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Cancelling Etiquette

Here's a question & a general vent for everyone out there...

The Question...

When is the appropriate lead time to cancel on someone once you have accepted an invitation?

The Vent...
I guess knowing at some point before the party is better than not knowing at all...but geez cancelling two days before is ridiculous! Don't people think that there is any preparation involved. Don't they understand that I stayed up until midnight making pie dough so that everyone who said they were coming could take home a homemade apple pie and then they cancel and I now I have way more pie dough than is needed? Don't people know that there is a difference between creating a menu that is a buffet for 18 people and a sit down meal for 10. Maybe I just have a bit of pre-party crankiness - but a lot of work goes into hosting a party that is going to be a fun time and then people cancel at the last minute and ruin my party mojo. Am I just being uptight - or has RSVP etiquette gone down the tubes?

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  1. I don't think you're being uptight - in my experience, RSVP etiquette has been way down for at least 10 years: last minute cancellations; last minute responses; no responses at all only to show with multiple additional guests in tow; last minute calls for directions when one is busily answering the door/greeting, etc; (obviously undestandable if someone on the road is lost - but I mean "well, we're about to leave - how do we get there?" even though directions have been provided with the invitation) and on....I stopped entertaining all but a few select people there for a while, I was so fed up.

    And I must say, that since living in Europe - it doesn't happen to nearly the same extent. To a written invitation I even receive old school, written replies even though the invite dropped in the box of neighbors had my phone number; 24 hour cancellation with truly sincere regrets; notes of thanks afterwards; no craziness about people suggesting they bring things I haven't asked for, a la the Rib Fiasco of San Jose Hound etc.

    Whew. To your first question: I'd say at least 24 hours would be appreciated; less can work out fine if it's a different sort of get together - seated dinner for 8 vs. a holiday open house, for example....

    1 Reply
    1. re: briedemeaux

      I agree with above posters but will add: the cancellees are going to be pretty darn sad when they find out they missed out on fresh pie! Although, if something truly bad happened to keep them from attending maybe you'll send pie over as a "feel better"? Unless these are friends who pull similar stunts on a regular basis, give them the benefit of the doubt and have a great party!

    2. Never in a million years would I think that you're up til midnight days ahead making pie dough to send me home with a pie! What makes you think they'd "understand" that? Did you tell them you'd be doing that?

      I seem to remember somewhere (one of those etiquette book thingies) that once you say yes, you're in - someone had better be dead, bleeding, or deathly ill for a cancellation. But, my rule of thumb for events I organize is 48 hours. Anything less than that and you'd better really sell an apology or you're "off the list".

      1. I think 48 hours notice is ample time. I agree with the poster who said that, no, I would have no idea that someone would stay up all night making me pies to take home. And pie dough freezes quite nicely so now, next time you want a pie, all you have to do is thaw it out in your fridge!

        Most people would not have started cooking in a major way at that point and many would not have purchased the bulk of the food for the party in order to have it be as fresh as possible. I can see that canceling the night before is annoying, but sometimes life intervenes and business trips come up suddenly, children get sick, things happen. Two days notice is hardly the an outrage as if they had called an hour before with no legitimate excuse other than "we don't feel like it."

        1. 48 hours is plenty of time.

          1. jfood understands your frustration but you may be asking a whole lot of your guests and you do not know the reasons for their cancellation.

            jfood would never expect a take-home pie with homemade crust after attending a dinner at a friend's house, heck, just having a slice after dinner would have been special. and unless this is a ritual for you in presenting these wonderful gifts how would they know? they probably let you know as soon as they did, one would hope and two days ahead seems fairlywithin the bounds of reasonableness.

            it's unclear from the OP if this was a life event, a nnual event or just a come-on-ver event. jfood has arrived at numerous dinner parties not knowing whether it was 4 or 40 and has walked into both. And in almost 30 years of going to parties with mrs jfood not once di they receive a to-go order.

            so hopefully nothing drastic happened to your friends and they can come another time. as for the pie. thow it in the freezer in slices and enjo in front of Leno for the next week. Jfood canthink of a million things worse than having an extra pie inthe house.

            BTW - three weeks ago the jfoods had companyover for dinner. they were told, as normal, just bring yourselves. One couple arrived with a great pie, and the jfood had one as well. What happened. Too bad for everyone, but each recieved one or bothof the pies for dessert and jfood enjoyed the leftovers for four days. you should have heard everyone say "pooooor jfood" for that time.

            enjoy the company, don;t sweat for the people who missed the good times.

