Q In an attempt to impress the various dignitaries of local "society," and ther

Her setting was superb, the lighting delicate, the wine perfectly coordinated. Everything was moving briskly along, according to the stuffiest standards, from the aperitif right up to the entree.

It was at that moment, with all her guests eagerly anticipating the main dish, that the hostess suddenly realized that cooking a main course had somehow, in the heat of all the other preparations, slipped her mind.

Dinner ended with the appetizers. There was no entree.

Time and distance render us callous. When I heard later about her fiasco, although I knew I should have kept a straight and, if possible, sorrowful face in the presence of such suffering, I confess to bursting out in uproarious laughter.

Never mind the lecture on my rudeness. Karmic laws being what they are, my heartless mirth has undoubtedly assured that I, at some future time, will be forced to re-enact the scene. And with each succeeding guffaw, it becomes increasingly likely that I shall have to do so as the hostess.

It is against this impending cosmic retribution that I am wondering if you might tell me just what, in the face of a dinnerless dinner party, is the appropriate behavior of (a) the guests and (b) the hosts.

P.S. Use my name, and you, too, shall sustain karmic penalties.

A Don't threaten Miss Manners. She doesn't take to it well. However, she does appreciate being amused. Without knowing how eventful social life is in the circles you describe, she can tell you that this incident would have enlivened any society she frequents.

Do not worry about having laughed at it; laughter is the essential ingredient of social disaster. The hostess should have led the laughter, and it would have been extremely rude of her guests not to join in. There is nothing more embarrassing than having people treat you as if they were not greatly surprised when you did something spectacularly awful.

Should this happen at your table, let out an exclamation of some sort (the kind that means shock, not anger) to get the attention of everyone. Then say:

"You'll never believe what's happened. I spent so much time trying to make everything perfect and working on the appetizer murmurs from guests: "It's delicious" that I forgot to make a main course. Good grief! There's nothing for dinner!

"Wait! Everybody have some more wine, and I'll go scramble some eggs" or "send out for something" or "make a restaurant reservation."

By this time, the hostess should be doubled up in laughter, and the guests, reassured that they will not starve, should join in with merriment and offers of help in the kitchen or emergency measures.

Their final obligation is to assure the hostess, when they leave, that the improvised evening turned out to be more delightful than any uneventful one could have been.

Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.