Birthday Party Etiquette: Invites, RSVPs, Gifts, Oh My!

fernbdayHaving a child in school means that you will be invited to and attend a decent amount of birthday parties. And, at some point, you will probably host one for your own child. I know during the planning of the last three parties for my oldest, there have been some unforeseen issues that have arisen. From invites to siblings to special requests, I hope to cover some major points that have come up and how I decided to handle them.

The Invitations and Guest List

I bet you’re thinking, “Oh this can’t be that difficult. I’ll just invite friends.” But, did you know that many schools have a policy that says if invites are handed out during class, the whole class has to be invited? So if you wanted to just have a small party with one or two friends from school, you will have to send the invites by mail or email. And while thinking about invites, make sure to check with your party venue on the number of children allowed per party. Many places have a set number and any child attending over that number is extra, which brings me to my next point.

What to Do With Siblings?!

This is a hot-button issue. If one child is invited, are all children in the family invited? My answer is no, not unless the invitation says so. Most of the children’s parties I’ve hosted or have been to are at places where you pay per attendee. By bringing along another child, you are adding on an unexpected expense to the host. I’ve never heard of a place charging for an infant or baby to attend, but it’s always nice to ask before bringing along extra guests. If the invitations says “Mary Schoolmate,” then it’s probably safe to assume the mom isn’t budgeting for Mary Schoolmate’s siblings to attend.

Does Anyone RSVP Anymore?

So many times I’ve hosted a party and the biggest stressor isn’t coordinating my color palate or finding the perfect cake, it’s figuring out how many people are actually coming! I’m not sure what is so hard about committing to attending a party, but I find that it’s this fear of commitment that has people leery of saying yes or no. Again, knowing how many guests are coming helps the host with determining budget, food, party favors and even activities. So please, people, if the invite has an RSVP on it, respond.

Special Requests

I like to be accommodating, especially if there is a real need to be. If your child has a nut allergy, I’m happy to make sure I don’t order a triple peanut butter cake and a side of Chick-fil-a nuggets to serve my guests. But the accommodations can only be taken so far. If your accommodation is for purely personal reasons such as you find a gluten-free diet healthier or you are raising your child vegan or you don’t allow your child to have sugar, then please don’t ask. If you want to bring your own food so your child doesn’t feel left out, that is totally acceptable.

The Gift Debate

Of course, it’s always difficult to figure out what to bring or how much to spend, particularly for classmates you don’t know well. Here’s a list of our ideas for birthday parties, and it’s acceptable to spend whatever you feel comfortable (generally $10-$20 seems average). I find including a gift receipt appropriate for most gifts, except when it was a special order, monogrammed, or otherwise child-specific gift. If you bring a toy from Target or clothes from Children’s Place, put a gift receipt in with the gift. And, if the host asks for no gifts, please don’t bring a gift. Believe it or not, there are people who truly do not want their child showered with more stuff.

Are there any etiquette rules you would add to this list?


  1. My son was invited to two birthday parties. We rsvp’d for the first one before receiving the invitation for the second one. Problem is he would prefer to go to the other party. One party is for a school friend and the other for a neighborhood friend. Should we make him go to the party we rsvp’d for first?

  2. Are the parties at the same time? If not, is there a way you can go to both? If you do decide to not go to the first party, I would send a note to the host telling them you can no longer make it so they are not expecting a certain number and wonder why you never came.

  3. I see this post is from awhile ago but hoping i get a response. I had a mom RSVP on an evite for the classmate and the sibling. The sibling def puts an extra cost on me as this sibling puts me over the limit of guest and I will be charged extra. Can I send her a message and say the sibling can’t come? Or do I need to blow it off to be polite?

    • Lola-

      That is a tough one. My suggestion would be to send an email to all the guests saying that you only planned on hosting a certain number of guests and because of this siblings are not included. If it’s the type of place that allows guests at the same time as a party (like sector 6 or Monkey Room or the zoo) you can ask that if they are bringing a sibling, that they please pay for their admission costs. I hope this helps and thanks for reaching out!

  4. I appreciate that you mentioned that we should ask the venue manager about the number of guests that they can accommodate first. I will definitely do this to ensure that there will be no overcrowding. We just wanted to throw a party for our daughter who will be turning 7 this coming December, so thanks for the tips!


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