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Business Invitation Etiquette

Business invitations can be informal or formal. Although invitations are usually sent through the mail, informal invitations such as emails and phone invitations are becoming more acceptable.

Invitation Timing

For most informal occasions, it's best to invite guests three to four weeks in advance. If you choose to invite your guests by phone, remind them again in writing two weeks before the gathering. It gives you enough time to add and delete guests from your list. It gives the guest enough time to decide whether to accept or decline your invitation.

Here are some additional guidelines to follow:

  • Six to eight months before an important seminar to which out-of-town executives are invited.
  • Four to six months before an important dinner to which out-of-town guests are invited.
  • Three to five weeks before a luncheon.
  • Four weeks before an evening reception.
  • Two to four weeks before a breakfast for a large group.
  • Two to four weeks before a cocktail party.
  • Two to three weeks before a tea party.

Invitation Format

On the business invitation, you will find:

  1. Company logo or symbol (at the top or bottom of the invitation),
  2. Names of the host,
  3. Invitation phrase (any of the following, depending on your company and the occasion),
    • "you are cordially invited to"
    • "requests the pleasure of your company at"
    • "requests your presence at"
    • "invites you to" or
    • "requests the honor of your presence."
  4. Nature of the party,
    • State whether the event is for breakfast, luncheon, or dinner, a cocktail party or some other occasion.
  5. Purpose of the party,
    • Such as to introduce someone or a new product, to honor a retiree, or to celebrate an occasion or another festive event.
  6. Date and time,
    • The date and time of the event completely written out. Never abbreviate days of the week. The most formal style is to write, "Friday, the twenty-seventh of July at six-thirty o'clock" The least formal is "Friday, July 27, at 6:00 P.M.”
  7. Place,
    • The address of where the event will be held is next. A map is typically included with the invitation if your house or the country club is difficult to find or if your guests haven't been there before.
  8. Where to RSVP, and
    • The RSVP address or phone number is in the bottom left-hand corner of the invitation.
  9. Special instructions.
    • Across from the RSVP address are any special instructions such as attire, parking instructions, where the event will be held in case of rain, and so on.

Formal business invitations are most commonly engraved or printed in black, navy, dark gray, or brown ink on white or off-white high-quality paper. A company can use any color of paper it desires, as long as it upholds and promotes the company's image.

Preprinted invitations work well for most informal dinners and parties. For a casual gathering, there is no need to have invitations printed or engraved or to spend much money on them. Preprinted invitations work well and can be fun. They're convenient, come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, and are available for almost every occasion. They range from very informal to formal. To personalize your informal invitations even more, you may want to use your stationery.

With preprinted invitations, you simply fill the blanks, in neat handwriting, to tell what, where, and when the party will be and who is giving it. When using your stationery, you can follow this same format, or you may want to write a note to the person you're inviting that includes this information. It's also acceptable to include an RSVP notation and your phone number or address on the invitation. One events planner believes every invitation should include an RSVP response. Why? For more accurate planning.

One helpful hint: If you send 200 invitations, you can expect about 40 people to show up. This is a good guideline when trying to predict how many people you will have at your party.

Responding to an Invitation

Either use the address or phone number printed in the lower left corner of the invitation or return the RSVP card sent with the invitation. If a "Please reply by" a given date is included in the invitation, be considerate enough to reply by that date. If the words "Regrets only" are printed in the lower left corner of the invitation, you need only notify the host if you will not be able to attend. If your host does not hear from you, you are expected to attend.

Your host may have subtly suggested that you may bring someone with you by including a guest line on the RSVP card. If such a line is present, you may fill in your guest's name and business affiliation. A guest line doesn't mean that you are obligated to bring someone else. You may, of course, bring a guest if your envelope is addressed to you and"guest"or if your host otherwise suggests that it's okay for you to do so.

When a couple has been invited and only one person can attend, that person should decline. They should let the host know they declined because their partner could not attend. This gives the host the option of offering to invite the couple to their next dinner party or letting the one person who is able to come know that he or she is still welcome.

Never ask to bring a guest unless the invitation states "Mr. Louis Winthorp and Guest." Most likely, the host will have only enough food and beverages for the number of people he invited. Showing up with an uninvited friend could turn out to be an embarrassing situation for everyone. If you don't want to go to the party or dinner without that special someone, decline the invitation. Let the host know that you'd like to get together with him at a time when your friend can accompany you.

Reminder Cards

If a company sends invitations to an important event many months in advance, it's a good idea to send a reminder card ten days to two weeks before the event to refresh people's memories. If the time or location of an event must be changed after invitations have been sent, especially if they've been sent well in advance, a reminder card informs guests of the change of time or location. These cards are also a good idea if the invitation was extended over the phone (send the card no later than two weeks before the event).

A reminder card states that it is a reminder that you (the guest) are expected at (type of event) on (date) at (time). Also included are the name and address of the company or person giving the event or the address of the location of the event, if it's different, and possibly a reminder of the attire expected or other special instructions.

Cancelled Events

If the date of the event is changed or the event must be canceled after the invitations have been sent and the guests have responded, notify all guests immediately if the date of the event is near. The quickest way is to notify them by phone, or by email if they're out of town. Also let the guests know why the date has been changed or the event canceled. If you send out a second set of invitations after changing the date, be sure to include not only the new date, but also the date the event was previously planned for and invite those who declined the first invitation. If you change the date of or cancel an event but still have a good deal of time before the date for which the event was previously planned, send a personal letter to each guest notifying him of the change or cancellation, and explain the reason for it.

Envelopes

  • Envelopes should be of the same color and weight as the stationery or invitations.
  • If the invitations or letters are handwritten, the envelopes should be also. Handwriting should be very neat and elegant or done in calligraphy, neatly type the envelopes when the invitations or letters are typed. Never use computer labels on invitations.
  • The return address goes on the front of the envelope in the upper left-hand corner, not on the back flap.
  • For formal invitations, avoid using initials in people's names unless it is part of their name.
  • Write out "Street," "Avenue," "Junior," "Senior" and so on, instead of using abbreviations.
  • Abbreviate state names, using the correct postal abbreviations.
Address envelopes according to how you know the guest personally or professionally. Titles such as Mr., Mrs., and Ms. are usually used on social invitations. On business and formal invitations they are absolutely essential and usually accompanied by professional titles.

The best way to address a letter to a woman is to put her first and last name only, on the outside envelope, and then put "Ms." first and her last name on the letter itself. Unless you're absolutely sure that she prefers to be addressed as "Miss" or "Mrs.," avoid using these titles.

If you're corresponding with someone you're already acquainted with, either by phone or mail, it's okay to put their first and last name or initials on the outside envelope and "Mr." or "Ms." first and last name on the inside envelope. When writing to someone whose gender you're unsure of, you may greet them with "Dear Sir or Madam.”

The best way to avoid wrongly addressing someone is to call the office and ask the secretary how the person prefers to be addressed.


- , Editor, Etiquette Scholar

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