- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 15, 2005

I moved to Washington from Ohio a while ago and have started to receive invitations, mostly because I work in advertising. I have noticed that many have notations that specify “nontransferable,” “for recipient and one guest only,” “please present this card at the door,” “guest list at the door,” etc.

Can you explain what this is all about? Are people so crass here that they bring extra guests, pass along their invitations to others or — even worse — “attend” a party without being invited themselves?

A: Most people do not take advantage of their host’s hospitality under any circumstances. That being said, there are enough of the other sort that certain measures must be taken so party givers need not underwrite the cost of entertaining people they do not know and have no wish to meet.

You indicated that your invitations are primarily of a business nature, which does a lot to explain why such precautions are taken. For some reason, many people who would never dream of “crashing” a private party (or bringing extra guests to the home of a friend) do not hesitate to do exactly that when the host is a corporation, museum, art gallery, embassy, think tank, etc.

This, of course, is wrong. Private means private, and hosts have every right to ensure that their event is not invaded by interlopers.

That’s why you are apt to see very formidable-looking guest-list checkers at the entrance to most exclusive events. In these days of heightened security, these “clipboard Nazis” (as they are amusingly dubbed in the tabloid press) are apt to be backed up by private guards or Secret Service personnel when high-ranking officials of the U.S. or foreign governments are expected. Event sponsors need to take precautions against unforeseen “incidents” that could scarcely have been imagined a few years back.

Most invitations allow recipients to bring a guest (whose name often must be given when the R.S.V.P. is made). If an invitation, especially one of a business-related sort, is specifically addressed to the recipient only, you can be reasonably assured that a “plus one” is unwelcome.

In certain cases, if you are reasonably well-acquainted with your host, you might consider calling to ask if a spouse, visiting relative, etc., might accompany you. (Personally speaking, I have both asked and been asked in this regard.) If your host does not immediately and effusively offer to include your guest, back off and drop the matter at once. Either go alone or decline to attend.

The transferral of invitations is a somewhat different matter, one to which many government officials — and some business executives — have fallen asunder under the assumption their presence is so exalted that they must send someone to “represent” them.

While this may be true in the case of, say, the secretary of education sending a lower-ranking substitute to a conference on higher learning, it does not hold true as far as purely social events are concerned. (I well remember the scowling face of a prominent dowager philanthropist when she discovered her dinner partner at a charity function some years back was not the congressman whose name appeared on the place card beside hers, but a very low-ranking aide who worked in his office.)

How this outrageous contravention of social form ever got started is a mystery, but it has gotten so bad on Capitol Hill lately that a number of senators and representatives are known to hand out unwanted invitations to college-age interns as a perquisite. Needless to say, such practices put both the host and the “guest” in an extremely awkward position.

Until certain people who should know better wise up, I’m afraid “nontransferable” is here to stay.

I asked Carolyn Peachy, owner of Campbell-Peachy Associates, to comment from a seasoned event planner’s point of view:

“People are always invited with a guest to events, the exception being private seated dinners. Single persons without a spouse are often invited to those precisely because they are single. Keep this in mind if your host suddenly falls silent when you ask if you can bring a guest,” she says.

“‘Nontransferable’ is used primarily to limit attendance at an event which is targeting a specific audience. This is often the case when there is insufficient room to accommodate someone who has received the invitation from its original recipient.

“In our experience, the phrase ‘guest list at the door’ is not much connected to preventing access by the uninvited. It is generally used to let guests know they do not need a ticket to attend an event and that they will be checked in at the door if they accepted.

“‘Please present this card at the door’ is used more to provide access to persons who were invited than to prevent access by the uninvited. After all, if the card is presented, it provides access. Anyone can pass it along, and there you are — in the door.”

Address your questions on etiquette and protocol to Kevin Chaffee, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002 or send e-mail to civilities@ washingtontimes.com.

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