FOUR YEARS ago, if you'd eaten grits souffle once between Election Day and Jan. 20 you were in. This time you won't be unless you've had veal and raspberries at least half a dozen times before Inauguration Day.

This inauguration is different from the last, all right, and grits (36 cents a pound) versus veal ($7.89 a pound) and raspberries ($6 per half-pint) are apt symbols.

The official inaugural lunch in Statuary Hall at the House of Representatives on Jan. 220 is a far cry from the box lunch of deviled eggs and sandwiches the Carters ate after Jimmy Carter's swearing in, and the Walter Annenbergs' dinner for the president-elect at the F Street Club is light years removed from the wine and cheese parties so popular four years ago.

The party givers are different, too. A list of them reads like a who's who of industry: Pepsi Cola will entertain 400 for brunch at the Pan American Union on the 18th; Ford Motor Company is having 450 people for lunch on the 20th; Avon Cosmetics has taken over a room at the Rayburn Office Building for 300 on Inauguration Day.

"Usually it's senators and representatives who give the parties," noted one caterer. "It's unusual to have some many business people having so many parties," he said.

Or is it?

"There's a lot more corporate entertaining now," said another longtime observer of the Washington party scene. "For $10,000 you get nothing in advertising. For $10,000 you can get a heck of a nice party and you get just the people you are targeting."

But $10,000 buys a lot less than it did four years ago. Prices are up 20 to 30 percent. In addition, this year's party givers are ordering more lavishly. "Four years ago they might have spent $8 to $10 a head, now it's $15 to $20," one caterer estimated.

"People are going for more elegant things. They are spending money," said one of the city's most successful caterers. "They are doing things in a very nice way, but the are still cost-conscious. But," he emphasized, "they are good business people. They are good negotiators, but they also want a nice party."

"It's a whole different ball game," said another. "Elegance is back in vogue. The pendulum has swung the other way. There are a lot more flowers, white tie and tail optional' on a lot of invitations, a lot more black tie."

In keeping with this new formality one caterer has brought his first white tie. "I decided in this administration I'd better go out and buy one. I know the mark-up in the rental business."

He estimates his company is doing four times the business they did in 1976; another says his business is up 50 percent.

From the first of the pre-inaugural festivities, the veal, raspberries and California wine black-tie dinner at the Corcoran in honor of new Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (actually they had to serve strawberries because the grower couldn't pick the raspberries in time for the dinner) to Nancy and Wyatt Dickerson's dinner dance for Reagan's "Kitchen Cabinet," plus Frank Sinatra and Johnny Carson, if there is a recession, it's not obvious here. The dinner part of the Dickersons' party will be held simultaneously at their estate, Merrywood, and at Pisces, the private club in Georgetown. Then the Pisces diners will return to Merrywood for dancing.

But many of the people who are giving the parties are going to extraordinary lengths to be sure that no one knows about them. "It's all hush-hush," said one hotel official. "They tell us: 'Don't give out the names; don't tell anyone anything.' But that's typical of Republicans," she noted.

There is also a lot more entertaining in private clubs. Four years ago Carter appointees were reluctant to be associated with such places because of their alleged discriminatory practices. All that seems to have changed.

In addition, just about every goodlooking public building fit for a breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner or cocktails, is in use this month. Even some that aren't fit . . . like Union Station, scene of a three-day extravaganza that may make Andrew Jackson's inaugural open house look like a boarding school tea party.

An estimated 40,000 of the people attending the various inaugural festivities will have to pick up their tickets at Union Station. That accomplished, they will then be invited to weave their way out of the building by touring A Tast of America.

Approximately 60 restaurants from across the country are expected to offer free samples of their food to the ticket holders at Union Station from Jan. 17 through 19th. The restaurants have been told to bring, 1,000 portions for each day. There will be 14 wine bars dispensing free wine, each representing a different vineyard -- two from New York, one from Washington, the rest from California.

