Professionalism 101: R.s.v.p.

The holiday season is among us and I can’t believe it! I don’t know what happened to 2016. It seems like this year flew by. I know some people say that every year, but this year was unprecedented—at least for me. I believe part of it was due to having such a full schedule of speaking, traveling, and planning events.

As I reflect on the year and as we enter into the holiday season, I thought it appropriate to share a simple leadership and etiquette lesson about accepting or declining reservations. I know some people reading this may think, “Wow, that’s basic, and why would she write about accepting or declining reservations as a leadership topic?” The answer is simple actually. I’m writing about it because people often don’t do it, and the fact that they don’t do it is a lacking skill in professionalism.

Shortly after I graduated from college, I was a bride’s maid in one of my best friend’s wedding. She and her future husband were recent college graduates who didn’t have a lot of money. Her mother, who helped plan the wedding, as a widow. The wedding was nice and because they wanted everyone to feel comfortable at the reception, attendees were allowed to pick up their place card at the entrance of the reception hall. Then they could place the card on the table where they wanted to sit. The wedding party arrived shortly after the guests, and I noticed the bride glancing at the table where the unclaimed reception cards remained. She looked at me and said, “These people didn’t show up.” On one hand, it’s a disappointment because they were missing from such a special occasion. On the other, it is a financial liability. There were more than five cards left on the table, and when you pay the reception hall $45 per plate, that’s sunk costs. Not declining or accepting a reservation is disrespectful and inconsiderate of the person who invited you.

This disrespect is revealed in several ways:

  1. Not responding to an extended invitation.
  2. Not responding to an extended invitation in a timely manner (i.e. before the requested deadline).
  3. Responding with a “yes” and then not showing up.
  4. Responding with a “no “and then showing up unannounced.

Put simply: If someone extends an invitation, you are professionally required to respond before the requested deadline (even if you do not plan to attend). Refusing an invitation is quite acceptable. Not responding to an invitation is not.

The Bible has a principled teaching regarding this practice and it is about honor.

“Give everyone what you owe him; If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor (Romans 13:7).”

In proper context, this scripture is talking about obeying the governing authorities as established by God. In principle, however, it is acknowledging that we know how to respond properly to certain people because of their positional authority. In the same manner, if someone is in a position to make an offer to you, you owe it to that person to give them what is due, and respond appropriately. Giving a proper response in a timely manner is a way of honoring the host. This practice in professionalism will assist the host in making preparations for all guests, ensuring you are comfortable, and that the basic event needs are met.

When you don’t RSVP in a timely manner, event hosts are liable to cancel or postpone an event (which you would have loved to attend), or worse, they will not plan accordingly and can have a faux pas. Anybody heard about those folks who ran out of wine at the wedding?

I realize that many people don’t understand the significance of this professionalism and etiquette because it is not often taught. The first time I recall receiving etiquette lessons was in high school when I participated in a debutante program. I also received a lot of etiquette training as a part of my professional development while attending the United States Naval Academy. For you, I just blew the dust off of my “Service Etiquette” book by Oretha D. Swartz. These are the general rules for making reservations:

  1. If a host sends you an invitation and asks for an “R.s.v.p.,” this means that you need to respond with either a “Yes, I will attend,” or “No, I am not available.”

Natasha’s notes: For formal invitations (ex. weddings or plated events), hosts will normally indicate whether or not you can bring guest(s). If they do not, don’t invite others to accompany you. It is not your party!


  1. If someone extends an invitation and asks for “regrets only,” it is customary to respond only if you cannot attend the event. Otherwise, the host will assume your presence and participation, and will plan accordingly.

One more special tip from Swartz when replying to formal invitations:

Answers should be returned within 48 hours after you receive dinner or luncheon invitations. When you refuse early, a hostess will have time to invite another guest without the new guest feeling like a “fill in.”

In short, practice honoring your friends and family this holiday season and beyond by responding in a timely manner to extended invitations.

Did I miss anything?

© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson


Published by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson

Servant of Jesus. Truth-teller. Leader. Mentor. Author of Books.

One thought on “Professionalism 101: R.s.v.p.

  1. Love this Just in time for the holidays. Thanks for sharing…I think I need to dust off my Service Ettiquette book.

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