More consumer dollars go to restaurants and bars in the District of Columbia than any other retail business, according to a new survey of the city's economy by the U.S. Commerce Department.

There are more eating and drinking places than any other type of retailing establishments, higher annual sales than any other sector, the largest single employment base and the highest annual retail payroll, according to a 1977 Census Bureau study released this week.

Eating and drinking sales in D.C. jumped 47 percent in the five years from 1972 to 1977 while the payroll for workers at such establishments rose 44 percent, the Census Bureau reported.

The boom in eating and drinking in the nation's capital, during the mid-1970s, coincided with the opening of dozens of major restaurants in downtown office buildings, many of which house one of the city's largest new business sectors - trade associations and professional services, many workers of which enjoy expense-account lunches.

At the same time, the Census Bureau statistics show a continued deterioration of other retail businesses in the city. Overall, the number of D.C. retail establishments declined by 425 to 4,213 between 1972 and 1977. The number of employes in retailing fell more than 6,500 to 47,000.

Sales of the remaining businesses in 1977 were $2.1 billion, up 16 percent from five years earlier - far below the price inflation over that period of more than 35 percent. The figures indicate a significant erosion of actual sales taking place, since inflation more than accounted for the overall sales gain.

Among key findings of the 1977 economic census, taken every five years:

Measured in dollar volume, eating and drinking places had the largest annual sales at $379 million, followed by food stores with $355 million; general merchandise stores (variety, department stores) at$204 million and liquor stores, $173 million.

Restaurants, grocery stores and liquor stores accounted for more than 40 percent of all D.C. retail volume.

The 1977 retail payroll was $342 million, up 17 1/2 percent from 1972. Radio-television and music stores reported the largest percentage gain in payrolls, up 57 percent. Percentage changes in sales ranged from an increase of 86 percent for fuel and ice dealers (reflecting higher fuel charges) to a decline of 18 percent in household appliance stores.

Eating and drinking places employed 19,900 persons in 1977, a gain of more than 2,000 from five years earlier. Department stores had 4,563 workers, down from 8,263 in 1972 as sales and annual payrolls in that sector actually fell 12 percent.

Among other retail sectors with declining sales were women's ready-to-wear shops, furniture and home furnishings, and liquor stores (a 7 percent decline that reflects a higher pattern of D.C. taxation for such sales than existed previously).