For some people, saying "no" to an invitation is easy. But for many of us, it can be extremely challenging to say no—even if we have a very good reason!
Of course, if left unaddressed, these awkward and avoidant feelings only grow…and eventually, we probably end up blurting out something, anything, just to get the whole thing over with.
If this sounds familiar, we've got some tips for you! It might take a little planning and practice, but you can decline an invitation politely and confidently. Get inspiration from the scripts below, or jump the bottom of the article for 10 easy tips to turning down an invitation (with grace!).
Every situation will be different, but there are some key factors that unite a polite RSVP decline. Check them out in the following sample messages, organized by the type of event you're saying no to. See if you can spot what makes these decline messages friendly but clear.
It's hard to think of a time in which a graceful "no thanks" has been more necessary than in these recent days of COVID-19. There may be a global pandemic going on, but that doesn't make it any easier to turn down an invitation—especially when we'd really love to attend or when the inviter doesn't necessary agree with our reasoning.
Here's an example of a polite but firm decline due to COVID:
We really appreciate your invitation and are sorry that we won't be able to attend. We're helping my in-laws as you know, and we're trying our best to avoid bringing unnecessary risk into their home given their advanced age. I hope you understand how hard it is to miss this important day for you. We'll be sending our thoughts and well wishes!
Tip: If you want even more ideas for this particularly challenging social sphere, check out our article on declining invitations in the time of COVID. There we share a ton more examples, scripts, and tips!
Since weddings are such big-ticket events—even the ones that seem small—it's important to send your regrets as soon as possible. You might be tempted to put it off out of fear of hurt feelings, but it's much kinder and more convenient to send your RSVP decline the moment you've made up your mind that you can't attend.
Try writing a friendly but upfront wedding RSVP like this:
Thank you so much for thinking of us as you map out your big day! However, I'm sorry to say that we won't be able to attend your wedding ceremony or reception due to a previous commitment. We know how excited you are and will be thinking of you from afar! We'd certainly be there if it were possible.
All the best to you both on this exciting journey.
Tip: There's no need to apologize over and over when you send a decline! You can send a simple "Sorry that we can't come" or "I'm sorry to miss it." A single note of apology (that is not really even an apology) is enough.
If turning down a wedding invitation feels like a big deal, then turning down an invitation to be a bridesmaid or groomsman is only that much more difficult. Remember—you should not feel guilty for saying no, no matter what your reasoning might be.
In all honesty, you don't even need a reason other than you just aren't feeling it! That is perfectly valid, and you can still be truly happy for the couple without being a part of the entire wedding-planning journey.
Here's an example phrase you might use (with some tweaks depending on how much or how little you want to explain yourself):
I just received your bridesmaid invitation in the mail—it was SO cute! I can tell you put a lot of thought and care into how you invited us. That makes it even more difficult to tell you that unfortunately I won't be able to join your wedding party.
I have a lot on my plate right now (both financially and emotionally), and I don't want to detract from your experience by being unable to be fully present for you and the other bridesmaids. This was a very hard decision, but I know it's best for both of us.
You know I love you and am sorry to have to decline. I will absolutely be there for the wedding with a gift and toast in hand!
Tip: Try to avoid overexplaining why you are declining. The more specific you are, the greater the likelihood the inviter will try to convince you that this specific thing you've mentioned is not a problem. It's better to be a bit vague than to get stuck in the weeds.
There are a million reasons you may decide to decline a birthday celebration—whether it's an IRL birthday bash or a virtual b-day party. Maybe you're busy, your kids have a conflicting event, you can't afford a gift, you don't like the venue, you don't know the other attendees… All of these are perfectly okay reasons to turn down a birthday invitation.
Tailor this sample script below:
Thanks for the invite to your birthday pub crawl! Unfortunately, I've got plans that evening and won't be able to join. I'd love to toast to your health if I could, so let's rain check and grab a drink sometime after work. Happy birthday!
Tip: It's always kind to send a gift, even if you aren't attending the birthday party. You can give an actual gift if it's person you're close with, or you can send a nice birthday card for something simple and affordable yet still thoughtful.
