How to Handle Those Tacky Guests Who Don’t RSVP

Good Morning!

I had another topic for today, but changed my mind after dealing with two wedding couples last night who are having the same hard time with getting in those last few RSVPs from tacky wedding guests who were completely oblivious to the deadline on it and have not been responding to emails from the wedding couple trying to get answers.  So what do we do about those people?

To begin this conversation, let me tell you that it is RUDE RUDE RUDE for people to not respond to the invitation by the deadline listed on the RSVP card.  And if they’re planning to attend, it’s rude for them to not make hotel and car reservations by the deadline suggested in their travel information kits.

I have two sets of clients who are struggling with this right now, but it’s a constant frustration for brides and grooms around the world so let’s address the best way to handle missing RSVPs for a destination wedding.  I’m officially declaring myself the authority on this matter unless somebody has a better suggestion and I like it.

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s pretend you’re a client of Weddings in Vieques.  If you’re my clients, you’ve already sent out your “Save the Date” cards — either alone or in combination with the travel information packet.  After that, you probably sent out a lovely formal invitation.  Inside the invitation was a little card for the RSVP, accompanied by a STAMPED envelope for their reply.  On the card, it says something like “Please respond by January 1, 2008.”

So January 1st comes and goes and you hear back from 75% of your invitees.  A couple weeks later, I crack the whip on you and you send out an email to your delinquent guests that explains how things are different on the island from at home and you really need to know if they’re coming or not coming to your Caribbean destination wedding on Vieques Island.  Only four out of twelve guests (or four out of 24 guests if you’re unlucky) respond to your email inquiry, and a week later I’m riding you again for a headcount.

I truly believe that guests who haven’t responded to you at this point are not coming to your destination wedding.  They just don’t know how to tell you they aren’t coming because they don’t have the vacation time, can’t afford it, or can’t get their acts together to plan that far ahead.  It’s rude and it’s tacky and deep down they know they should just bite the bullet and decline the invitation, but for some reason they feel better just telling you “maybe.”  That stinks!

Why is it so important to get back the RSVPs so early for your destination wedding?  Because people need time to make their travel and accommodation arrangements and you need a headcount for planning your budget.  Unlike a wedding at home that is only really one day of events, you’ve planned a three-to-four-day extravaganza and the difference in the cost of one more or less guest can be really important.  It may make the difference in you being able to order more stuff for goody bags or have chairs on the beach for your ceremony.

Once you’ve passed the RSVP deadline and you’ve sent a polite reminder email, it’s time to break out the big guns.  I call it “shit or get off the pot time,” but one of my less-foul-mouthed grooms referred to it as “now or never time” so I should probably start using that expression.  It’s time to get an RSVP or make the RSVP for them.

What I mean is that you are going to have to pick up the phone and call each of them individually.  If you luck out and they answer, but when you ask if they’re coming they tell you “maybe,” you’re going to have to bring down the hammer.  Keep in mind this person knows deep down that he/she isn’t coming.  But he/she thinks you don’t know that yet and is afraid to tell you.  It’s your job to let them off the hook.

You might say something like this, “You don’ t know yet?  I’m so sorry to hear that.  We’re going to really miss you.  Unfortunately, we have final headcounts due to all of our vendors this week so if you can’t commit yet, we won’t be able to include you.”  You’re letting them off the hook.  Remind yourself of this.  Even if somebody gets their knickers in a wad with you, they’re really not offended.  They’re probably just embarrassed that they let it get to this point and don’t know how to react.

Some of my brides and grooms just can’t make those “now or never” calls (clearly I’m not referring to all my clients who happen to be lawyers).  That’s just lots more aggressive than they’re willing to get with the people they’ve invited to their wedding.  So they bring in the really big guns — me!  I have them give me a list of names, email addresses and phone numbers and go at it.

First, I send a very polite email introducing myself and explaining that we need to know if they’re coming because of space and reservations down here.  Most people will respond to an email from your wedding planner.  And it’s much easier to tell your cousin’s wedding planner you’re not coming than to tell your cousin that you’re dissing her on her big day.

Second, I call the people who didn’t reply to my email within 24 hours.  I introduce myself and tell them I’m looking forward to meeting them in Vieques and ask if they’re having any problems with travel and accommodations because they haven’t RSVP’d yet.  That’s the cue for most of them to bite the bullet and decline.  If they say “maybe,” I tell them we’re going to miss having them at the wedding but we have to turn in final numbers immediately.  If they can’t commit, we’ll have to take that as a “no.”  If they’re genuinely having some problems getting their act together but do want to come, I can help them figure out their travel and accommodations.  Sometimes that’s the only bugaboo.  If I get voicemail when I call, I leave a message and ask them to call me back immediately.

Third, if I still don’t get a call or email back after I leave a message for the invitee, we assume they’re not going to attend.  I call them back the next night and leave another message along the lines of “Hi! This is your fraternity brother Joe’s wedding planner in Vieques.  I haven’t heard back from you so I’m assuming you’re not going to make it to Joe and Sue’s destination wedding weekend in Vieques in July.  If I’m wrong, please call me back TONIGHT and let me know.  Otherwise, I’m not going to count you in when I give the caterer the final numbers tomorrow.  Thanks!”

Sound too aggressive to you now?  Wait until you’re four weeks after your RSVP date and you don’t know if you can afford to have a welcome cocktail party because 24 rude people haven’t bothered to mail a pre-stamped envelope or reply to an email.  Look, I’m all for being nice and polite to your guests, but sometimes you just have to help them say no or you’re still going to be wondering if they’re coming a week before your wedding.

Okay, I have to scoot now.  We’re taking the afternoon off and going to the beach with some friends to play with the crazy new beach and pool toys that the folks at Swimways gave us last week.  We have a pop-up picnic table and a hammock on a frame we’re dying to show off.  And Bill just went to get a bag of ice for the floating cooler that tethers to the rafts.  Yay!

Happy Wedding Planning from Weddings in Vieques!

Sandy

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