A friend called the other day to say she had been at a dinner party where one of the guests would not eat until the hostess had transferred his food from a plate to a bowl. Another told of a newly converted vegetarian who arrives with her salad in a plastic sack, her special dressing in a Mason jar.

Yet another recalls a birthday dinner she gave for a friend:

"I spent three days making sourdough bread; I baked a wonderful chocolate cake and went to a lot of trouble over the meal. When my friend arrived, she announced she'd become a vegetarian. She wouldn't eat the meat, just the vegetables. She said she didn't want any bread because she'd gone on a diet. No cake, of course. After the party, I sat down and cried."

The days when guests ate what was on their plates, or pushed the food around to make it look eaten, and then lied it was the best meal they'd ever had are gone (if they ever existed.)

Where once it was enough to ask if guests had any liquor preference, now a quiz of potential guests might include whether they can survive an evening without Perrier, with (or without) cigarettes, whether they have embraced a religion with food prohibitions, etc.

A considerate host or hostess has always asked about allergies or foods people simply can't eat. They also have given a rundown of the guest list. (I learned to do this after cleverly inviting two people to a party solely because they shared an unusual last name -- shared it, it turned out, through marriage. The bonds had been broken angrily seven years earlier, but they remembered enough of the old arguments to revive them over dinner.)

Mostly, this quizzing of guests comes out in general conversation -- mentioning the meal you're planning to serve, who else is invited, etc., and waiting for someone to say, "Not fish!" or "That creep?"

Guests who don't complain initially, who accept your invitation and then get testy at the party, aren't playing fair and shouldn't be invited back, just as guests who enter into political arguments should be given the name of the nearest bar with late-closing hours. Political arguments invariably last till dawn; hosts do not.

The most difficult guest is the benevolent friend who, as the wine flows, turns into a beast. That, says Alcoholics Anonymous, may be the fault of the host. Inviting people for dinner at 7 and not serving food until 9, feeling that a good host must keep every glass full, can produce the drunk most hosts would like to avoid.

AA suggests that instead of pouring more freely as the evening progresses, you taper off, making coffee available. If you do wind up with a guest who's had too much to drink, they recommend that you try to get him to lie down. Sleep is the best cure for too much alcohol.