            1. As a favor to you, I will happily take any excess homemade pie off your hands.

              In all seriousness, I don't think your guests were out of line. 48 hours is a reasonable amount of time to cancel, and unless you're hosting a dinner for four your party should still go off without a hitch. Except, of course, for the extra pie... but see first sentence of post for a solution to that conundrum!

              1. You have the pre-party crankies, I get them too! 2 days is enough notice and hopefully nothing too terrible is keeping them from your lovely party.

                However, I can totally understand you being put out by the cancellation, since you've probably done a lot of your shopping already. It is beyond sweet of you to be making pies for everyone to take home. As a pp said, freeze the dough, and I'm sure with the holidays coming up you'll find something to do with it!

                1. I can see where you're feeling irked and why. But on this one I have to agree with previous posters...2 days is plenty of time to cancel. Whether general etiquette has gone down the tubes may be another question, but here is what I think to be a fine example all the way around. You invited, they responded and when something happened such that they weren't able to come, they let you know 2 days ahead of the party. Far preferable to a couple of hours notice.

                  Be irked at the situation, not the people.

                  1. Two days in advance, while disappointing and annoying to you, is probably reasonable, especially if you are dealing with an unexpected business trip, an illness or injury, a babysitter cancellation, basically something unexpected.

                    I would, however, be ticked if someone cancelled only two days in advance and either they told me at the time or I subsequently learned that it was some lame reason like someone just does not feel like driving a distance, or has to get up the next morning early for their kid's soccer game (gee, didn't they have the schedule more than 2 days in advance), etc. Unfortunately, your guests may not be as into cooking/planning as you are and not fully appreciate the time and effort that it takes to plan a menu. Or they are thoughtless. Or both. And I can't imagine anyone who would think that you would be sending them home with an entire pie.

                    Though I don't buy meat or produce in advance and generally don't bake until dayof/day before, I do start shopping several days in advance for things that hold for more than a day or two and I understand that it is frustrating to buy things I might otherwise not have bought.

                    That said, there are far more serious things to get worked up over and you should not let the cancellations spoil your evening with those who do attend. Consider it the non-attendees' loss and enjoy the extra pies!

                    1. Freeze the pie dough. If it was to be a buffet then still make it a buffet for less. Two days is plenty of time for cancellation and no, I would not knowyou were baking 18 (10?) pies. Better than haveing people who said no show up and not have enough food.

                      1. Cooking is giving love, and making everybody an apple pie is giving a whole heap of extra special love, so of course it is hard to see why anybody would cancel on that. I think one of the saddest things is making a special treat for someone then seeing it go uneaten, it is like rejection, and it is personal when you put so much of yourself into the cooking.

                        Get your party mojo back on, and make beautiful pies for your lucky friends.

                        1. Of course, an invitation once accepted can only be cancelled for very serious reasons (death/serious illness in the family, acute illness of the guests, or a subsequent invitation to the White House are among the very limited traditional acceptable excuses). That said, your reaction is cranky and uptight. The guests should have no idea of how much work you are undertaking for the dinner party. It's irrelevant, actually.

                          1. njensen,
                            While I agree with my fellow posters that 48 hrs should work if the event is being held at your home, perhaps if you somehow cleverly gave your invitees an indication that you were planning on doing the take home pie, thing, it might make them think before they committed to the invitation. Not to 'guilt' anyone into accepting, but rather to indicate that you are delighted to share in their company and plan to give a special gift for your guests to "extend the evening" There is nothing wrong with mentioning it.
                            If it's still a problem, for future gatherings, I'd suggest you make a small craft instead.
                            If you have invitees that habitually cancel, they don't really want to come and they initially acccept with no real intention of coming. I'd make their wish come true and drop them from the guest list..

                            1. I'm sorry- but two days notice is ample.

                              1. Two days' notice is lots of time, but smacks of "I got a better offer". Seems to me a true "good reason" to cancel would be with less notice. Depending on what the actual reason was, I'd suck it up but possibly not invite them again.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: hsk

                                  The more I read on chowhound the more I wonder why anyone hosts dinner parties, throws dinner parties or opens a restaurant.

