How Far in Advance Should Guests Be Requested to RSVP?
When we talk about a wedding RSVP, we’re actually borrowing from the French phrase repondez s'il vous plait, which means “Respond, please.” It’s basically a nice way of telling potential guests that they need to let you know whether they plan to decline or to attend your big day.
But when should guests be sending in their RSVPs?
Part of your job as the bride- or groom-to-be is to help guide guests so they know how to help you hit your planning milestones (even if you’re only learning about those milestones for the first time yourself).
Here are some tips on RSVPs and a few things to consider as you prepare to get guests in the loop.
When to Mail Your Invites
According to your wedding planning checklist, you should be browsing Wedding Invitations about 4-5 months before your wedding date, choosing and personalizing your design 3 months in advance of those I dos, and mailing invitations no later than 6-8 weeks before guests are expected to be on site for the ceremony and reception.
Sound like a tight turnaround? You don’t want to send invitations any earlier because there are too many variables in place that could make guests forget to respond at all. Many people can’t commit to attending a major event until around 2 months before it happens because they can’t confirm time off from work or school or ensure they have a babysitter so far in advance. Mail your invites too early and you risk being forgotten in a pile of mail or a desk drawer.
Choosing Your RSVP-By Date
It’s so exciting when your RSVPs start trickling in. It’s like you can see your wedding finally coming together. Don’t be surprised if each positive response brings a tear to your eye; you’ll imagine getting to see friends again and dancing with your grandpa to a playlist of the oldies. But there’s also work to be done. RSVP numbers have to be reported to your wedding planner, caterer, and other key vendors to ensure you have enough supplies and space to take care of your guests.
For most weddings, it’s safe to request RSVPs are sent in by about 2-3 weeks before your wedding date. This gives you time to wait for late RSVPs and chase down the missing responses that are missing. However, you’ll still have enough leeway to communicate final tallies to vendors without feeling stressed. You’ll find that most vendors want to touch base around 2 weeks before your wedding to finalize details, and caterers often want you to sign off on your final head count 1 week before the event.
For a destination wedding, you’ll be sending out invitations earlier than normal (about 3 months before the big day instead of 2), and the RSVP deadline will be moved up too. In this situation, ask guests to confirm attendance no later than 1 month before the event. It can be harder to coordinate wedding plans from a state or continent away, and having extra time allows for communication difficulties that could result from crossing time zones and working through language barriers.
Remember, always pad your RSVP date by at least a few days. There will always be stragglers who mail their RSVPs on the day they should be received or forget altogether until the date has passed completely. We’ll touch on chasing down latecomers a little later on, but for now, know that if you absolutely need to give the caterers a final number on September 15, September 15 should NOT be your RSVP date.
Why Guests Need Time to Plan
You’ve probably noticed that a lot of the reasoning here revolves around the needs of the happy couple (that’s you and your spouse-to-be, of course), and for good reason. But understanding what guests go through might help you dial in your RSVP deadline as well.
In general, guests may have to do any or all of the following:
Request time off from work and/or school
Arrange for childcare
Find appropriate outfits
Purchase a gift
Guests invited to a destination wedding have even more work ahead of them, adding the following tasks to the list above:
Making travel arrangements such as renting a car or buying plane tickets
Potentially acquiring clothes for a different climate
Applying for/collecting required travel documents such as a passport, visa, or even immunizations
As long as COVID-related restrictions are still in place, guests have the added burden of adhering to testing and vaccination mandates that may make it difficult for certain people to travel at all.
Being crystal clear about your RSVP deadline helps everyone know how much time they have to plan and whether it’s even realistic to try to attend.
What to Do When People Haven’t Responded
Then there are the dreaded non-RSVPs. They haven’t said yes, but they also haven’t said no. They’ve just said nothing. You have no idea if Great Aunt Ethel or your high school drama teacher you felt so bonded with are actually coming. So, what do you do?
Pick up the phone. Yes, people should just mail RSVPs as directed. No, you shouldn't have to call them. But you might need to. Unless you’re okay with uncertainty hanging in the air and people randomly showing up on the big day, you’ll need to call those who have yet to RSVP by the deadline and ask them about their plans. You also shouldn’t have to explain yourself when you call, but sticking to a script (“I need to confirm numbers with the venue by tomorrow, so if you could call me back and confirm your attendance ASAP that would be amazing!”) deflects blame and might help you feel a little less awkward.
Build in a grace period. As mentioned above, you need to build a grace period into your RSVP time frame, so guests are expected to report back a few days or even a week before you actually need final numbers in place. That gives stragglers a chance to show up in your mailbox even if they’re running late.
Follow up via email or text. If a phone call isn’t producing results, try reaching out through email or sending a text. Some people are better about responding if they can do it while they’re at work or waiting in line versus making an actual call. Pro tip: No group emails or texts, please. It’s poor etiquette and will make it harder for you to track individual replies in the long run.
Start pruning your list. If you’ve tried all the above steps and people still aren’t responding, you’re well within your rights to consider striking them from your guest list and moving on. If they call a week before the wedding, it’s up to you whether you want to squeeze them in, but any reasonable person would understand if you say you reached out multiple times and unfortunately, the numbers are now set in stone.
Many caterers will include a few “just in case” meals to their final prep. That means that your cousin who randomly shows up with his new girlfriend or the frat brother who swore he couldn’t come but is now out front in a rented tux won’t go hungry. But you may be limited by available seating or venue capacity, so have a plan in place as to what will happen to wedding crashers and who can run interference so the bride and groom don’t have to.
As with everything in life, there are tons of exceptions to the rules above. Some couples are eager to plan and finalize details, and they’ll want RSVPs in a month or two before their wedding date. Ultimately, that’s completely up to you, but keep in mind that the earlier you request RSVPs, the more likely it is guests will have post-RSVP changes that affect their ability to attend.
Other special considerations include:
Casual backyard weddings. Even laid-back weddings benefit from RSVPs just so you know how much BBQ to prepare or whether you need to rent additional tables and chairs, but the casual environment does give you a larger margin for error. If you choose your parents’ home or your own backyard as your venue and provide food yourself, it’s easier to give guests more time to RSVP or skip the whole chasing-down-guests part of the equation altogether.
All-inclusive weddings. Some couples are fortunate enough to have the means to host an all-expenses-paid destination wedding, meaning they pay for all guest accommodations, food, and drinks for the entirety of their stay. If you’re in this category, you’ll likely need RSVPs earlier than normal because you’re reserving a large portion of a hotel or resort. You don’t want to wind up paying for rooms you don’t need, but you also don’t want to find out that you need more rooms than are left once guests get around to confirming their attendance.
Last-minute weddings. Maybe you’ve already postponed your wedding twice because of COVID and just want to get married, even if that means eloping. Or maybe you just don’t want to deal with the complexities that come with planning a more formal wedding. It’s OK to send out invitations that are more of a notice of your big day than a true invite. Ask guests to RSVP via text (quicker than snail mail) and keep the guestlist small. It’s easier to manage RSVPs for 10 people in 2 weeks than it is to nail down 100 guests when you’re already pressed for time.
There are lots of moving parts in the wedding planning process, and many of them hinge on knowing how many people will be there to see you say, “I do.” Getting an accurate guest count is imperative, so send out your invitations on time and decide how you’ll track responses.
To get started building your guest list, check out our collection of All-in-One Wedding Invitations that include a tear-off RSVP card to make things extra easy.