How to Decline an Invitation Gracefully

Katie Sweeney

There’s an alarming new trend in the world of entertaining: Fewer and fewer people feel the need to RSVP. As someone who regularly throws dinner parties, holiday celebrations, and other social events, I find this very disconcerting. How is a hostess supposed to determine how much Champagne to chill, salmon to cook, and plates to set if she doesn’t know the number of guests who will be attending her party? While I understand that everyone is busy, it only takes two seconds to click yes or no on a Paperless Post invitation. I also know that some people prefer not to RSVP because they may end up flaking or canceling at the last minute. However, when someone invites you to a party, it’s simply rude not to reply! If you don’t RSVP because you are afraid of saying no, then, well, that is just plain silly. It’s perfectly acceptable to decline an invitation! As long as you do so gracefully and in a manner that does not offend the host, you’ll definitely receive another invitation in the future. No need to make awful excuses; keep things short, sweet, and to the point. To encourage you to make an effort to RSVP, here’s how to decline an invitation gracefully.

What Not to Say: “I’m too tired. I’m just exhausted.”

What to Say: “I really appreciate the offer, but I’m taking the night off. I need some quiet downtime. I hope you understand!”

The Fine Print: No hostess wants to hear that you prefer sleep over attending her Friday evening wine-and-cheese pairing, so make it sound like you already have a night off scheduled on your calendar—even if you don’t. After a long week, almost everyone is tired on Friday nights, so it’s not the best excuse for declining. If you just say, “I’m too tired,” the hostess could respond, “Well the party doesn't start until 8 p.m. Go home after work, take a nap, and then come over!” Make it a firm, clear no, and she won’t be able to try to convince you to come.

What Not to Say: “I miss my husband.”

What to Say: “That sounds like so much fun, but unfortunately, Jack and I have a date night scheduled—for just the two of us. Please keep me in mind for the next book club party!”

The Fine Print: When you say that you miss your husband, the hostess could reply with “Why not bring Jack to the book club?! Chris will be there, and so will Melissa’s husband, Deiter.” If that happens, then you have to make up another excuse! Avoid it altogether by saying that you have a special evening planned for just the two of you. Then go ahead and text your husband to schedule a date night.

What Not to Say: “I’m not feeling well.”

What to Say: “What a bummer—I have another commitment. Hope the party is a success!”

The Fine Print: Lying about your health is never a good idea. Four hours later when you’re out playing pool, five drinks deep, it’s way too easy to forget the little white lie you made over a text. The hostess will see your drunken Instagrams and wonder why you lied to her.

What Not to Say: “I’ve been traveling a lot and can’t face doing another thing.”

What to Say: “I already have plans at that exact time. Can we schedule a hangout for another date soon?”

The Fine Print: Acting like the event is a chore will offend the hostess. Say you already have plans—she doesn’t need to know that your other plans are catching up with Downton Abbey at home. Ask for a raincheck, and mean it. Schedule another hangout time, and then follow through.

What Not to Say: “Little Caleb had a cold last week, and I’m so behind on everything.”

What to Say: “I would love to catch up with you, but I’m committed to something else at that time. Therefore, I am unable to attend. I hope it’s fun!”

The Fine Print: Don’t make up an excuse that is related to someone else’s health or your own (see above). Yes, a sick child is a great excuse, but it’s so good that the hostess could decide to postpone her event until Caleb is better. She can also alter the menu of her Mexican fiesta to cater to your new avocado allergy or say it’s perfectly fine for you not to participate in the salsa-dance lesson because of your cramps. Hostesses are naturally accommodating; if they want you at their party, they will do everything they can to convince you to come. Another commitment is the only surefire way that you’re guaranteed an easy pass on attending.

What Not to Say: “I’ve been to a bridal shower every weekend this month. The thought of having to sit through another bride-to-be opening her gifts makes me want to cry.”

What to Say: “I’m so excited for Nikki. She is going to be a beautiful bride. However, I’m out of town that Saturday and won’t be able to make the shower. I’m sending a gift off the registry to your house.”

The Fine Print: If you have multiple weddings in a season, practically every weekend can be booked up with a wedding-related event. When you’ve got back-to-back showers, it’s easy to experience shower fatigue—these types of parties are exhausting especially for single women! Don’t badmouth the occasion. Instead say you are out of town. Then book a stay at a nearby spa or make plans to visit your parents or another friend who isn’t involved in the wedding. Or come that Saturday, take an easy day trip that involves doing something relaxing and fun.

What Not to Say: “I’m so not into kids and don’t understand why anyone would want to have one.”

What to Say: “I wish I could come to the shower, but I’m busy that afternoon. I know Jen will be the best mom and am sending a gift with Hannah.”

The Fine Print: Not everyone is into baby showers, but don’t bash those who are. Say you’re busy, and leave it at that. To ensure that you don’t end up on anyone’s bad side, politely decline the invite to attend the baby shower, but always send a gift. It’s the easiest way to let your friend know you care.

What Not to Say: “I’m not spending my hard-earned vacation time on your destination wedding.”

What to Say: “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend your wedding in the French Rivera. Joe and I would love to take you and Paul out to dinner here to celebrate before you go. Can we set something up?”

The Fine Print: You don’t have to say yes to every friend’s wedding. If you don’t want to go, tell her as soon as possible. She may be hurt at first, but if she is a good friend, she will understand. A destination wedding is not only a time commitment, but a financial investment as well. Make it up to the couple by offering to take them to dinner.

To ensure that people don’t decline your invitations, learn how to throw a sensational party by reading one of the entertaining books found below.

Have you recently declined an invitation? What did you say? 

Explore: life advice, RSVP

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