DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have hosted several teas for five to eight friends, most of them around my age (mid-20s) or a little younger. My difficulty is with RSVPs: Each time, I've had multiple guests tell me the day of the tea that they're no longer able to attend -- for reasons such as being tired, having work to get done or needing to go grocery shopping.
I've gone to increasing lengths to formalize the event in the hope that that would build more commitment into the responses, with no success. For the most recent tea, I gave out formal handwritten invitations three weeks in advance, requested and received responses two weeks in advance, and still went from seven expected guests to four within hours of the event.
I haven't wanted to invite more people than I can host and rely on last-minute cancellations because it is, of course, always possible that everyone who accepts my invitation will come. I don't want the possibility of not having a teacup, seat or scone for an expected guest.
It's also been suggested to me that asking someone to bring a dish will make her presence feel more essential and thus make her more likely to attend; I haven't wanted to pursue that course, either, because I very much prefer to host the tea rather than just organize it.
But I need to find some solution; neither my salary nor my energy allows for continuing to prepare for twice as many guests as will actually attend. How can I, while being mannerly myself, request or instill a sense of commitment in my friends' responses to my invitations?
GENTLE READER: Stop inviting the ones who consistently fail to show. That will likely be the only way to teach your guests commitment.
Asking them to bring a dish, Miss Manners agrees, is not wise. It not only compromises the pleasure of hosting, but also increases the chance that you will find yourself lacking in both a guest -- and something to serve for tea.