E-Mail Is There For the Asking

By Ruth Hayes Robbins
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, December 6, 2007

It's been a while since I mounted a big holiday open house, and I have run into a modern-day dilemma: whether to send invitations by traditional mail or use e-mail.

A quick check with friends and office colleagues turned up a distressing difference of opinion.

E-mail invitation proponents love the convenience, the paper-saving and the ease of keeping track of responses. An electronic approach also eliminates writer's cramp and the woolly tongue you get from licking stamps. And, of course, it's cheaper; postage is now a hefty line item entry on the party budget. And everyone agrees that people respond more quickly to an e-mail. (You can also tell if and when they opened the e-vite. No more "lost it in the mail" dodges.)

Snail-mail proponents cite the lovely memories of any mail that isn't junk or a bill: the joy of opening a personally addressed -- handwritten! -- envelope to find a special invitation inside. Isn't the whole idea of a party to make friends feel special? Shouldn't that start with a hand-picked invitation? Card stock invitations also become part of the seasonal decor of a home, enhancing the holiday spirit every time you see them.

Both sides agree that e-vites are good for some types of parties but not others. A Fourth of July picnic? No problem with an e-vite. A wedding celebration? That's a job for the letter carrier. But a holiday party that is dressy but not formal seemed to fall somewhere in the middle.

I turned to an expert. According to Nancy R. Mitchell, a local etiquette and protocol consultant, e-vites are an efficient and economical form of communication to spread the word about social, business, community, school or charitable events. They are not, however, appropriate for every event. For holiday parties, she wrote in an e-mail, a host or hosting organization should ask the following questions before deciding on the method of issuing an invitation:

  • Does an electronic invitation fit the overall nature and goal of the event?
  • Are most of the recipients e-mail- and computer-savvy?
  • Do we know recipients well enough to be sure they will not misinterpret the informality of this approach?
  • Is it critical to keep costs down?
  • What is the time frame for issuing invitations and receiving responses?
  • Are we targeting a fairly homogenous group?

For our holiday open house, I opted for e-vites and have enjoyed checking daily to see the responses. I also found it easier to prepare for the party with a running tally. And no one complained about the delivery. (Or did some of the half-dozen send a silent protest by turning us down?)

In the end, there is really no perfectly correct way to invite friends to your home. The only things that really matter are that you do invite them and that they feel welcome when they arrive and sorry when they must leave.

Everything else is just details.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company