CHECK OUT any Washington luncheon spot, from a budget-conscious cafeteria like Ziggy's to an expense account haven like Tiberio's. The women passing up the pasta might be discussing the $6.8 billion boost in the Medicare budget for FY 1984, or how the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is voting on aid to Honduras.

But bet that at some point in the conversation, if these women are friends, they will talk about The Washington Man Question. This topic doesn't change whether the scene is the kitchen or Nora's: not just the shortage of single men, the abundance of gay men and the whimsical nature of all men, but all the demands for whole new categories of men which being the New Washington Women has entailed.

The Washington women now needs escorts for professional as well as personal reasons, and half the time those two categories are the same. She needs consultants, shee needs dinner partners, she needs somebody to catch a Grace Jones concert with when her office gets a couple of tickets. She has to see and be seen, and it is easier to do it with a man next to her. All this confusion doesn't replace the problems of more traditional times, either -- it only adds to them.

In short, she has to think in plurals.

Fortunately, otherwomen have worried about this, too. They're even decided that this is not a problem, but an opportunity.

So before checking out the inventory of Washington male types below, consider the wisdom of #The Johnson Girls," a short story by Toni Cade Bambara. In it, two generations of women seethe with frustration, sigh over their fantasies, toy with juju and talk about their "mens" in as salty a tone as any Washington women is apt to want to take. The solution to the whole mess, one older women announces, is to divvy up the functions of the men in your life. "Living a la carte is a tri," she says.

Let us now begin the meal. The menu has been assembled by a group of women in he 30-45 age range whose lives have become easier since they learned the hard way. Needless to say, they must remain anonymous. The Walker

Perfect for the National Symphony opening night, the inaugural ball or even shopping for the gown at Rizik's--in short, for very public occasions. From Jerry Zipkin/Nancy Reagan to Bobby Short/Gloria Vanderbilt, the relationship is understood to be one of appearances with nothing to whisper about behind them. But the world would whisper should appearances appear more intimate. So nix the brunch at Jenkins Hill or the Saturday bid whist game at the Harbour Square recreation room. Then again, a certain affection is not precluded. The Walker knows that part of his responsibility is to massage your ego, compliment your dress, assure you that an eye lift is fine when everyone else bowls over with laughter. You stay in the spotlight, he fades into the background.

Drawback: No real cachet unless everybody knows yourescort is a walker. His neuter status is confusing. Says a character in "The Johnson Girls": "Whatshisname picking you up here, Sugar? I don't know what you see in that ugly old man. Got no dough and no politics neither."The Standby

Indispensable in a town where business continues long after the copier is turned off. Or when the girls haven't recycled their conversation lately. Face it: There are only a few times when you want to go with the girls to Constitution Hall to see Gladys Knight.

The Standby can be the professional model, always ready to present the right fac,ade. Can be a close friend. Can be gay. Can be the husband of your best friend. He must be presentable, trustworthy and worldly. Has to be self-assured so he understands the nature of your last-minute call.

Says Bambara: "You gots to have you a go-round man, a dude that can put in a good appearance so you won't be shame to take him round your friends, case he insist on opening his big mouth."

The Standby needs pampering, gifts, postcards from out of town. Occasionally, he needs ego-boosting. Confide in him about a problem or a juicy piece of gossip before you zero in with his assignment. Or just describe how many events are up and coming, and let him suggest which one he would like to attend. If he is married, always speak to his wife first when they are around as a couple. Ask about her job, her interests, before saying, "Did Fred tell you about the sit-down dinner at the Kissingers?" If he is single, you should maintain a nonsexual relationship, so you can always be looking over his shoulder for someone permanent. Also: A Standby can be used to make someone else jealous.

Drawback: This relationship is a revolving door; you have to return the escort privileges and might end up going to boring parties. Also, someone is bound to interpret it as an affair. The Banker

This is the money man you can call when the movers who have hauled your stuff from Capitol Hill to Cleveland Park decide they won't take a check. The source of no-strings gifts.

"You gots to have your money man, that goes without saying," says a Bambara woman.

Drawback: Occasionally, you have to pay him back so he doesn't look like a sucker or a sugar daddy. An almost-extinct species. The Cornucopia

Unlike the banker, you don't call him, he calls you. He showers his girlfriends with cologne, champagne and caviar. And plane tickets. Especially plane tickets. One Washington woman, an international cultural specialist, got a transatlantic call one day that a ticket to France was waiting for her. She spent a long weekend in his Paris apartment and she didn't think about the State Department once. In Washington's international circles, American women who work at the World Bank or the Organization of American States have lots of these bauble tales. One woman, asked to arrange a week in Bermuda for a group of African businessmen, found that she was invited along, by way of thanks, with no strings.

Drawback: When there are sexual strings attached, the woman, no matter how new or independent, begins to worry. She makes excuses about her absence to her mother. She also finds herself agonizing over things like the right lingerie.

"You ain't taking these drawers to Knoxville," says Sugar in the Bambara short story, holding up some blue cotton panties with white polka dots. "Oh no, sister, I ain't lettin' you pack this draggy number."

To deal with the Cornucopia, you have to tell yourself that this is a time of moral equality, and what has been sauce for the goose. The Gofer

As in: go for. As in the dry cleaning, junk food, a newly framed picture, whatever. Without the slightest hint of romance, the Gofer can be asked to do almost anything. He can be gay. Most times, the approach is diplomatic: "Harry, will you be in my neighbohood tonight?" Then you dispatch him to Swensen's or the Booeymonger. When a friend was confined to George Washington University Hospital, she asked one of her close male friends to take her underwear home and wash it. Sitting in Kensington one day, a woman called a salesclerk friend in downtown Washington, and had him drive through the snow with two sweet potato pies.

