Last words : When ‘yes’ means ‘no’ 

Uncle B’s guide to San Antonio RSVPs and other social niceties

Perhaps that old social proverb “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” wasn’t coined in Texas, but it is certainly the currency of the realm, other denominations being “Bless her heart,” and “Never turn down an invitation.” If as a transplanted hostess from blunter parts of the Union you haven’t encountered the perplexing absence of guests who assured you your party sounded “lovely,” you’ve probably been a native perpetrator, your “We’ll be there” worth no more than a “You look fantastic.”

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What’s needed, though, isn’t a change in behavior (once you’ve acclimated to the custom, it’s pleasant and oh-so-useful indeed), but a guide for the uninitiated. Here to clarify matters is Uncle B, a tireless, nigh-famous host of parties formal and non.

*DISHING IT OUT

Asking your guests to bring a little something for the party increases the chance that they’ll actually attend. Here’s a handy pocket guide to the likelihood of appearance based on commitment to bring party item:

Alcohol: Zero. Everyone assumes that you’re providing a full bar that will simply be augmented by anything they supply. And if they’re not there, they don’t have to worry whether you’ll have Tito’s Vodka or a decent red.

“The only time that would bump you up to a definite is an emergency call,” says Uncle B. “Like if I call you 20 minutes before the party and say I’m out of Grey Goose.”

Side dish: 60 percent, although the odds tip more heavily in your favor if the side dish seems significant (refer to it as “the vegetables,” implying the only vegetables) or appeals to vanity (“Everyone’s been asking for your creamed potatoes with jalapeños”).

“An appetizer really doesn’t get you anywhere,” cautions Uncle B, “because even if you miss the appetizer you’re still going to get dinner.” But “Bringing a birthday cake would be a key element.”

Entrée: 80 percent. This is almost a deal-sealer, but doesn’t rule out last-minute “family emergencies.”

Entrée brought by your mother or father: 90 percent, but no self-respecting South-Texas patriarch would entirely rule out better-dealing his own child. “Oh, no,” says Uncle B. “Dad’ll say, ‘Oh that sounds fun,’ and then he won’t show, and he’ll say, ‘I knew it was just gonna be all your friends and I didn’t want to drag down the party.’”

Entrée brought by your closest friend: As close as you can get to a 100-percent guarantee.

ACES IN THE HOLE

You know someone’s really coming when:

1. “They have family in town and they want to get the hell out of the house.”

2. “Attending your party was their excuse for getting out of another engagement.”

3. “There’s someone at your party they want to hook up with.”

IF THEY DO COME, HOW LATE WILL THEY BE?

“For every 20 miles out, you add 30 minutes.”

BUT (AND THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT) LATE IS BETTER THAN ON TIME

“Really in San Antonio, people who show up right on the clock and are just guests and not a best friend who is coming to help you get ready, that’s just a burden on you,” says Uncle B. “I remember one time my dad was having people over at the house — the party started at 7 and the doorbell rang at 7. My dad looked over and rolled his eyes and said, ‘Some asshole’s always on time.’”

BOWING OUT GRACEFULLY MEANS BOWING OUT SILENTLY

Don’t call on the day of the party and say you’re not coming unless it’s a seated dinner. “All it’s going to do is make the host start to freak out that no one’s coming to their party,” advises Uncle B.

REPAIRING BRIDGES

If you screw up, forget to RSVP, and don’t attend:

“Really, you can only take the truthful way out: ‘I got your wonderful card, and didn’t respond, and couldn’t come.’” Another good tack: “I’m so sorry I couldn’t join you, but could I take you to dinner or buy you a drink?” Says Uncle B: “Even if you truly did not get your invitation, no one ever believes that.”

A FINAL BIT OF ADVICE

“I read this on a cocktail napkin,” recalls Uncle B, “and I vowed to live by it: Don’t make excuses. Your friends don’t need them and your enemies won’t believe them anyway.”


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