Q: When do you have to reciprocate a party invitation? I always thought that if it's a small event in someone's home, it's important to...

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Q: When do you have to reciprocate a party invitation? I always thought that if it’s a small event in someone’s home, it’s important to reciprocate. What about a payback for having been included in a big group?

A: You must reciprocate when you’ve been taken to a meal and when you are a guest at a private party. That does not mean that you should have a knee-jerk reaction to every invitation and reciprocate right away. Sometimes that simply is not practical.

Sometimes it’s a tonic to the spirit to surprise people with invitations in the “off season.” A midweek soup-supper party might be more welcome in gloomy February than one more Christmas cocktail party. Just don’t be rude by letting things drag on indefinitely.

You do not necessarily have to reciprocate in kind. For example, you might be a guest at someone’s dinner, but your own style might be much more tailgate picnic or weekend brunch. By all means, then, host a picnic or brunch. What is essential is to give friends and colleagues the gift of your time and attention. Entertaining is an opportunity to bring out the individuality in all of us — that’s part of the fun of it.

When you are part of a large party, it’s likely that you and your host are more acquaintances than friends. If you’d like to get to know him or her better, extend an invitation to a smaller gathering. Otherwise, remember that person when you entertain a larger group. If that’s not in the cards, send a thank-you gift and note the day after the party.

When hosting, keep in mind that it’s unkind to entertain at a level that others cannot match, especially when they might be embarrassed in their attempt to reciprocate.

Mary Mitchell is a Seattle-based corporate trainer and author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Etiquette.” E-mail questions to Mary@themitchell.org. Sorry, no personal replies.