THE KENNEDY Center is biting off more than most kitchens could chew. Next Sunday night it will serve two back-to-back Campaign Inaugural Committee Candlelight Dinners to 2,500 guests. Heretofore, the largest number of meals the Kennedy Center has served in an evening was 2,000, at the last inaugural. This year the kitchen will serve cocktails and dinner for the first 1,250 until 8:15 p.m., when that group adjourns for the Opera House and Eisenhower Theater. An hour and 15 minutes later, another 1,250 will descend (or ascend) for the second dinner, after a program in the Concert Hall. And a repeat of the first dinner will be served. The same candlelight. The same open seating. The same fife and drum corps to entertain.

Thus, the Center will grapple with the enormous logistical problem of cleaning up after 1,250 people in just over an hour, simultaneously setting up for an equal number. It has dealt with the gustatory needs of 7,000 women at a Distinguished Ladies' Reception the next morning by planning to serve only California sparkling wine -- donated for the event, and poured into plastic champagne glasses. And it has solved the same problem for the Tuesday night inaugural ball for an expected 8,000 people by limiting service to a cash bar, preceded by a dinner for only 300 to 400 VIPs.

It has not tackled one problem, however. It hasn't figured out how to cope with the individual demands of 2,500 people. Thus, the Kennedy Center staff is sworn to secrecy regarding the menu for the Sunday night dinner. That was the ruling of Carol Price, chairperson for the dinner. The public relations office of the committee said Price did not want to release the menu because "she wanted it to be a surprise." Banquet manager Bob Crandell explained that Price wanted to avoid having people call to lobby for a menu change to fit their individual preferences. Thus, an hour before the Sunday supper, a press preview is being called to reveal the menu -- too late to meet deadlines for Sunday publication, should any reporter care to try. That gives the guests only an hour and 15 minutes to track down Price and complain that they are llergic to shellfish or can't eat beef on their low-cholesterol diet or consider pate passe.