Dear Helena,

My son turns six next Saturday and I invited everyone in his class (17 kids). I planned a really fun event with an elaborate homemade ice cream cake and rented bounce house. But despite a reminder, only five guests responded, of whom two can’t come. So now as far as I know he will only have three guests at his party. Can I cancel and, if so, with what excuse? What should I tell my kid? And I’m curious, in general is “not enough guests” an acceptable reason for canceling a party? What is?
Kids Don’t RSVP

Dear Kids Don’t RSVP,

It’s annoying when guests don’t RSVP, but sadly, it’s common behavior, even among adults. Hosts shouldn’t take it personally (in other words, you need not worry that your tot is the class outcast). Nor should hosts retaliate by calling off the party.

For one thing, some of the guests who haven’t responded may show up anyway. More importantly, canceling isn’t fair to the guests who can come. They are probably looking forward to the event. They may have bought gifts or turned down other opportunities so they can be there. And if you explain you’re canceling because you don’t have “enough” guests, you’ll make the friends who can come feel like their role at your party is like that of extras in a movie—mere backdrop to the real stars. Everyone knows that when a host says, “Not enough people can make it,” what he’s really saying is, “Not enough interesting people can make it.”

If you want to boost your response rate in the future, check out my tips on how to make guests respond. You can also contact the “important” guests beforehand and make sure the date works for them before you even write the invite.

For this year, know that you can still have fun with only three guests. But you will have to rethink your plans a little. Some activities are too pricey or logistically challenging for a big party but perfect for a small gathering. Christine Landry, a seasoned hostess and senior editor of the site DexKnows Weddings, says for adults she would do a labor-intensive signature drink like alcoholic snow cones, which would work for 10 but not a big group. When people don’t know each other well, activities—like working on a group project or playing a game—help take the pressure off the conversation. In this case, for instance, ditch the ice cream cake and have the kids decorate their own cupcakes or make their own pizzas.

Of course, some circumstances do justify canceling, like a case of E. coli or a close relative’s death. Or you might cancel if a 25-pound raccoon got trapped in your wall and is filling your entire house with the stench of decay. This happened to me last November when I had 60 people coming over for a cocktail party. If we hadn’t been able to bash a hole in the wall and pull the carcass out, I would definitely have had to call the whole thing off.

But when the party in question is a kid’s party, you should think long and hard before canceling. Adults can laugh about having to cancel their drinks bash. But when you’re six and your birthday is canceled, you remember it forever.

CHOW’s Table Manners column appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena. You can also follow her on Twitter and fan her Table Manners column on Facebook.

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