Few invitations are as difficult to turn down as an invitation to a family reunion or other big family gathering. For many of us, our closest family members know exactly how to push our buttons—maybe even heaping on an extra dose of that famous parental guilt if it seems like we're not on board with "The Family Plan."
Again, just because they're family and you love them does not mean you're obligated to participate if it does not work for you. Here's an example of a way to politely decline a family invitation:
I just saw your email about the family get-together at the lake next month. You know that we'd love to see you guys, plus all the aunts and uncles and cousins, but it's just not a good time for us to get away. This is the busy season at work, and the kids already have plans that they're looking forward to that weekend.
I know this is disappointing, and we're sorry that we can't join. We would love to do a video call while you're there, though. We can talk on Saturday night or Sunday morning any time—just let me know when you're all free.
Tip: If you know that your invitation decline will cause disappointment, it's always nice to offer some kind of alternative. Maybe you propose a video chat like the example above, or perhaps you suggest a different date or venue in which you would be able to attend. (But don't offer an alternative if you don't mean it! If you really do not want to join, then don't join.)
Being invited to someone's home is a kind gesture, but that doesn't mean you have to accept. Whether you're just getting to know someone and are uncomfortable being alone in their home or you don't feel like going through the rigmarole of a big get-together, you're perfectly within your rights to say no.
Try sending your regrets in a polite way, like this:
Thank you so much for inviting us to your neighborhood cookout this weekend. Unfortunately, our kids have a prior engagement at that time, so we won't be able to attend. We want to help contribute to the spread, though, so we'd love to drop off some of my wife's signature sugar cookies! I'll call you to arrange a time.
Have a great weekend!
Tip: If it's convenient and within your budget, it's always nice to drop off a small gift like the example above. You could also have something delivered from a local flower shop, restaurant, or liquor store.
Professional events are slightly less free in that you may not be able to decline—at least, not if you want to keep your job! But for workplace events that aren't mandatory, it's especially important to send your regrets in a professional and polite manner.
Below are a few sample phrases you might use, depending on the event that you're turning down:
I would ordinarily attend the workshop on management skills, but I'll be preparing for an important client meeting and can't push it back. If possible, I'd love to get a copy of your notes afterward. Thanks!
Thanks for the holiday party invitation. Unfortunately, my family already has plans for that weekend, so we won't be able to attend. Enjoy enough for all of us!
I'm sorry that I can't make the meeting you've proposed for next week, as I'll be out of office and not checking email, either. Can we reschedule for the following Monday or Tuesday?
Thanks for the invite to the office wine tasting! I'd love to attend but can't make it at that time. Enjoy an extra vintage for me.
I saw your invite for the meeting about product launch, but honestly, I'm not sure I'm the best person to represent our department in this initiative. Have you spoken to my supervisor Kim? Let's hop on a call with her to determine whether I should accept this meeting invite or not.
Now to take a 180 from office invitations… let's talk about a night out on the town!
If you just aren't a "going out" kind of person, it can be difficult to convince your friends that you really don't want to join them in their paint-the-town-red adventures. You probably won't send this one as formal RSVP message, but you can at least practice the verbal or text-message "no" to these kinds of invitations.
Depending on your friends' personalities, you could try something like this:
I'd love to join, but you know I'd get all the attention. I'll leave this one to you!
Nah, I'm good! I don't want to kill my gym gains this month.
I'm not feeling it tonight.
That place is awesome, but it's just not in the budget right now. Rain check for lunch next week?
I'm taking the month off drinking and don't want the temptation. Thanks though!
No thanks! I've got early yoga in the morning, and you know I can't handle that hungover down dog.
I'm staying in with the missus (or mister) tonight. Thanks, though!
My wallet can't take another night out. Next time! Or maybe the next, depending on the $$$$.
Are you turning down an invitation, event, or situation not listed above? You can create your own RSVP decline message by cobbling together a few of the sample phrases listed above while keeping these key tips in mind:
It's okay to say no to any event for any reason, but it's always better to do so with grace and kindness. And we might be a little biased here at Foxdog, but we think that sending a thoughtfully written card makes everything better—even when you're declining an invitation.
Check out our selection of cards and send your personal regrets right now while it's still on your mind! We can often send out your card the same day.