Respond — But Only If You Please

I am hosting a party in less than a week. It’s not at my house like it was last year and was intended to be again this year; it’s at the guests’ own houses on their own computers. But I’m still hosting it, and it would be nice to prepare. Do you know how many of the potential 39 invitees have let me know whether they’re “attending” or not? Two.

Well, technically, it’s six, since Lynn and I and Kara and her husband will be there. And really eight, since the invitation list goes to 19 current and former Pat’s employees, each of whom is welcome to bring a guest. Since Mark declined the invitation, that includes his wife, and Emily accepted but won’t be bringing a guest, we have now accounted for eight of the potential 39. Only 31 to go!

This is the hardest part of this party, and it always has been. If it were an open-house sort of thing with finger food, I could just pass out the invitations, overload on hors d’oeuvres, and let the guests come as they may.

But 17 years ago this annual celebration of another year at Pat’s started as a nice holiday dinner at a restaurant that was a customer of ours, and the main feature of the party ever since has been to treat employees to a nice holiday repast. We outgrew restaurants several years ago, so we squished into the house Lynn and I owned at the time, then rented a space, and last year discovered that we could seat 24 rather comfortably in our room that I once viewed as good but appears to have advanced to great.

I don’t know if we would fit 39, but there are always people who are unable to attend for various reasons, and some invitees opt to attend without a guest. It just would be nice to know how many won’t be coming.

Every year the invitations go out with some attempt to get people to respond. I’ve put a date by which people should let Kara know if they’re coming and which entree they might prefer. I then tried “ASAP.” I think that means “as soon as possible”; many, many of our guests seem to feel that’s code for “we’ll wait until you call us to beg us to come to the party.”

I vowed not to do that this year, by the way. I was just going to go with those who responded by today. And that doesn’t seem like it’s going to work out well.

My research on the history of RSVP got only as far as Slate’s discussion of what part of speech this French phrase — répondez s’il vous plaît (respond, if you please) — is used as, and the assertion that it first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1845, only to be declared outmoded 60 years later.

I am also learning that in certain cases the inference is, If you aren’t attending, you don’t need to respond. By that metric, we are going to be a party of five this year.

Anecdotally, however, comments made by a few people drives that number up to at least 14, possibly 16 if two of them who sometimes come solo bring guests.

I don’t know what The Spruce is, particularly, but it has good advice on party response: “RSVP requests often include a deadline for response, as the host is finalizing numbers for the caterer, event site, favors, and other event details. It’s best to respond as soon as possible rather than delaying.”

Yes. I told the restaurant providing this year’s food, which because of catering restrictions will be pre-packed orders off the menu, that I would get the food order to them today. That’s a possible 24-30 orders for Saturday night in a year that has been lean, so it is prudent to give the owners time to order in extra food as well as prep time.

But if we go back to The Spruce, it would also help me a lot, as I am trying to put “party packs” together for all the guests. I did my shopping on the assumption that 24 people might attend; if even a few more sign on, I will need to go back to the store.

[This was my first shopping excursion inside City Market, with the exception of quick visits to their pharmacy, since March. It was disappointing to see that not much has changed: the aisles are still narrow and too tall, and filled with shoppers. They were also filled with store personnel and bulky rolling racks, which I only realized at the end of my excursion were for the people placing curbside orders.]

It’s not just this year this happens, but I find my frustration level growing exponentially each year. I think people like the party — I hear them talking about it fondly throughout the year at work, so it doesn’t seem like it’s drudgery to attend. Last year was Omar’s first year, and I’m not sure he would have come had his soccer coach, who folded shirts for us and still helps us with improvement projects, not brought him along. Earlier this year he was among those telling Vann how much fun it was. If I can win over a 15-year-old boy . . . well, I just don’t think it ought to be so hard to let us know.

I don’t even think it’s like people are thinking it over. They might need a little time to look over their schedule, and I understand when other events pop up. Kara’s husband won’t be there if it has snowed, for instance, because he’ll be working. But when we can hear employees talking about attending, and we’ve left the menus out in plain sight, how hard is it to walk past Kara’s desk and say, “I’m coming, and I’m bringing a guest”?

I was late getting invitations out. I started an invitation in early December that once Kara typed it out for me was clearly way too wordy and vague. Maybe it was going to be on our deck; maybe it would be virtual. Maybe it would be in the afternoon; maybe it would be in the evening. I was trying to figure out food. I was trying to figure out the gift exchange. I was trying to figure out the relay, which I think is the piece that makes the party these years. I needed help producing the invitation, and Kara and Vann were both busy with actual screen-print stuff, so the invitation only went out last Wednesday.

But we texted it to everyone, this being a young and hip crowd and us on a tight time frame. And then got our two lonely replies. How hard is it to text “yes” or “no”? I should have taken the approach my medical appointments do, and asked for a C to confirm.

I suppose the only way we’re getting a clear answer is to send yet another text this morning, with a deadline sometime this afternoon to get a food order in. After that, you’re still welcome to attend, although I don’t know why you would: no food and no party pack, just the joy of watching everyone else party on your computer screen.

Even though Lynn assured me I would be one to respond late, if at all –I’m not sure where she got that, because trust me, I know how very, very (very) irritating it is to be left hanging during the planning process — it would be nice if just one year I didn’t have to go through this.

So, on your next invitation, s’il vous plaît: respond.

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