Etiquette for Sending an RSVP

writing a note declining an invitation

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

When you receive an invitation to an event, you may get excited. That is, until you realize you already have something scheduled for that day. It's important to come to terms with the disappointment and do the right thing, which is to let the person know you're not able to make it.

Have you ever needed to send regrets to an invitation to something you're unable to attend? It's not always the easiest thing to do, especially if you're concerned that the person who sent it to you will be upset.

Most people enjoy getting invited to parties and events, but there are times when you're not able to accept. As awkward as it may be, you need to let the host know you won't be able to make it. You should never ignore the invitation, or you might find yourself without an invitation to future parties.

Turning down an invitation makes a lot of people uncomfortable, but it doesn't have to. Chances are, the person who invited you to a party or event understands that there are other pressing things in your life. The key to doing it correctly is to follow proper etiquette guidelines in a matter-of-fact way and without making a bunch of excuses. If you handle your regrets properly, you'll continue to receive invitations to future parties.


Most of us enjoy a good party, wedding, high school or college graduation, dinner out, or an evening with friends, but it's not always possible to do everything we want to do or go everywhere we want to go. It is essential to let the inviter know as soon as possible that you won't be there in the form of a regret letter or note, even when an RSVP isn't requested.

The sooner you do it the better off both you and the inviter will be. You won't have the task hanging over you, and the person who invited you will be able to adjust the guest list.


You'll want to match the tone of the invitation when you send the regret. If you receive a formal invitation on linen stationery, your regret should have a more formal tone. You can be much more relaxed when the invitation is less formal, sent via email, or verbal only.

Example of a Formal Regret

Ms. Susan Hendricks
Regrets that she will not be able to accept
Marsha Blalock and Tim Yale's wedding invitation
On Friday, June 12.

Examples of Informal Regrets

Dear Claudia,
I'm sorry I won't be able to attend your thirtieth birthday party on Saturday. I'll be out of town that weekend, visiting old friends during our class reunion. I'm disappointed because I would love to celebrate with you. I'm sure everyone will have a fabulous time. Maybe we can celebrate later after I get back. I'll call you.
Enjoy your special day!

Dear Paul,
Congratulations on your promotion! I was excited to see that you finally got the position you've been wanting. You certainly deserve it after all the hard work you've put into your job. Unfortunately, I already made plans for the evening of the celebration and won't be able to attend your promotion party. I hope you and the rest of the group have a blast.
Talk to you soon,

Change of Plans

If something changes after sending your regrets, and you're able to go, it's up to you whether or not you should contact the host. What you don't want to do is appear wishy-washy or demanding.

If you see that you are able to attend after you've turned down the invitation, contact the host immediately. Be willing to accept the possibility that someone else has filled the slot and be gracious about it. Never act as though you're hurt because, after all, you were the one who turned down the invitation, to begin with.

etiquette for sending an rsvp
The Spruce / Ashley Nicole DeLeon

What Not to Say or Do

Here are some things not to do or say when sending your regrets:

  • Don't lie and say you have plans when you don't. If you don't want to go to the event, simply say that you are unable to attend.
  • Don't make rude comments, like saying you'd rather be anywhere but there.
  • Don't say, "You didn't come to my party, so why should I go to yours?" Holding a grudge is very unbecoming and rude.
  • Don't say you don't want to go because someone you dislike will be there. You're an adult. You should be able to handle situations where your least favorite people are present.
  • Don't say you'll go and later change your mind because a better offer presented itself. Once you commit to being there, you should go unless there is a sickness, death, or another family emergency.
  • Don't make your attendance contingent on anything superficial, such as what will be served or other guests who will be there.

Results of Sending Polite Regrets

After you send your regrets in the most polite and positive way, the person who invited you will see you as someone with class. No one will think less of you, and you're likely to get invited to future events without hesitation.