A little more than a week after sitting self-righteously at a Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon listening to Tammi Elliott implore members to please let their office know that they are planning to attend such functions, I found myself on the other side of the lecture.
I did e-mail my reservation for that meeting in plenty of time to beat the deadline. But for another occasion, I was socially delinquent.
The deadline set for calling the Early Chamber of Commerce had passed a day earlier, but there I was - all but interrupting a board meeting Wanda Furgason was attending to tell her that I did want to go to the Early Chamber luncheon Thursday. Imagine my embarrassment.
But it appears I'm one of only a very few who are similarly chagrined. I've heard the lament repeatedly from people whose job it is to plan functions, and then to try to guess how many people will show up. They've learned from experience that if you rely solely on the number of reservations you receive when you order food and tables, you're probably going to be swamped with people who choose to appear unannounced.
I would think that after going through several rounds of such events, planners are able to devise a formula that helps them in preparation - an average ratio of people who make a reservation compared to the actual number of people who show up at such things. It's a gamble, to be sure. They run the risk of ordering far too much food just to be safe, and then having to pay for meals that no one ate. Or, if they depend too much on the reservation list, there's a last-minute scramble to set up tables and water down the soup.
My daughter's fourth wedding anniversary is approaching, but memories of the months leading up to her ceremony are vivid. Any bride's parent who has gone through the planning of a reception understands completely what professional event planners encounter daily. You send out invitations. You include a reply card with an addressed envelope, and even put postage on it. You ask simply: "Is ya comin' or is ya ain't?" Check the box and drop it in the mail. Nevertheless, the reply rate languishes.
It occurs to me that part of the problem may be the words with which we choose to communicate. Often, the letters "RSVP" appear on invitations. Perhaps most of us, who are years removed from formal studies in foreign languages, don't recognize that "RSVP" is indeed French for, in a loose translation, "Let us know your plans."
According to my trusty dictionary, the term RSVP comes from the French expression "répondez s'il vous plaÃ®t," meaning "please respond." If "RSVP" is written on an invitation, it means the invited guests are socially obligated tell the hosts whether or not they plan to attend the event. It does not mean to respond only if you're coming, and it does not mean respond only if you're not coming. The expression "regrets only" is reserved for the latter situation. It means the host needs a definite head count for the planned event, and needs it by the date specified on the invitation.
Sadly, I have to believe most adults know this point of etiquette. Perhaps it's a matter of indecision that leads to our reluctance to respond in a timely manner. We think we'd like to go, but we're not sure we'll be able to make it, and if we reply "yes" and don't go we'll feel bad about it; but if we reply "no" and then our schedule clears, we'll feel bad about deciding too soon. Can't we just wait until an hour before it starts to make a choice?
Actually… no. Being considerate is the best gift you can give someone who thinks enough of you to desire your company at their special event.
Gene Deason is editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.