An article in Monday's Washington Business incorrectly reported that Joe and Mo's restaurant employs waitresses at lunch; the restaurant employs only male waiters. The article incorrectly identified Tom Jitsudchund; he is a partner, not the manager of the restaurant.

Mary Ann Kelly Laplace, a career waitress, has worked for eight years in a contradictory business. The restaurant industry is overwhelmingly dominated by women as waitresses, yet Laplace and others claim that it blatantly discriminates against them.

Laplace, of McLean, and Jennifer Devere, of Arlington, filed a class-action suit Feb. 22 in Washington against Ridgewell's Caterers Inc. on behalf of themselves and more than 300 women who have worked as Ridgewell's waitresses since May 1982.

Laplace and Devere claim that Ridgewell's waitresses are required to work as kitchen help while only waiters serve in the dining room and that women are paid approximately $1 an hour less than men.

While few waitresses have taken similar legal steps to fight alleged discrimination, many restaurant owners, managers and servers frankly concede that respected, upscale restaurants may have women working as hostesses, managers or cocktail waitresses but often have only men serving in dining rooms.

"The situation is kind of an accepted thing -- top restaurants in big cities, dominated by male service. People expect it," said Peter Yaffe, manager of 1789 Inc. in Georgetown, which includes F. Scott's, The Tombs and 1789. 1789, the most expensive of the three, has only waiters.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that in 1982, 88.6 percent of the nation's food servers were women. But in many of the finest restaurants, there are few or no waitresses.

"People expect men to have more expertise," said Jean Niccolazo, a former waitress. "Waitresses work in diners."

Restaurants that have only waiters tend to be expensive. Servers in these restaurants can earn the highest tips available. Employe turnover is minimal.

When women are not hired for prestigious serving jobs, three reasons are given most often:

* The restaurant management feels that, for physical or emotional reasons, a waitress can't handle the job.

* Few women apply for jobs at upscale restaurants.

* The patterns of restaurant history have created roles for men, women and businesses that generally go unchallenged.

Laplace says that during her years as a waitress, she has seen other instances of discrimination against women. She says that she has sought jobs only to be told that the restaurant was hiring "only waiters."

Of her case against Ridgewell's, she says, "This time, I'd had enough of it. Everything seemed to be clear, clearly wrong."

Kate Walsh, director of external communications for Ridgewell's parent company, Carson Pirie Scott and Co. in Chicago, said the company had no comment on the court case. The litigation, still in the pre-trial discovery phase, was brought under two federal laws, the Equal Pay Act and the 1964 Civil Rights Act, better known as Title VII, as well as under the D.C. Human Rights Act.

Meanwhile, restaurants continue decades of tradition.

Randy Zeibert, owner of Duke Zeibert's, said he has never hired a waitress for the dining room. The reason, he says, "is simple and fast. Physically, women can't carry the trays." If a waiter at Duke Zeibert's has a table of 10 people, he carries a tray with 10 dinner plates, plus a dish each for a vegetable and a potato for each person, across a wide floor.

Zeibert never has offered a potential waitress a test, but said he feels that hiring a woman would necessitate a change in service. With much of his restaurant's reputation built on service, he said he cannot risk changes, such as having a busboy help or a waitress make two trips.

"It would be discriminating to hire waitresses for the dining room and restrict them to serving tables of two," he said.

At Maison Blanche, women serve only drinks, in the cocktail lounge. George Torchio, manager since the restaurant's opening, never has hired a waitress for the dining room. Given the demands made on a fine French restaurant such as Maison Blanche, Torchio said, "It is my feeling that women can't cope with the pressure as well as men."

He added, "Of course, I don't have much experience with them. I have never hired a waitress, but it is my feeling that you can't do it as a woman. In a French restaurant, there is a lot of pressure."

Torchio said he expects his waiters to be professional and experienced in French service; many of them have been to special schools. The women who have applied at Maison Blanche are not qualified, he said.

Torchio, like many other restaurant managers, also noted that the majority of applicants for dining-room serving jobs are men.

Zeibert said that a waitress never has applied to work in his dining room. At least in his original restaurant, he thinks that women may have been too intimidated to apply because it represented "a man's setting: sports, steakhouse."

At Joe and Mo's, another downtown restaurant, waitresses work the lunch service only. Because the lunchtime fare is less expensive, tips are not as high as they are for those serving dinner. Manager Tom Jitsudchund said that because more men apply, the odds are in favor of their obtaining the restaurant's limited number of openings for serving at dinner.

When 1789 Inc. advertised recently for a waiter or waitress, Peter Yaffe received applications from 30 or 40 men. No women applied. He said he has not received an application from a woman in four years. Applicants are screened by the manager of 1789 before they reach Yaffe, who manages the three-restaurant corporation.

Peter Finkhauser, owner of the New Orleans Emporium in Adams-Morgan, said the predominance of waiters there is unintentional. He explained that some waitresses who were hired left, maybe because they didn't want to work until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. or because work conflicted with school. But like other restaurant managers, he said that mostly men applied for openings in the restaurant.

Jed Bowers, manager of Aux Beaux Champs in the Four Seasons Hotel, said there are two reasons waitresses do not apply to work in the restaurant: "Some know the quality of the service and feel they can't live up to it, and most of them want to be cocktail waitresses."

"There is no question that the atmosphere of the bar is more relaxed and light," Zeibert said of the bar adjacent to the dining room at Duke Zeibert's. Cocktail lounge work is altogether different from that in the dining room, and is dominated by women, he said.

At Maison Blanche, Torchio said the skills required for the dining room differ greatly from those needed for the cocktail lounge. "To place one of the waiters in the cocktail lounge where there are only waitresses ," Torchio said, "would be like hiring an engineer to do a trash-removal job."

"Women can really pull out tips in a cocktail lounge. And for the sake of business, it's better to have women there, because they just have a way of selling booze," Bowers said.

Waitresses claim they frequently have no opportunity to apply for jobs in upscale dining rooms because they are rejected almost at the door.

Jenny Siegenthaler, now a museum assistant, said she called a restaurant to ask whether it was hiring a server. She was told that it hired only waiters. Salvador Baldo Jr., an owner of the Omega in Adams-Morgan, said that when women apply for work as waitresses, he tells them, "We prefer men." At the moment, the Omega has no plans to hire a waitress, he said.

"Women look into these places and feel they don't have a choice," said Donna Lenhoff, of the Women's Legal Defense Fund, which is representing Laplace and Devere in their suit against Ridgewell's. The majority of waitresses denied jobs do not deem it practical or reasonable to fight for an explanation when only one possible job and five minutes of time spent are at stake, she said.

"Why spend the energy, time and money to file a charge? You haven't invested much, and if you were hired , you could expect some harassment there anyway," she said. "You have to care about the principle."

Of about 60 cases at the Women's Legal Defense Fund, five or six, according to Lenhoff, deal with discrimination against waitresses. Of 551 complaints that women filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights in 1984, only 10 alleged hiring discrimination by proprietors of all types of businesses, including restaurants.

"The picture is pretty pessimistic," Lenhoff said. "People don't sue. It's costly, and not worth it over one possible job. To protect civil rights, you must have government enforcement which is aggressive, suing on the people's behalf . . . but there is always insufficient funding."

Mike Torres, spokesman for the EEOC, said many apparently discriminatory practices continue simply because the establishment does not understand its obligation.

Meanwhile, the debate over waitresses continues:

Said Randy Zeibert: "I love women, and I would love to have them if they could handle the trays. All that matters is whether you can do the job."

"Why can't they give a test?" asked Mary Ann Laplace.