Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Debi's 60% Rule (or "Why RSVP's Don't Work")

How many people are coming to the wedding? How much food do I order? How much cake do I need?

These questions probably cause more stress on a bride than any part of the wedding planning process. And of course they do .... the reception is about 50% of a wedding budget and the food is a MAJOR expense of that budget.

Miscalculating the number of guests can cost a fortune. Suppose a bride plans for 250 guests and only 200 show up. Assuming a dinner cost of $25/person, cake at $4/person, appetizers at $12/person, and alcohol at $16/person, she's spent $57/person x 50 people = $2,850. I don't know about you, but almost $3000 is a lot of money to me that I'd rather spend on my honeymoon!

Over the 30 years I've been in this business, I've noticed a few things. And one thing I noticed is how much food I served, how many pieces of cake I cut, how many plates I washed. And a pattern has emerged.

Debi's 60% Rule says that approximately 60% of the total number of people invited will actually show up. There are exceptions, of course.

1) If the bride or groom is active military (this includes police and fire), there will be a higher show rate.

2) If the bride/groom are very involved in their church, there will be a higher show rate (because they have an extended church family).

3) The more people invited, the more accurate the 60% Rule.

I add 4 to 7% for each of these exceptions.

There are other factors that only the couple can determine. How do the families react to weddings? Does EVERYONE in your family have a really high show rate, or is it pretty average? Are there a number of family members out of state who may not make the trip to town for the wedding?

I'm asked frequently, "Why not just go by the RSVP's?" I'll tell you why. Because too many people are rude and inconsiderate and don't return them.

True Stories:
A mom called me a week before the wedding to increase the headcount by 9, bringing her total to 149. She has 149 confirmed RSVP's. I told her I was not going to change the invoice just for 9 people but we'd have plenty of food. Because I knew they were not going to have 149 guests at that reception.

When I did a headcount, they had 92 guests. Which means there were 57 people who said, "Yes. Yes, I will DEFINITELY be there!" and then they did not show up.

A co-worker shared with me her experience when she was the mother of the groom. She was calling all of the no-responses to see if they were coming or not and one of them was her very very best friend. When told the reason for the call, the friend gave a big exasperated huff and said, "Well you should have KNOWN that I would be there!" Friend didn't see a need to actually respond to the RSVP because "....oh they know!"

Too many brides have come back to me with a revised (read "reduced") headcount and told me, "We just should have gone with your 60% Rule because that's pretty much what we ended up with."

Whether you're spending $10 a person or $100 a person, a difference of just 20 or 50 guests can make a BIG difference in your total cost.

Getting control of your headcount is the biggest, most important thing you can do to control your costs.

Debi Brim can be reached via email at

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