Invitations seem so straightforward – it’s just asking someone to attend an event you are planning, right? Well, not quite. Missing off essential information can cause a lot of confusion, extra work, or awkward situations (oh, you didn’t bring your bathing suit?).
On the other hand, a well phrased, properly formatted, and elegantly styled invitation provides an excellent first impression to the event you are hosting. So before planning your next fancy do, take a look at what you should include on your invitations.
The essential information checklist
1. Purpose of the event – Is it a birthday party, wedding, retirement, and so on.
2. The host – Who is organising the event, the point of contact.
3. The guest of honour – This could be the host, or someone else. A wife could be hosting a birthday party for her husband.
4. The day and date – Please include both the day of the week and the date on your invitations. People have such busy schedules and occasionally Friday and Saturday plans get mixed up. Including both the day and the date helps people solidify the event in their minds and prevents mix-ups.
5. Time of the event – If you are hosting cocktails before a sit-down dinner, please specific both start times. If punctuality is necessary, for example what time the yacht leaves the harbour, indicate this with "8 o’clock sharp".
6. Name and address of the location – Include the name of the venue, such as the restaurant, hotel, or building name. Specifying the street number and district can save a lot of confusion. I work with Chez Patrick restaurant in Wan Chai and unless I include the address, I can expect half my participants to show up at one of the deli locations.
7. Specify attire or dress code – Indicate if there is a dress code to follow. Let people know if the event is black tie, themed, and so on. Avoid using the terms ‘smart casual’ or ‘business casual’, as these are quite vague and interpretations vary substantially.
8. Special instructions – This may include: “It’s a surprise!” or “no gifts please, but a donation to (the chosen charity) would be appreciated”.
9. Responding instructions – Perhaps the most important piece of information to include on your invitation. Your address and phone number need to be visible. There are three responding instructions to chose:
RSVP (Répondez s’il vous plaît) – Please respond. The proper etiquette is to respond to an invitation within 48 hours of receiving it.
PM (Pour mémoire) – For memory. This is usually included if the guest has already been invited, perhaps in person or over the phone, and has verbally accepted the invitation.
Regrets only – The guest responds only if he/she cannot make it.
The name of the invited guest(s) should be handwritten at the upper left corner of the invitation. Writing should be tidy, preferably cursive, and in black ink. The lower left corner includes the responding instructions and the address, and the lower right corner is for time and dress code. All other information is printed in the middle of the card.
Correct phrasing for invitations
Yes, there are even specific phrases that should be included on a formal invitation and when responding. The invitation should say something along the lines of “Mr and Mrs John Stewart request the pleasure of your company” or “request the honour of…”.
Proper ways of responding include, “Mr and Mrs Stevens are pleased to attend (event) at (time) (date) at (location)” or “Mr and Mrs Stevens are pleased to accept the kind invitation of…”. If you cannot make the event, your response is “Mr and Mrs Stevens kindly accept this invitation with pleasure but regrettably cannot attend due to a prior engagement.”
If you are keen to tick all the etiquette boxes, ensure that replies are written on A5 letterhead, in the third person and without a signature. Replies should repeat the information on the invitation to ensure there are no misunderstandings.
If there is one final point I would like to encourage, it is to send written invitations. Finding a pretty envelope in the letterbox is far more exciting than receiving an email or phone call. Written invitations are classic, elegant, personable and much more memorable than an Evite request or a Facebook notification.
Kristine Stewart is the director of the Hong Kong Institute of Etiquette.