                                  Without more information, it smacks of nothing at all. Any number of things can pop up two days before a party. In fact, it might speak to being ultra-considerate in that it could be something that is just likely to prevent them but they didn't want to be horribly impolite and cancel last minute, so they decided to give up the dinner party two days in advance to minimize the effect on the party thrower. If canceling two days before a party is cause for a permanent dis-invite....well, then I really need a new etiquette book.

                                  1. re: ccbweb

                                    I agree with what you said, about consideration in canceling as early as possible and at the same time, I also see the point of hsk, the poster before
                                    you, who wonders about the 48 hr emergency. . Both very valid points of view.
                                    It must be the glass half full/half empty that leads me to find this thread so interesting..

                                2. Thanks to all who replied. The party is over and I had a GREAT time with those who did attend. Ample wine and pie really helps with the party mojo.
                                  BTW - the party was an "Apple Pickin' Party" and the invite was to go apple picking at the orchard, make pies and eat a homemade dinner (or just come for dinner). Try it sometime - it makes for a really fun "theme".
                                  OK- I will go with the consensus and accept that 2 days is ample notice. Perhaps it was the lame cancellation excuses that led to a slightly bruised ego and hence the pre-party crankies. But I hear that left over pie is a good cure - so I think I'll be just fine!

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: njensen

                                    Oooh that sounds like fun! I'm glad you were able to enjoy your weekend!

                                    1. re: njensen

                                      You have gotten this ad-nauseum already but I think two days was enough UNLESS of course it was to a wedding which is what happened to me. We all know we pay for every guest weeks in advance so when people cancel to a weeding two days before its like flushing hundreds of dollars down the toilet.

                                      1. re: njensen

                                        I understand both sides. I have to travel suddenly for business on occasion and have had to cancel on things that I really want to attend, or sent my family without me, so unless you have one of those jobs you will never know what it is like. I really try very, very hard not to do it. I think it has only happened once or twice. Ditto for people with family responsibilities, caretakers, etc. So I think 48 hours is about as good as it gets.

                                        As a type A cook and party planner, however, I do think that your suspicions about the reasons for the cancellation may be dead on, and I understand the resentment and feel your pain. I do a party and cook for a travel sports team that my daughter is on at least twice a year. It costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time and energy. It is hard to do well even if I decide to cater it rather than cook. On several occasions, we have heard, as the guests are arriving, that the coach's family decided not to come (after accepting for four people) because they decided that their younger daughter needed time and attention, or they needed to go shopping with her, or take her to a movie, or whatever. I have always suspected that they knew this was going to happen long before saying that they will come. Most of the parents are upset because they are an important part of the group and would prefer that their family be in attendance. They feel insulted as well, so that is one consequence. Sometimes the older daughter comes alone to our house with her friends while her guilt-ridden parents spend time with their younger daughter, which is make up time for them.

                                        I used to resent it, but I have concluded that these poor souls are the most disorganized family I have ever met and that it is not a personal thing. It is simply unavoidable because they can't plan past their noses and have trouble managing their own family issues well. I now consider their acceptances tentative at all times because they are unreliable. I am genuinely happy when they can make it, and it is fine if they can't. And no, I am not in a position to take them off the guest list because they are the coaches, nor would I want to. Sometimes they are rude, but they are an important part of the group. I have just learned to grin and bear it. Life is too short.

                                      2. Amen -- it can be so frustrating when people cancel at the last minute. I just had a dinner party tonight for four people, and put in approx. 4+ hours shopping, cooking, cleaning, etc, and one person called me less than thirty minutes before the dinner was to start saying she was caught up with research at a library for a client project and could not come. How rude! Not to mention, all of the money I spent on her meal was down the drain, and the fact that it made things less pleasant for the other three of us.

                                        We need people to listen to Emily Post!

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: dmurphy04

                                          These days, many people work at companies that do not really acknowledge the concept of free time. Your friend may have had a last minute request from a client and figured that, since you are a friend, you'd understand that sometimes the job has to take precedent.

                                          It's one thing if that person cancels all the time, but as I recall, Emily Post is about being gracious. That applies to the host as well. One thing I noticed about this thread is how quick many people are to assume that their friends are jerks before trying to be sympathetic to them. Maybe they are pretty disappointed that life didn't work out so they could come.

                                          It's a shame your friend had to cancel and, of course, it is frustrating, but I'm glad my friends are the type of people who will call you later that weekend and ask how late you had to work and that they hope you can make it next time and since they didn't get to see you, how about lunch?

