Do RSVP’s Qualify as a Binding Contract?

rsvps binding contract

RSVPs have always been something which was not taken seriously by guests, but something which impacted the planning of events by hosts. However, guests who have confirmed their attendance and not followed through therewith would not be held to account. Recently it has come to light that a newlywed couple had invoiced their guests for failure to attend their reception, after having confirmed their attendance. Social media has been outraged by this, but the question before us is whether within South African law such an exercise would satisfy the requirements of a valid contract and as such be enforceable.

When analysing this scenario, one must look at the essential requirements of a valid contract. In terms of South African law, a valid contract has six essential requirements. These are:

  • consensus;
  • capacity to contract;
  • formalities;
  • legality;
  • possibility of performance, as well as,
  • certainty.

When addressing the facts of this scenario it is clear that the most relevant contract essential is that of consensus or the meeting of the minds.

Consensus or the meeting of the minds is where both parties entering into a contract have the same idea in respect of the contract. They are both aware of the conditions and responsibilities of the contract and freely enter into it. When one looks at a wedding invitation, the party receiving the offer to attend the reception is of the belief that he/she is merely required to be present at such an event and not that any further performance is required of them. As one party is unaware that there are consequences for reneging on such a contract the parties are not ad idem and therefore an essential requirement in terms of contract law is not satisfied, due to this the contract is fatally flawed and will not stand.

In addition to this, one must look at the concept of public policy. What is the general understanding by the public of the contractual consequences of a wedding invitation? It is clear that the public believes that an RSVP to a wedding reception is not binding, but in bad taste to confirm attendance and not attend. One should honour their commitments, but there are no legal consequences thereto. A reasonable person would not believe that failure to attend would result in an invoice, but attendance would not.

The exception to this is where on the invitation there is some indication that confirmation of attendance and failure to attend may result in a monetary consequence. In this regard, when one indicates their intention to attend the event, with this clause clearly indicated on the invitation, one may be bound. This relates back to the common law principle of cavaet subcriptor or let the signatory beware. In case law, this was elaborated upon in George v Fairmead, where an individual signed a hotel registry but did not take note of the fine print thereof and was held by such fine print.

In conclusion, it is clear that in terms of South African law, an invitation is not a binding contract, but merely an offer. Acceptance of this offer is not contractually binding within South African law. One cannot be held to account for such an invitation. However, should there be fine print that the signatory does not take note of, they may still be held thereto.

Should you require assistance in any contract-related matter, contact us and we will gladly assist.


Saeedah Salie


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