It started, a few year sago, with perfectly respectable people turning away from drink. The otherwise socially acceptable would wander around cocktail parties, drinking not cocktails, but first white wine, and then wine-and-soda and then soda straight.

Naturally, it drove their hosts crazy. It doesn't help civilized society any to have stone-sober guests listening to whatever is uttered under the stress of conviviality, and perhaps even remembering it. But now most hosts have come to accept this, and anybody clutching a glassful of bubbles and limes runs the danger of having people assume that he's addicted to water.

Now comes the next step: people who accept luncheon and dinner invitations even though they are on the real starvation diet of absolute fasting.

At official parties here, let alone at pleasant ones, people have been presenting themselves for the purpose of drawing up to carefully laid tables, and refusing to eat. Nothing. Not a bite.

Fasting is such an attractive diet, saving determined weight-losers the difficulty of figuring the number of calories on food which is offered by friends, as opposed to the same amount of food actually purchased by the dieter, that there's no fighting it. Those who wish to entertain such people will simply have to learn to do so gracefully.

Properly handled, this can be a more agreeable pastime than entertaining eaters. Cheaper, too.

Provided you are sure of your fasters, you can spend party preparation time which would otherwise have gone to slaving over that hot stove, in prettily lettering menu cards with whatever exotic names strike your fancy. Now is the time to grab a reputation as a superb and subtle cook, sparing no expense with ingredients.

It is considered polite actually, to have some sort of tray passed for the guests to refuse, but as most of them will be too embarrassed to give it a good hard stare, the most you have to do is to arrange attractively the leftovers from the children's lunch boxes.

Another big saving is on household help. Do not try to manage such a meal yourself. This is the occasion to do things up properly, by hiring someone to don a uniform, walk once around the table andout the back door, thus running up a bill for only five minutes worth of labor.

A party like that can't fail. Not only will you have impressed your guests with the care and expense you were prepared to take for them, if only they had appreciated it, but you will have given them a good time because their mouths will all be free to talk.

The only danger you run into is having a guest whose will power breaks down in mid-meal. But under this system, the worst he can do is to gobble up one of your napkins, thus spoiling the set.