                                          I've never been to a dinner party where someone has had to cancel where we didn't have fun anyway. And that includes my card group where the game can only be played with 4 people. Usually we have two groups of four, but sometimes someone can't make it last minute (and yes, I have made dinner and dessert for 8). We end up with one group playing and the leftover people hanging out, talking, and rotating in and out of the game and have a ball.

                                          1. re: dalaimama

                                            You are so right. I had to overcome those feelings of resentment and put it in perspective. In my situation, it isn't the guests' jobs but their family issues. Once I realized what was happening, I could only feel sympathy for them. Not every one of my guests feel the same, however, and some remain annoyed by it -- far more than I do and I am the host. They feel slighted because it seems like they are being put in second place on a day when they believed things would be a certain way and it didn't work out that way. Maybe it's the last minute nature of the repeat cancellations, but they still need to get over it. Most do, fortunately.

                                        2. To me 'last-minute cancellation' means the same day as the event (and yes it's very inconvenient, but if somebody's got something wrong that involves involuntary bodily functions I'd rather not have them at my house spreading germs!) Two days notice should be plenty of time - I don't expect the host to be running themselves ragged three days before the party unless they tell me they will! I hope your event went well for the guests who were able to make it...

                                          1. I know how you feel. I organized something for the group of people I meet with once a month and most people(99%) cancelled a few hours before the event took place. I felt and still am very shocked that so many (who I thought were very nice people) cancelled at the last minute with some lame excuses. Any suggestions about wether or not I should even continue socializing with these so called "high class" people or cross them out of my life for good? I do like to give people second chances but at this point I am really starting to wonder if I am some dumb girl who just doesn't get it? I did plan a lot, took numerous trips to the various stores because when someone is a guest at my home I give them only the best. Are these feelings I am having valid or am I just too sensitive?

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Upset

                                              What can I say? I've cancelled a few hours before the event myself. Due to exhaustion. I've been told to come back the following night for leftovers -- okay with me. I've also dragged myself to a party and fallen asleep there. Woke up as people were leaving, stayed and helped hostess unwind.

                                            2. I understand where you are coming from, and I agree that we seem to be seeing a lot of the "So sorry but your invitation has just been trumped by an even better offer" syndrome.

                                              On the other hand, you need to take a chill pill. You remind me of my daughter, Kate. Kate is tremendously talented, crafty and thoughtful. She will spend hours (days) picking out just the right gift for a friend, wrap it with special paper, and make (MAKE) a personalized card. The gift will be unusual, right on the mark and lovely. Then when that same friend gives Kate a gift card inside a Hallmark, Kate gets bent out of shape. She rants and raves. She feels slighted. In her mind, the way she does things is THE WAY YOU DO THINGS, and she doesn't understand that not all people are like her. That does not mean that they don't love her or that their gift to her is any less valuable than her gift to them.

                                              A home-baked pie for each guest to take home? Absolutely lovely and so very Martha Stewart. The apple picking and nthe make-a-pie thing is an awesome ides. But not something anyone would have expected you to do. And not something you should use as a reason to get ticked at them for cancelling 2 days before the event. 48 hours is ample (although regrattable) notice. I sure hope it wasn't because they thought they had a better gig -- yours sonded wonderful.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: PattiCakes

                                                >>But not something anyone would have expected you to do.

                                                I may be interpreting this wrong, but from one of the OP's posts on this thread I understood that this was the theme of the event.

                                                Everyone goes apple picking, the OP-Host provides the pie crust, every one makes a pie and takes it home (plus whatever other food and drink are provided)

                                              2. Not to make too light of this but.............. to paraphrase a recent book and movie: "I guess they're just not that into you!".

                                                You're not being uptight. I think people have to decide what they're willing to live with and what they're not. Unconditional acceptance is not a requisite of friendship (or anything else for that matter). But to continue relationships you have to choose your battles and decide what's really important and what's not. Simple psychology. That's what I say whenever someone asks how my wife and I have been married 41 years.

                                                If you think you have complete information about what caused the cancellation you can make your own decision about how to deal with these people now and in the future. Some people are worth a long rope, others aren't. "Etiquette" is just another name for The Golden Rule (IMHO).

                                                1. Dosen't it depends on why they cancel?

                                                  "My mother just died"
                                                  "I got a call from Pres. Obama to go give him some advice on the economy"
                                                  "I am running a high fever."
                                                  "I just got free tickets to see Celine Dion."

                                                  - appropriate lead time = 0 min.