With the party season hitting its peak, here at the Asia Tatler office alone we’re pretty sure there is no way any princess will be able to spot the pea underneath our growing stack of multi-coloured invitation cards. And as we continue to cover all the top soirees in Hong Kong for our readers, we can’t help but notice some alarming party etiquette offenders on the loose. Some are more offensive than others, for example we spotted the wearing of denim at a strictly cocktail-only event; the surprise appearance of a guest who RSVP-ed ‘no’ to a sit-down dinner; and the standard offence, the arrival of an uninvited guest to an invite-only soiree.

While these offenses may be trivial, not adhering to the party etiquette suggested by the invitation card is simply disrespectful, trivialising the effort the host put into organising the event, and in many ways this behaviour can be discomforting to other guests as well. But rather than kicking up a fuss at the event, we thought it was time the rules following an invitation card should be addressed and highlighted once again.

The Importance of RSVP

-RSVP is the acronym for respondez, s’il vous plait, so please do so. A lack of response is a ‘no’ in the eyes of the host.

-Give a firm yes if attending, but after doing so, please be advised that there is no turning back unless you have a reason that involves a death or similar personal tragedy

-If you respond ‘no’ and later change your mind for whatever reason, do ask the host whether it is all right you attend. A word of advice: if you’re pressed to RSVP and are unsure about availability, it is better to opt for ‘no’ and change to ‘yes’, rather than the latter

-If you RSVP-ed ‘no’, do not turn up. That is beyond rude and if it is a dinner and the host has made prior seating arrangements, or worse, paid a deposit based on head count at a venue, this will put the host and the rest of the company in no little distress


-While according to age-old etiquette rules, it is polite to send a reply by post, but nowadays an email or telephone call is sufficient– double-check the invitation to see if there is an indicated method for RSVP. If someone has gone to the trouble of sending you an invite by post, it is beyond rude to RSVP by text or God forbid, WhatsApp

-If you are told to expect a confirmation, a ticket or some sort of pass and you haven’t heard from the host by the day before, send a follow-up email. Again, do not just show up as your RSVP has clearly been lost and you are not expected

-If you can’t attend, simply say ‘no’ and politely state the reason if you feel the need to do so. But do not over share and note ‘polite’ is the keyword here. So if your reason for not attending is that the restaurant is too expensive; the cuisine or crowd is not your cup of tea; or the location is too out of your way, please: a “I have a prior commitment” will do just fine

Dress Code

-If there is a dress code, abide by it. It doesn’t matter where you came from or where you need to go afterwards, abide by the dress code. The only exception, again, is perhaps if you must attend a funeral directly after the cocktail

-If, however, there is no indicated dress code or the dress code is unclear (read “glitter the world”), ask the host in advance or when RSVP-ing send a note to clarify

-If the event makes mention of a birthday or a wedding, dress to impress but don’t try to outshine the host

Click to read what A-listers take on dating etiquette in Hong Kong.

Plus One

-Strictly speaking the invitation is intended for you and only you, if they wanted to invite your friend they would have sent an invite to them, too. But having said that for most parties, it is generally acceptable to bring a plus one but remember to always ask the host

- If you want to email the host to ask if you may bring a friend, do not under any circumstances copy your friend on the email until the host has agreed that it is all right

-For parties (as mentioned above), a plus one is generally acceptable but don’t push it, RSVP-ing on behalf of your whole posse, unless this is asked of you, is acceptable only if you’re a rap star

-In the case of a sit down dinner or an intimate gathering at someone else’s home, a plus one is not acceptable unless the invitation states ‘plus ones and friends are welcome’, otherwise it is imposing



-Try to be there on time, there is a general grace period of 15 minutes

-If you’re going to arrive late, let the host know. For a cocktail, it is generally okay to attend between the time of the event but if it is a dinner and you’re running late or you’ve known from the start that you will be delayed, let the host know so that they don’t wait for you to begin and they can arrange the seating plan accordingly


- As it is Christmas, lots of parties may have Secret Santas or some other small gift-giving ritual. If it is not clear in the invite, ask your host what is expected so that you’re not the only one showing up empty-handed

- If attending a dinner party at someone’s home, one should always bring something. A bottle of wine is fine for a dinner party, but always reassure the host that it need not be served with dinner in case it disrupts the planned wine pairing

- If attending a less formal gathering, say a cocktail, at someone’s home, one should still bring something small. Flowers for the hostess or a small Christmas ornament for the tree is always a welcome gesture

Read more about the rules of gift-giving here.

Tags: Etiquette, Mei Mei Song