. Quite well known as they are, I bet most Kolkatans would know them by sight.
Their arrival embarrassed the hosts into hasty action to accommodate them on the table whose seating arrangement and layout was planned well in advance.
The hosts immediately instructed his staff to put two more chairs and apologised to the new guests and said that since they did not get any confirmation from their end they had presumed that they would not be able to join the group. The celebrity couple just smiled and said that they had not seen the invite details properly.
In Kolkata it has become a fashion not to reach on time. I mean whatever the invites say, whether 7 pm or 8 pm or 8:30 pm, the guests wouldn’t arrive before 9 pm and say that they have to rush somewhere or they had to make a detour from somewhere to get there and in the process got late. This is precisely the reason why some get-togethers, since the past one year, have started mentioning the duration of the function or reception i.e., 7 to 9 or 7:30 to 10:30 and so on.
This French phrase
`Répondez, s'il vous plaît’ (RSVP) - meaning “please reply” -
is a word that is freely and frequently used in invitations across India but the overwhelming majority of guests and hosts don’t know what it means. The person inviting you would like you to tell him or her whether you accept or decline the invitation. That is, will you be coming to the event or not?
Etiquette rules followed in most Western cultures require that if you receive a formal, written invitation, you should reply promptly. For hosts who are planning a dinner party, a wedding or a reception, this is important from a practical point of view, because they need to know how many people to count on and how much food and drink to provide. More important, though, is the simple courtesy of responding to someone who was nice enough to invite you, even if it is to say that you regret that you will not be able to attend.
Many consider RSVP a polite way of reminding people of something that they should already know. That is - If you receive an invitation, you should reply.
Many invitations come with a response card that you can mail back. Most written invitations will carry the host's telephone number so you can call with your reply, although under strict etiquette rules, a written invitation requires a written reply. Nowadays, invitations often carry a "regrets only" notation at the end. That means that the host will count on your being there unless you tell him or her otherwise.
I have been involved in organising various kinds of functions, dinners and get-togethers from Chetla basti to pockets in Burrabazar to Star hotels and the Raj Bhawan. I can’t recall a single function where even a quarter of the invitees have either confirmed their presence or sent their regrets.
Even for programs where protocols are involved, RSVP is not given the importance it merits. This is the case, even if the host office calls up the guest’s office, especially with the celebrities, politicians and bureaucrats. When you call up their offices sometimes the office does not even acknowledge that they have even received the invite.
I fail to see any reason for not responding to an invite with a line or SMS confirming or regretting one’s presence. Normally when an invite says `Regrets Only’ and someone does not respond then how can the hosts make suitable arrangements.
Not just dinners or lunches, many times I have witnessed that VVIPs and celebs come in late into the auditoriums and the organisers have to face an awkward situation and offend somebody with a request to move over to the second or third row from the first row in order to accommodate them. If the organisers are expecting them, then it is fine, and the onus lies with the organisers to keep provisions for the guests as per protocol. But if the guests or the organisers are at dark about whether an invitee would at all come or not, then it can cause logistical problems ranging from embarrassment to colossal wastage of resources.
The standard norm for a VIP is if that if you get a card it’s a piece of information. An invite is considered to be proper only if it is followed by an SMS or personal call. So many times in my house parties I have to change the sitting arrangements or set up buffets at the last minute simply because some invitees would inform me about at the eleventh hour that they would be late but would join us. The increasing or decreasing headcounts invariably leads to wastage of resources or embarrassment for the hosts.
I think we don’t understand the importance of the meaning that RSVP carries in an invite.
I remember it first started in a marriage card about 15 years back as a practice. Earlier, only the names of the family firm or children used to be mentioned. I have also seen an invitation letter in London that even mentioned the preference for vegetarian or non-vegetarian food and also the time of arrival and departure.
We often blame the traffic for not being able to reach on time, but Is there any excuse for not responding to a RSVP!
ess bee

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