Drawback: Guilt. Why does he care? Are you acting helpless? Are you acting as if you're entitled to this treatment? It drives you crazy figuring out his motivations, and if you have a higher profile than his you wonder if he magnifies the true nature of your relationship to his friends. The Junior

Sometimes you need a brief encounter with a young man. One day a 39-year-old newsletter writer was walking near Farragut Square and a tall, lanky guy with a great smile and the latest Polo shirt told her she looked good. He was 23 years old. It was only after they made a date to go to Making Waves that she freaked out. "What am I going to do?" she asked her teen-age daughter.

Then, soaking in the hot tub, she found out he needed a break from his girlfriend who wanted to get married. She decided she needed a junior adventure.

Value: Extremely ego-satisfying.

Drawback: Might take on too much of an instructional tone. The Handy Man

Bambara lays it out: " 'I love a handy man,' sigh Marcy, posing in the closet like she'd grown up worshippin' toolboxes and hacksaws, dream-walking through lumberyards questing the plumber prince or something."

Puts up the bookshelves, takes them down when you move, and paints them in the new location. Unplugs plumbing, gets the car started, even kills a roach or two. Few strings. Don't have to see him all that frequently, but he's reliable.

When one supposedly ultra-independent type moved to Washington from New York, none of the government legalese confused her. But she was dumbfounded by how to get her garbage down the two flights of backstairs and into the alley. In New York she had simply put the bags on the curb. So she found an in-house garbage man.

Drawback: What do you do with him once the ceiling fan is fixed? He will end up wanting something--money, references, some kind of barter. He seems very suspicious of your vow of celibacy. The Sponge

You are my sunshine, can you pick up the tab, is the essential part of his rap. Others are more what one woman calls "hustlers in three-piece suits."

A case in point: They went to dinner at Germaine's, talked about traveling, decided to take a trip together, he promised to make the plans. A few days before departure she asked:

"Where are the tickets?"

He said: "Can you pick them up and use your American Express card?"

She did. She never got her money back, but she learned.

Quoth Bambara: "What's out there is nothing. Got that? Sheer unadulterated foul folk nuthin."

Drawback: Obvious. Worse, some Sponges never stop. Years after one Sponge had moved away, one Washington woman still received letters. "Nothing more heavenly than being with you a good job has been hard to find," went one recent note. The Peacock

The man who takes a beautiful woman to Tiffanne's or the Pierce Street Annex, so everyone will watch her and therefore watch him.

Drawback: The mirror is his only confidant. The Consultant

More substantial thn The Walker, this is the person you talk to when the big decisions--career or romantic--are to be made. Should I take the job in Atlanta? Should I be worried that he didn't call last night?

The day after a dinner and jazz date in Georgetown with a new man, one woman executive got a call from her Consultant, asking her how it went. He was just as interested in the outcome as his wife, who called separately.

Drawback: For the modern Washington woman, this could backfire. She has to remove her mask of independence and really confide, show what she did wrong, reveal all the warts. Then what happens if she looks around and finds the Consultant is the only person who understands, who cares? The In-Between

Provides everything but permanency. The major man between the major marriages, major affairs. Definitely sexual. Ground rules make it clear that the relationship is a dead end, but you decide it should be fun having it all without any commitment.

Drawback: You both become attached. You both know the limits intellectually but ignore the emotional signs. And how many times in your life can you hear, "You can't lose something you never had."

Says another Bambara woman: "Princes do not come. Frogs come. And they are never the enchanted kind. And they are definitely not about some magic kiss." The Stud

Strictly sexual. Either one night or long term. But he never gets a key and he has to call beforehand. He can come and talk, watch television, listen to music. You have to be relatively guilt-free and forget that you were brought up to believe you only sleep with people you love. He is, says a Bambara sage, "a cat that can get down between the sheets without a whole lot . about 'This is a spiritual union.' "

Attempts are made on both sides to achieve a fac,ade of romance but both understand what the main purpose is.

Drawback: The only commodities in this relationship are physical but the male ego begins to want more. He can't deal with the role reversal. He is proud that you are proud of his prowess, but he isn't used to being taken at his word, having his cards called when he says, "I can't get involved." The Stud can get possessive. One night, an In-Between was taken to a party on Wyoming Avenue. A former Stud was there with his wife. While walking down the stairs, the woman told the In-Between in quite explicit romantic terms that it was time for them to go home. The former Stud overheard. The next morning he called to plead jealousy and chastise the woman for acting so erotic in public. The Boyfriend

This is an old-fashioned date, the old-fashioned wait-by-the-telephone syndrome. This is dinner at El Caribe and coffee at Kramer Books, midnight lines at the K-B Cinema. It's laughter when he comes up short for the bill, and surprise when he suggests an evening at Hain's Point. Both sides decide the context and the time invested. "I loves me a tender man," says a Bambara woman.

Drawback: This breed is in short supply in Washington. The Partner

Something permanent, the significant other. "One day I'm gonna have it all and right on the same plate. 'Cause a la carte is a bitch," a Bambara character vows. The Partner can come out of the blue--somehow the tilt of a black tam at a Dupont Circle disco can be a signal of good times to come.

Drawback: Eventually he will want to get married, and husbands are commodities that don't fit into this Consumer Guide.