Etiquette for declining an invitation

Usually, when you receive an invitation to a party or event from a friend or family member, you’re more than happy to rearrange your schedule to make it to the celebration. However, you’ll occasionally receive party invitations to events you simply can’t fit into your busy calendar. In these instances, it can be extremely tempting to simply ignore the card. However, not responding to a message is improper etiquette and can lead to awkward emails. So, next time you receive an invite and cannot attend, here are a few rules for following proper etiquette:

Always respond
You might feel bad for declining the invitation, but if you don’t send a reply, your hosts may think you didn’t receive the invite and send an email instead. Refusing to respond to a second message will seem really rude, and when they contact you directly like this, it might start a whole conversation about why you’re not attending. Avoid all this drama from the start by declining as soon as you’re sure you can’t make it.

Don’t give an excuse
Don’t make up an excuse for not attending. This could potentially backfire on you in the future, and it’s also just unnecessary. Checking the “No” box on the response card and adding a brief, “I regretfully decline,” or “I’m unable to attend,” message is all that is needed. Do not go into specifics unless the host is a close friend and you really want to explain why you can’t make it. Otherwise, a simple response is adequate.

Appropriate voice
Determine the language of your card based on who sent the invitation. If it is someone you don’t know very well, then keep the wording formal. Emily Post notes that formal responses should be written in third person, such as, “Ms. S must regretfully decline the invitation to the party.”

However, if you’re responding to a close friend, feel free to make it a little more personal with a first person message. You’ll still want to keep the note brief, but it’s OK to say something beyond that you won’t be coming to the event.

Call for cancellations
If you originally accepted an invitation and an emergency comes up that prevents you from attending, call your hosts. Events are difficult to prepare and usually have limited guests lists. If you are invited to a wedding and something comes up, the bride and groom can ask someone else to attend if you give them notice. Caterers must also be notified if there are going to be fewer guests than expected at the reception, so be courteous and keep your hosts aware of last-minute plan changes.