Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Synagogue World’s Four Letter Word: RSVP

[Haveil Havalim is here!]

Tonight we held a dessert/discussion program (“Two Modern Orthodox approaches to secular study” - it was actually pretty good, if I may say so myself) we had advertised a full month in advance. Every event listing included RSVP options for both email and phone. Because we were serving food, we stressed the need to respond in advance.

- We had eight RSVPs.
- Two of those did not show.
- And we had twenty people at the program.

This is not unique to our shul; the phenomenon is not age-specific, gender-specific, synagogue-specific or even religion-specific. It’s human. People just don’t RSVP.

Classes. Friday night dinners. Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur seats. No RSVP. No ר.ס.ו.פ.

Somewhere in the back of my mind lurks an old Archie comic, in which Svensen explains the acronym: “Rite Soon Vit Pen!” Oddly, I can’t find any reference to it through Google. I must be typing something incorrectly.

Approaches to RSVP-failure vary:

Some people apologize as they enter, “I completely forgot to RSVP,” “I'm sorry, I didn’t realize I was going to be able to make it,” “I didn’t want you to count on me, because I wasn’t sure I’d be here,” “Don’t worry, I won’t eat, I just decided to come at the last minute.”

Others are blame-shifters: “Oh, did the announcement mention an RSVP? I didn’t hear that.” “Didn’t you get my message? I left it on the machine in shul.” "My e-mail must have bounced." “I told my husband/wife to call; (s)he always forgets.”

And some people are simply above the law, with lines like the immortal, “Oh, you know me, I never RSVP for these things,” as though RSVPing were like choosing the right style of dress for the occasion, or knowing what goes with white wine at a meal. Another reliable excuse in this category is, “Oh, but you knew I would be there; I always come to these!”

So tonight I decided to Google “people who don’t RSVP” to see what sort of advice might turn up. I received 1,880 results, but not much advice.

I found a wedding planner who solicits her couples’ permission to bounce non-RSVPs. But I can’t do that - I want to reach everyone with these programs, and it would be a case of cutting off the old proboscis for me to keep people out. It’s not as though people will learn from being kept out. (Granted, I excelled at nose-cutting-face-spiting in my youth, but I'm trying to avoid it as I age.)

414 of the responses were from Blogspot sites, including this one discussing RSVPs for general parties and this one for that all-time non-RSVP event, children’s birthday parties. No advice, though.

If the synagogue were to charge for events, we could always have a discount rate for early RSVPs. Trouble is, though, that it likely wouldn’t work; people would rather pay the going rate than decide and notify ahead of time. And, we rarely charge for events.

So I guess I’ll go on with the same non-strategy as the people in this Washington Post article: Grin and bear it.

And, at least try to make sure I RSVP on time, myself.

Add to Technorati Favorites


  1. If you don't charge, then it should be really easy to have online RSVP. I do work for Rutgers (free Jewish programs for the public), and if all someone has to do is click a button, you are more likely to get a response.

    You didn't mention the RSVP methods offered.

  2. Hi Leora,

    Thanks for commenting.

    As noted at the start of the post, we do offer telephone and email options. Because the announcements go out by email as well as print and shul bimah, it would be very easy for people to hit Reply. Some do. More don't...

  3. Oops, that's what I get for reading your post too quickly.

    Who was it who wrote the pet peeve:
    "People who comment before even reading the post"
    Well, I did read most of it.

    I guess you'll just have to live with guessing.

  4. I guess I can't comment from a shul-wide perspective, but personally, if I haven't responded and I know it's an event that required response, I don't know.

    Maybe you could try variations of the wording - RSVP (aside from being a French acronym) usually implies a social event, to my Northeast ears, not an official one. Our shul notices often say "pre-registration required" which sounds a lot more official, and indicates that it's required, not optional. (RSVP actually means "Respond If You Please")

    The other thing to consider is whether you are trying to accommodate the community or educate them. Frankly, if people did this to me at private parties, they wouldn't get any more invitations, because it's just rude. By tolerating this, are you teaching them (and their children) that social niceties like respect for others and politeness are optional?

  5. oops, that first sentence should read "I don't go" not "I don't know" ;-}

  6. Hi Tzipporah,

    Thanks for commenting. I agree that changing the wording does help, and we sometimes do that, but after a while that becomes tiresome - we run several RSVP-requiring events each month.

    (Was "Northeast" supposed to be "Northwest"?)

  7. At our shul it doesn't actually seem to matter what wording we use because people either neglect to respond and show up OR they continue to respond up to ONE HOUR before the event. So we are just somehow supposed to have the foresight to know how much food to have. Because God-forbid we don't have enough food...

    There must be a way to teach basic courtesy...

  8. Rivster-
    If you could bottle it and sell it to parents of young (and not-so-young) children, you'd be quite wealthy.

  9. RH - no, "northeast" was correct. I'm originally a Yankee, and, as my husband's family loves to remind me, I've carried a lot of New England social norms with me out west, where they're sometimes seen as stuffy. :)

  10. Tzipporah,
    Somehow, I never associated you with stuffy. Must be that good northwest air. Or rain.

  11. Here we are discussing a wedding invitation and someone brings up the RSVP date and I state "Rite soon vit pen."

    Confused looks around the table and ten Google brings me to this site. Thanks!

  12. Rene-
    Glad to hear that someone else knows that one!