Perhaps the most exciting part of the holiday season is gathering your loved ones together for dinners and parties. If you plan to host an event for friends, or if it's your turn to host the family holiday dinner or brunch, sending invitations is one of the first tasks on your to-do list. Thus arises the question: What's the best way to extend invitations today -- snail mail, email or social media?
"Invitations are a great way to set the tone for your holiday gathering, but more importantly how you send them determines what message you convey to your guests," says Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert, author and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas. "An elegant paper invitation would be ideal if you are organizing a formal dinner party." When your guests receive a beautiful, printed, formal invitation in the mail, they can tell by the invitation's design, print style and even the shimmer in the paper that yours will be an upscale event. With that "clue," they know to plan a dressier outfit and bring a bottle of fine wine as a hostess gift.
If your party will be less formal, the style of your print or emailed invitation gives guests the cue that they can plan on dressing less formally. Many party hosts like to make it clear and simple by providing a dress code at the bottom of the invitation, such as "dress to impress" or "leave the stilettos at home."
Consider several methods for inviting your guests, and decide which one will work best for you.
"Although more time-consuming, paper invitations add a personal touch to a heavily digital world. Combining a quality piece of cardstock with a simply tasteful, or bright and colorful envelope makes your guests feel special and fills them with anticipation," says Gottsman.
Cost: You'll need to design your invitations if you don't plan on buying preprinted, blank-line ones at the stationery store. And you'll need to order the number you'll need for your planned guest list, plus a few extras for additional invitations you may wish to send. Custom invitations can be costly, but you may find online coupon codes for sites that make and deliver your personalized invitations. And then there is the added expense of postage, and personalized return-address labels.
Time: For all tasks, such as making your guest list, designing your invitation, proofing, ordering, awaiting delivery, researching guests' addresses and hand-writing on envelopes, plus mailing, you'll need up to a few weeks.
Possible difficulties: When you mail anything, there's always the chance of a card or several cards getting lost in the mail. And some recipients may be disorganized -- the types who lose mail or forget to enter dates on their family calendars. You may need to check in with guests who haven't RSVP'd to see if they'll be able to attend.
"If you have cost considerations, or if you are committed to being eco-friendly, you can easily customize an online invitation that is both personal and festive," says Gottsman.
Cost: Free, in most cases.
Time: It can take a few minutes to a few hours, depending on your browsing time to find your ideal online invitation company, such as Evite or Paperless Post. Delivery is instant, "and guests are more likely to respond in a timely fashion since it lands right in their inbox. Plus, you can tell if they have opened it," says Gottsman. "They also offer reminder emails to hasten the reply."
Possible difficulties: "Worst-case scenario: invitations may get funneled into a spam folder and be lost forever, or technical glitches can make it difficult for guests to open and respond," says Gottsman.
*Social Media Invitations
"Social media invitations are also beneficial when you want to get the word out fast to a large number of people," says Gottsman. On Facebook, for instance, you'll create an event, fill in your party details and send invitations to your chosen guests' Facebook accounts. As guests respond, all other guests can see their messages and if they will or will not attend.
Time: A few minutes to an hour or so, depending on the number of people you wish to invite. "Rather than fumbling through your contact list for emails or addresses, with Facebook all you have to do is type in a name," says Gottsman. "Unlike evites or paper invitations, a social media invite lacks a personal touch and can easily be ignored by friends who rarely check their accounts."
Possible difficulties: Some recipients may miss the message in their Facebook inbox. Additionally, you'll need to find another way to invite people who do not use Facebook.
"Ultimately, there is no 'one-size-fits-all' philosophy when it comes to sending invitations," says Gottsman. "The atmosphere of your party, the number of guests, the message you want to deliver and the amount of time you have to plan is a good way to determine what invitation method works best for you."
What matters most during the busy holiday season is sending your invitations, in whichever manner you choose, early enough to give your guests plenty of time to plan on attending. The Emily Post Institute advises giving guests a month's notice for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day events and two weeks to two months for holiday dinners. If you have guests who live far away and would have to make travel arrangements, such as booking flights, in order to attend, give them sufficient notice by sending a save-the-date email or card between two and three months in advance.