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Invitation Etiquette


Usethe following general guidelines for timing your invitations:

When Do Invitations Go Out?
Formal Dinner Invitations 3 to 6 weeks
Informal Dinner Invitations From a few days away to 3 weeks
Coctail Party Invitations

2 to 4 weeks

Anniversary Party Invitations

3 to 6 weeks

Thanksgiving Dinner Invitations 2 weeks to 2 months
Christmas Party Invitations 1 month
Bar Mitzvah Invitations 1 month
Graduation Party Invitations 3 weeks
Bon Voyage Party Invitations Last minute to 3 weeks
Housewarming Party Invitations From a few days to 3 weeks
Lunch or Tea Invitations From a few days to 2 weeks

invitations by telephone

Start with the relevant details. For example; "Hello, Janey, we are hosting a small get together on Friday night. Can you join us?"

Do not respond to an invitation by saying, ''I'll let you know," unless you follow it with a good explanation. Without an explanation, you are implying that you are waiting for a better invitation to come along. If you do delay in responding, respond as soon as possible (not more than one day).

written invitations

Every guest should receive one.

Very good friends should reply in the same manner as everyone else.

electronic invitations

E-mail invitations can be used for casual events only.

A variety of Web sites offer invitation "cards" that you can personalize, print out, and send in the mail or quickly e-mail.

Sites, such as evite, are also a useful tool.

invitations styles

  • casual parties. Preprinted invitations from a stationary store are acceptable for informal dinners or parties.
  • extremely casual parties. Invitations can be an informal note or extended by telephone or e-mail (be clear about the date and hour).
  • very formal dinners. Invitations may be engraved or written by hand in the third-person style.

pre-printed formal invitations

Formal invitations are usually printed on cards.

  • The lettering is a matter of personal preference, but the plainer the design, the clearer the message.
  • Punctuation is used only when words requiring separation occur on the same line, and in certain abbreviations, such as "Mr." or "R.S.V.P.”
  • black tie. Hosts who want their guests to dress formally should indicate this on their invitations. If the phrase "black tie" is used, it should appear in the lower right-hand corner of the invitations.

handwritten invitations and replies

  • When a formal invitation to dinner or luncheon is handwritten instead of engraved, plain white or cream notepaper or paper engraved or printed with the house address or the family's crest is often used.
  • The wording and spacing must follow the engraved model's exactly.
  • The invitation must be written by hand-it should not be typewritten.
  • If the return address on the envelope is not the same as the one to which the replies are to be sent, the address for replies must be written under the R.S.v.P. in the left-hand corner of the invitation.
  • Replies are addressed to the person, or persons, who issues the invitation.
  • When a response card is sent with the invitation, it should be used for the reply, rather than a handwritten response.

formal dinner invitations

Private dinners formal enough for third-person invitations are uncommon. Diplomatic and official dinners require formal invitations.

invitations to lunch

Invitations to lunch are usually telephoned. For a very formal lunch, an engraved card is used, especially if the lunch is given in honor of someone.

  • A formal invitation to lunch is, however, more often in the form of a personal note or on a fill-in invitation.
  • It is usually mailed at least two weeks in advance.
  • The personal invitation might read:

    Dear Janey and Richard,

    Please join us for a lunch party at our home on Saturday, July 15, at 12:30 P.M. to meet our new neighbor, Maxwell Lewis.
    I do hope you will be able to join us.



replies and regrets


  • "R.S.V.P." is from the French phrase repondez s'il vous plait. It means "please reply” and is often included on invitations.
  • Another approach is to write "Regrets only" on an invitation.
  • If someone doesn't respond to an R.S.V.P. and time is running out, you can call them for an answer.
  • Anyone receiving an invitation with an R.S.V.P. is obliged to reply as promptly as possible.
  • A formal, third-person invitation requires a third-person reply.
  • If the invitation says "Regrets only," don't send or call an acceptance unless you have something to discuss with the hostess.
  • Sometimes an immediate "Yes" is impossible because of tentative conflicts. If the gathering to which you have been invited is informal and you know the host well, feel free to phone and explain: "I'd love to be there, but I may have to go to Chicago. Can I let you know in a day or two?"
  • If, however, the party is a formal one and your delayed reply affects the host's well-laid plans, then you owe it to him to decline the invitation at the start: "I hate to miss the evening, but I may have to be in Chicago. Thank you so much for including me in the invitation.

refusing an invitation

If you have no other plans and are declining an invitation, do not give a reason if asked, other than "I'm terribly sorry, I'm busy that evening." This leaves you free to accept another invitation.

asking for an invitation

You should never ask for an invitation for yourself. Nor should you ask to bring an extra person to a meal or a party.

- , Editor, Etiquette Scholar

If you find any typographical errors, inaccuracies, or inconsistencies, or if you just have something to add, please email us.

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