The Rules of Event Invitation Etiquette

Much of today's event invitation etiquette comes from the elegant Victorian times when embossed invitations to social events were double-enveloped, padded with tissue, spritzed with perfume and hand-delivered by servants. While remnants of this ultra-formal style are still observed for fancy parties such as weddings or black-tie events, everyday etiquette has evolved with the times. However, certain rules still apply when extending invitations to a party.

Invitation Style
A well-chosen invitation lets the recipient know the details of the event, as well as the atmosphere and style of the celebration. A backyard barbecue invitation will be different from a baby shower invitation or a graduation party, both in design and in information you include. You can find invitation templates for nearly any occasion. Spend some time in choosing the style of invitation so that you'll be satisfying one of the most important rules of invitation etiquette, which is letting guests know the style and expectations for your party.

What to Include
There's more to writing out an invitation than just the date and time. A good invitation should inform the guests of everything they need to know in order to attend the celebration, as well as what to expect:

  • Name of the person hosting the event.
  • What the invitation is for (for example, a baby shower or birthday party).
  • Name of the guest of honor, if applicable (for example, the bride-to-be or the graduate).
  • Both the day and the date of the party.
  • The name and location where the event will be held. Generally, your home address will suffice, but, if the event is at a restaurant, gallery or other unfamiliar location, clearly provide the city and town.
  • What time the event will begin.
  • Any miscellaneous information that the guest should know, such as dress code, directions, parking tips or whether the party is a surprise. Don't go into too much detail on the invitation, as you can inform guests of all they need to know when they RSVP.
  • A phone number or other method to RSVP.

Note that formal invitations spell out the time, date and the year (six o'clock in the afternoon or Sunday, the tenth of March, two thousand and seven). However, you can use numerals and leave off the year for casual invitations.

How to Address
For formal events, such as wedding invitations or formal award ceremonies, there are strict rules. In general, use the complete formal name of the invited person or couple (for example, Mr. and Mrs. Franklin Johnson instead of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Johnson). If you are inviting children as well, include their full names right under the parent's names. It is against the rules simply to say "and family." Envelopes should be handwritten in blue or black ink.

Casual invitations are much more relaxed. Handwritten addresses using familiar names or nicknames are just fine for events such as casual birthday parties, bridal showers or family reunions. Many people find it convenient to print out address labels for envelopes when large groups are being invited.

When to Send
The more formal the event, the earlier you need to send the invitation.

  • Casual events: Two to three weeks gives guests enough time to make needed arrangements, such as bringing food or finding a babysitter.
  • Structured events: Four weeks is standard. Examples of these kinds of events would be a gallery opening, bridal shower, baby shower or company party.
  • Formal events: For weddings, banquets and any event that would require the guests to travel, send the invite at least eight weeks in advance. For really far-away guests, sending out save-the-date cards a few months in advance gives you the greatest chance of having them be able to attend.

How to Respond
When the perfect invitations are picked, addressed and sent, the job is not quite finished. Certain guidelines exist for responding to an invitation. When an invitation has an RSVP on it, it's polite to respond within two days of receiving the invite. That way, the host can firm up the arrangements for the event feeling secure in the attendance count. Respond to the host even if you cannot attend. Many formal invitations have a response card. Simply fill in the information and return it to the host via the enclosed envelope.

Some invitations will say "RSVP regrets only," which means that you don't need to reply unless you cannot come to the event. Don't forget to call, because you will be expected at the event otherwise. If the invitation doesn't have any kind of RSVP indicated, it's still good manners to call the host to indicate your intentions.

Online Invitations
The invention of online invitations has inspired a new set of rules. It's most appropriate for casual gatherings of people that you already know, although in many instances it can be a useful tool for large groups of people who are technologically savvy, such as a company picnic or college department meeting. But don't throw invitation etiquette out the window just because it's electronic.

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