Etiquette for dinner invitations

Written by jo burns
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Etiquette for dinner invitations
Always respond to an invitation as soon as possible. (party invitation image by robert mobley from

It's two days before the dinner party, you have forgotten to call the host and tell him you'll come and you have unexpected house guests. You were really looking forward to attending this dinner. What should you do? Following a few basic etiquette rules will ensure your name stays at the top of everyone's guest list.

Writing an Invitation

All dinner invitations should include the basic information guests need to know; date, time, address and who is invited. For informal gatherings, using a preprinted invitation or e-mailing an invitation is perfectly acceptable etiquette. More formal dinner invitations may include a response request and suggestions for attire. They also require more formal wording, such as "Mr. and Mrs. Jones request your presence," or "Please join Mr. and Mrs. Jones."

Sending an Invitation

A general rule of etiquette for sending dinner invitations is that the more formal the event, the more advance notice guests should receive. Very casual dinner invitations can be offered spontaneously; however, invitations should be sent three to four weeks in advance for a formal dinner party that may require guests to arrange for childcare, travel from out of town or prepare formal wear. For dinner parties that fall in between very casual and very formal, invitations should be sent at least one week in advance.

Responding to an Invitation

The letters "RSVP" are an abbreviation for the French phrase "repondez s'il vous plait," which translates to "please reply" in English. If a dinner invitation requests an RSVP, the hostess is asking the invitee to confirm whether or not she plans to attend. Good etiquette encourages response within one or two days or by the date the hostess indicated. If the invitation includes a response card, it should be filled out and returned in the provided envelope. If no response card is provided, a phone call is appropriate, but the caller should speak with the hostess in person rather than leave a message. E-mail responses are acceptable if the hostess provides an e-mail address.

Bringing a Guest

Etiquette expert Emily Post's website states that invitations are given to the people a host or hostess wants to invite and they should not be extended to include dates, house guests or children. If an invitation is addressed to "Ms. Jane Smith and Guest," then, obviously, a guest is welcome. Otherwise, it is bad etiquette to ask to bring someone the hostess did not invite.

Paying for Dinner on a Date

One aspect of dating etiquette that modern singles are sometimes unsure about is who should pay for dinner when a couple is out on a date, no matter who extended the dinner invitation. According to the website, "a true gentleman will unfailingly pay for the first date." Men, however, are no longer obliged to pay for every dinner once a dating relationship is established. Regardless of the gentlemanly conduct advocated by, it is always a good idea for a woman to be prepared to pay her share no matter what the circumstances.

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