First, do you need a paper invitation? Is everyone you’re inviting young and hip to the e-mail? If so, then you might be able to get away with a cute online invite. Tons of sites allow you to send free invitations, and in a world where everyone uses the Internet, a nice, well-planned e-mail invitation will rarely go awry. However, if you’re throwing a formal event, and more importantly, if there are some people who are not technologically savvy, go with traditional snail mail. (And get them printed. Don’t do fill-in-the-blanks if you can help it. Your hand will get tired, and then your writing will become illegible, and people will think you are lazy.)
Second, timing is everything. Your invitations should go out no less than three weeks before an event, but no more than eight weeks. (Six weeks is considered ideal for even the most formal of galas.) Why is that? You want to give guests time to clear their calendars and RSVP, but you want them to feel like they’re in a little bit of a time crunch. Most people (or rather, people like me) tend to throw mail that they don’t want to deal with in a never-ending pile. Do not let your invitation get lost in the black hole of other peoples’ laziness. Make your kickass event a priority!
If you want a head count, make it clear who is hosting the shindig and how to R.S.V.P. to that person. We all hate it when people don’t respond to our invites, so make it really obvious that your guests should R.S.V.P. and who they should call. Again, if everyone involved is really tech savvy, consider an online R.S.V.P. site, where guests can simply click whether they’ll be attending or not. If your event is supes formal, or you’re rocking with the oldies (but goodies) include a formal reply card with return address and postage paid. It’s good manners. Also, never use the phrase “Please R.S.V.P.” R.S.V.P. stands for “respondez s’il vous plait,” or “please respond.” So you don’t want to say, “Please Respond Please.” It’s tacky and I will mock you.
Finally, include any other pertinent details on the invitation. Is there a theme? Are there costumes? Will there be gifts? (If the guest of honor does not want gifts, a simple “No gifts, please” at the bottom of the invitation will suffice.) Will there be food and what kind of food will it be? We’ve all been to that party where we were expecting a meal and got punch and cake. (You may not have seen me, though. I left early to get a hamburger. I was starving.) To make a long story short, just let your guests know what to expect. They’ll appreciate it.
And as for the flip side, when you get your invitation to somewhere awesome, just reply promptly. I have to know how much wine to buy.