WHAT'S IN A WORD? The first glance at The Alternative on U.S 1 in Hyattsville is compelling. "Homestyle food," promises the sign. A further look, though, makes me wonder. "Homestyle service," it also says. Is that a promise or a threat?

THE OTHER POSSIBILITY WAS HALF A SANDWICH -- The hot roast beef sandwich at a Peoples Drug Store cafeteria tasted a little odd. Scraping away the gravy and lifting the bread, the diner discovered it was half roast beef and half ham. But he didn't have long to wonder what the problem was: Down the counter someone else ordered a hot roast beef sandwich and was told that the kitchen had run out of roast beef.

ALIENATED -- A protest movement has been growing in the past couple of months, as restaurateurs try to cope with the crackdown on employing illegal immigrants. The restaurateurs complain that they need workers to do "the dirty jobs," mainly dishwashing, and can't afford to pay enough to tempt anybody but illegal aliens.

One restaurant owner admitted that he had several illegal aliens working in his kitchen at the moment, but "without these three people I'm going to be the dishwasher," he complained. And if he paid enough -- $2 to $3 more an hour -- to attract people with working papers, he would have to raise his prices beyond what the public would find acceptable, he said. As a result, dozens of restaurateurs have been meeting weekly to plan how to present their protest. "It's time to fight," said one. Or switch to paper plates.

FLIGHT PATTERN -- Following in the footsteps of Samplings, which serves wines in tasting portions so diners can compare several, is Flutes, the Georgetown champagne bar. Flutes is offering tastings of three sparkling wines for about $7 to $8 during cocktail hour -- 5 to 8 p.m. And even some of its foods -- pa~te', smoked fish, fruit and cheese platter and crab cakes -- are being offered in "demi-orders" for about $7 to $8 each during this tasting time.

LAOTIAN DELIGHT -- One more nationality to add to the Washington repertoire: Laotian. Bangkok-Vientiane has opened in Falls Church, with not only Thai food, but the first Laotian dishes to be seen locally. Besides offering free shrimp chips with dinner, Bangkok-Vientiane serves Laotian spring rolls, chicken pa~te', papaya salad with dry beef and sticky rice, a Laotian pasta described as "Round rice stick top with special lao spicy sauce," poached chicken and Laos-style fried fish.

OOPS -- The new pizza parlor to be opened by Joe Prinz will not be called Pizza Piazza, as reported here two weeks ago, but Pizza A Go-Go.