"If the Inaugural Committee paid for this event, it would be in excess of $200,000," said Bill Anton, a Detroit restaurateur who organized a smaller version of the event for the Republican National Conventional last summer. But the particpants are footing the bill.

The restaurants were gleaned from the Holiday magazine dining award list and from additional suggestions made by Anton and people he described as "gourmets." The vineyards were chosen by Robert Lawrence Balzar, a wine critic who if you collect historical trivia, is the great-grandson of the man who catered Lincoln's second inaugural.

Lest you think that all you have to do to get a free lunch is take the Metro to Union Station, forget it. The Taste of America area will be tightly secured, open only to those who can show inaugural tickets to some event. By Invitation Only

The largest of the official functions for which you must pay -- and where food will be the focus -- are the back-to-back candlelight dinners at the Kennedy Center. The only food to be served at the inaugural balls will be in the "holding areas" for the special guests.

In other words, to partake of the mounds of shrimp, pounds of veal and gallons of wine during inauguration week you will have to get yourself invited to any one of an innumerable series of state society events, ranging from a "filet mignon black-tie dinner for 1,200 given by the Indiana State Society" at the Sheraton Washington to the "Black Tie and Boots Gala" for 5,000 members and guests of the Texas State Society. The vice president-elect is expected there, of course. If he chooses, he can dance to the mariachi band, make his own beef tacos or drink Texas beer.

But it will be better still to be on the invitation lists for several of the dozens and dozens of private parties.

Unfortunately, you've already missed the Los Angeles Times Mirror party for Sen. Baker, where the veal dinner was catered by Ridgewell's, the unusual and imaginatively presented hors d'oeuvres by Past, Inc. And you didn't get to see the purple moire tablecloths and red cotton napkins, the birds' nest baskets filled with red and purple anemones. The first course alone would be enough for most people's dinner: smoked salmon, crab claws, crabmeat, shrimp and lobster meat with capers, onion and choice of two sauces.

You've also missed the Time-Life reception at the Renwick Gallery for the president-elect, but you are still in time for Armand Hammer's champagne reception at the Corcoran.

The new senator from Wisconsin, Bob Kasten, is having 300 for dinner at the Pan American Union. You have to come from Wisconsin to get into that. The Reagan Ten Club and the Republican Eagles, all of whom have given at least $10,000 to the Republican Party, are having 1,500 for "heavy, heavy cocktails" in the same place at another time. "Heavy, heavy cocktails." That's caterer-talk for too much to eat and still go out to dinner, but not quite enough to make you full.

Sen. John Warner and his famous wife are entertaining 300 for cocktails. Do you know Bob Gray, co-chairman of the inauguration? He's having several parties at the Georgetown Club, where he's chairman of the board. The club, which says it suffered during the Carter years, in part perhaps because its founder was Tongson Park, is booked. High on its list of preferred foods are veal, and raspberries whenever they can be flown in from California.

How about Sen. Baker? It was reported that he was having a lot of parties on the Hill and at home. But that was before he was taken to the hospital.

Or perhaps you could persuade Sen. and Mrs. Mark Hatfield to invite you to the brunch they are giving with Nancy Reynolds in honor of Reagan's chief of staff, Michael Deaver, and his wife.

There are at least two lunches to which you will not be able to beg an invitation. One will take place on six fancy buses, which will carry the Reagans' and Bushs' friends and relatives from the swearing-in to the White House lawn. Suzy Thompson of Clyde's is catering: New England shrimp rolls, crepes stuffed with duck, plum sauce and scallions, eggplant caviar in half a green pepper, celery root salad and for dessert strawberries Grand Marnier." Not bad for lunch on a bus, especially when it has been preceeded by "all the champagne they can drink," Thompson explained.

Closer friends and relatives of the Reagans will eat lunch at Statuary Hall, which was once the House of Representatives. And security on Capitol Hill on Inauguration Day is tight.

