Party Etiquette: Who Pays When a Guest Doesn't Show Up?

Let's say you're invited to a birthday party. You accept the invitation, but on the day of the party, a family obligation takes precedence. For whatever reason, you fail to call the host to send your regrets.
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Let's say you're invited to a birthday party. You accept the invitation, but on the day of the party, a family obligation takes precedence. For whatever reason, you fail to call the host to send your regrets.

Sometime later, you receive a bill from the host for the dinner you never ate. Would you feel insulted? Would you pay the bill?

This scenario may seem far-fetched to you, but something similar actually happened last week in Britain when 5-year-old Alex Nash was invited to a birthday party at Plymouth Ski and Snowboard Centre.

After accepting the invitation, the boy's parents realized they were double-booked on the day of the party and chose to spend it with his grandparents. The birthday boy's mother, Ms. Lawrence, sent an invoice to Alex's parents requesting a "No Show Fee" for expenses incurred and for failing to honor their word. Ms. Lawrence and Mr. Nash may have to settle their dispute in small claims court.

Several years ago I hosted a book launch party at the Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach to celebrate the publication of my first book, Business Class. The hotel charged me $50.00 per person. On the day of the party, two of my guests called to cancel, costing me $100.00. Although I was disappointed, and mostly irritated, I didn't even think of sending them an invoice. If I had, I would have lost their friendship as well as my credibility as an etiquette expert.

And so my point is this. Even though a "no show" is irritating, frustrating and downright rude, it is gauche for the host or hostess to send a guest an invoice for failing to appear at a party.

Being a gracious guest isn't rocket science. Follow these simple guidelines if you want to be invited back.

Please respond. If you're invited to a party, respond as soon as possible. Generally speaking, invitations should be responded to within a week of receipt or by the date specified on the invitation. All invitations should be responded to regardless of whether or not you plan to attend. If you wait until the last minute to respond, it may appear as if you are waiting for a more attractive offer to come along.

Follow through. If you tell the host that you will be attending, it is your obligation to attend, even if you can stay for just a short while. The only exception to this rule is if you become ill, have to work, or have a family emergency.

Choose your companion carefully. Don't bring a guest unless you are invited to do so. An extra person could add extra stress if the host is uninformed or unprepared. Also, make sure your guest is a positive reflection on you and not an embarrassment.

Graciously decline. If you promise to attend and find out you won't be able to, it's best to call your host as soon as possible to apologize. Don't send someone in your place without clearing it with the host first. An invitation that states, "non-transferable," means it is intended for the recipient only and should not be given to anyone else. You may forfeit your chances of ever being invited to another event by that person if you aren't considerate enough to accept or decline an invitation. An invitation that states, "Regrets only," means you should call only if you are unable to attend, otherwise the host will assume you're coming.

Bring a gift. To show your appreciation for the invite, bring a small gift for the host. Attach a card to the gift so the host will know who brought it. Don't assume the host will remember what you brought. If you bring flowers, put them in a vase or send them the on day of the event. A bottle of wine makes a nice gift if you know the host will enjoy and appreciate it. Don't expect the host to serve or show your gift at the party. In many cases, the host may have already chosen the wines to match the menu.

Show your appreciation. Never leave the party without saying goodbye to the hosts and thanking them for inviting you. If you have to leave early, simply mention that you have another obligation and you must be going. No other excuse is necessary. Write a thank-you note within 48 hours, even if you brought a gift and verbally expressed your thanks.

For more etiquette tips, visit Jacqueline Whitmore's blog or "like" her Facebook page.