Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Evite for Hosts

The holiday season is fast approaching which means many party and dinner invitations are about to be exchanged. Traditional etiquette favors paper invitations, but electronic versions are common replacements. I don't mind the move to invitations via evite and facebook. After all, the money saved on paper, printing, and postage can be applied to the event itself. Plus, it's more environmentally friendly. However, the reputation of electronic invitations has been marred by the bad behavior of both hosts and guests. This is the first in a series of posts to help elevate the practice of exchanging electronic invitations this season. I start with guidance to those who want to send invitations via evite.

Your invitation, regardless of its medium, is the first impression for your party. Its style should be true to the upcoming event. Subtle colors, classic fonts, and simple images will convey a fancier event (e.g. a nice dinner party); whereas bright colors and wacky clip art are good for something more casual (e.g. a football gathering or crazy Christmas sweater party). Imagine printing out your invitation and displaying it prominently at your event. Would the style of the evite be consistent with the decor and desired tone?

Include as much detail as possible.  In addition to the simple where and when, guests appreciate knowing what's in store for them. Will there be food, and if so, is it just snacks/desserts or a whole meal? What's appropriate to wear? Should they bring anything? Should they NOT bring anything (i.e. "No gifts please.")? Do they need to reply by a certain date? Also be sure to include a phone number that you'll have access to during the party in case people need to call for directions or to say they'll be late.

There are some useful elements if you click on "invitation options" on the first evite design screen. You can include a list of items for people to bring that guests can select when they respond. You can also change the guest reminder (from the default of 2 days before).

Another useful feature is the option to include an end time. Although not necessary for a dinner or other event where people are expected to arrive at a particular time, an end time helps for an "open house" type party where people will be arriving at various times. Take it from someone who has had a guest arrive half an hour after everyone else had left; guidance is helpful to avoid awkward situations for you and your guests. 'Tis the season for party hopping, so it's good for guests to be aware of your anticipated peak party time. You can always go later if everyone is having a good time. 

If you aren't comfortable with setting a specific end time, you can still provide some clues in your description. In my household, I'm generally early to bed, but my husband is a night owl. Our invitations often include the note, "The party may move to a nearby bar after midnight. Call if you're joining us late." This lets people know that there will probably be something going on for a while but not to drop by the house without checking in first.

Make a thoughtful guest list. Because including guests on an evite is cheap and easy many people include their entire address book even though many of those people are clearly not going to attend**. Only include people to whom you would conceivably send a paper invitation. This will likely vary by type of event. Weddings are once in a lifetime (at least theoretically) and can draw guests from far away, but smaller events generally only have a local draw. You may want to invite your friend who lives in Hawaii (assuming you don't) to every event cheapens the rest of your guest list. Of course, if you think an out of town guest may be making a trip around the time of your party you can include them, but also contact her personally to let her know you are inviting them in case she makes the trip.

At the top of the "Add Guests" screen is a link to "Guest List Options," which includes some important settings. First is the option to hide the guest list. Many people who don't like evite cite the lack of privacy, so hiding the guest list will make these people more comfortable. On the other hand, evite fans like seeing who is and is not coming and get annoyed when the guest list is hidden. Ultimately, it's your choice.

The most important guest options are allowing people to invite others and allowing people to bring others. The former refers to the ability to send the invitation to another person whose name will then be added to the guest list. The latter refers to the ability to add +1 or more to the original guest's reply. You can also set a maximum number of guests for the event. The evite default is to allow guests to invite or bring an unlimited number of guests. I'll be addressing appropriate use of these in my guest guidance, but you can prevent problems by setting your desired limits ahead of time. Again, it helps to include some text in the description to make sure that people know the difference between "Bring your friends" and "Please ask before inviting others."

One of the most important steps in creating a thoughtful evite is overriding the default text in the message sent to guests. Many guests say their biggest peeve about evite is receiving an email that only includes a link and doesn't tell them anything substantial about the invitation. Take the time to write a message that includes key pieces of information, especially the date and time. Also, if you want people to respond by a certain date that information should be repeated here. Close your message with your full name to make it clear who sent this.

Finally, if you need to follow up on guest responses don't mention that "You haven't even looked at the evite!" or "I know you looked at my evite on xxxxx." Although evite shows you this information it's not polite to use it against your guest even if they try to use an excuse that is clearly a lie.

**I have one exception to the rule about inviting out of town guests to a party. I have thrown a cocktail party every December since 1993. It became such a tradition among my Pittsburgh friends that when I moved away a few years ago a friend started having her own Christmas party in my honor. It is always flattering to receive that invitation. ;-)

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