- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 17, 2005

How far ahead should I send invitations for a formal seated dinner? Also, because people often forget to RSVP when they receive an invitation, is it uncouth of me to call them by phone to check whether they are coming so I can order food, make plans, etc.?

A: Four to six weeks in advance should be enough as far as sending out a formal invitation to dinner is concerned. If you send out the invitations earlier, your prospective guests likely will forget. If sent less than a month in advance, you run the risk that they may be engaged elsewhere already.

People are terribly busy these days, especially in places like Washington. They often forget to reply to an invitation, so you will hardly be “uncouth” if they have not responded and you have to call to ask them if they have received the invitation. Unless the invitation has been lost in the mail or they have been ill or have just returned from a long absence — in other words, unless they have a convincing excuse — they should be apologizing to you.

It is an unfortunate fact of social life that even if your guests have accepted your kind offer, they may forget to come. Unless you want to risk having an empty place or places at table (which happens more often than not in some circles), you need to think about reminding them in some way.

This can be done in person (if you happen to see them within a week of the event), by telephone or e-mail. (Some hosts actually send printed reminders as well as the original invitation.)

If your guest is a member of Congress or another exalted personage, consider telephoning his or her personal assistant or scheduler to ensure that your date is on his or her calendar. Ask the assistant to personally contact you if there are any last-minute changes of plans. (Members of Congress, for example, may have to remain on Capitol Hill for a late vote.)

A third option now very much in vogue among top hosts is to invite your guests by telephone and then send a “to remind” card to the addresses of those who accept about a week in advance of the event.

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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