As chairman of the Congressional Committee on the inaugural, Mark Hatfield is responsible for all of the activities connected with the swearing in. In addition to the lunch in Statuary Hall for about 100, there will be a Cabinet lunch on the Senate side for 140.

Antoinette Hatfield, who had a reputation as a cook long before she made her mark in real estate, took charge of the menu for the lunch. The first tasting lunch was held in early December. "The first things we did were my recipes and they didn't taste anything like my recipes," she said at the second tasting lunch. Working with Jay Treadwell, director of food service for the Senate restaurants, they came up with medallions of chicken breasts piquant, borrowed from the Jefferson Hotel; a cucumber, yogurt, raisin and walnut salad, decided on by committee after tasting four different salads at the second lunch, rice pilaf amandine. Fresh asparagus will also be served, and for dessert, fruit with raspberry sauce and a cookie.

Before the second tasting lunch the Hatfields had a wine and champagne tasting to decide what to serve with the lunch. The '78 Simi Chardonnay was chosen over the '78 Sebastiani Chardonnay, '78 Sebastiani Chenin Blanc and the '77 Simi Chenin Blanc. The Chandon champagne was selected instead of the Korbel, but it was a tossup.

The centerpieces will be done by Nancy Reagan's favorite florist, David Ellsworth; and just to make sure the president feels right at home, the silver inaugural souvenir boxes on each table will be filled with his favorite candy, Jelly Bellies.

"It's going to cost $5 a plate," Hatfield said with a straight face at the tasting lunch.

"If he knew how much it cost to feed him . . ." replied Antoinette Hatfield sotto voce. "Now is not the time to chintz."

And that seems to be the general mood of those connected with the inaugural.

In or out, Republican or Democrat, the menu for the inaugural lunch would make a delightful dinner. MEDALLIONS OF CHICKEN BREAT PIQUANT (3 servings) 2 8-ounce chicken breasts Flour 3 tablespoons butter 1/4 cup thinly sliced mushrooms 25 to 30 large capers 1 cup dry white wine Bay leaf Salt and pepper to taste 1/4 cup chicken stock Chopped parsley

Bone chicken breasts, separating tenderloin, and cut each breast into 6 medallions. Dust lightly with flour. Melt butter and saute mushrooms with half the capers. In the same mixture, saute chicken breast pieces until golden brown. Remove and set aside. Deglaze pan by adding white wine, additional capers and bay leaf, bringing to a rapid boil and scraping the pan. Season to taste. Allow to bubble, until reduced by half. Pour a lightlayer of sauce over breasts. Stir chicken stock into remaining sauce mixture. When ready to serve, heat and pour additional sauce over chicken. Sprinkle with parsley. CALIFORNIA SALAD (4 servings) 1 cup plain yogurt 3 tablespoons raisins 1/4 cup chopped walnuts 1 small onion, finely chopped 2 tablespoons freshly chopped mint 2 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded and sliced into lengthwise strips 1/2 cup oil 1/2 cup tarragon vinegar 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard 1 small summer squash 1 small green zucchini Spinach leaves Small radishes

Combine yogurt, raisins, walnuts, onion (setting aside 1 tablespoon) and 1 tablespoon mint with the cucumbers. Beat oil with vinegar and mustard. Add 1 tablespoon onion, 1 tablespoon mint. Slice the squashes thinly and place in the oil-vinegar marinade for 30 minutes, but no longer.

Place spinach leaves on flat plates; arrange drained squash slices, alternating colors, across the center, leaving a space in the middle for the cucumber mixture. Decorate with radish slices. RICE PILAF AMANDINE (3 servings) 1/2 cup rice 1 cup chicken stock 1 stalk celery, thinly sliced 1 small onion, finely chopped 1/2 cups slivered almonds 1 tablespoon vegetable oil Salt and pepper to taste

Cook rice in chicken stock until liquid has been absorbed and rice is tender, about 17 minutes.Saute celery, onion and almonds in hot oil until they take on color, but are not dark. Combine with cooked rice, season with salt and pepper and serve.