It's the clearest choice in 50 years, the papers say. The future of the nation, the security of the world are up for grabs Tuesday. And the biggest question on your mind is: What should I serve?

The Election Night Party -- that once-every-four-years opportunity to gather with a dozen or two of your dearest friends and see if the country goes to the dogs (again) -- is just around the corner. So now you're worried sick about making the evening a success.

Relax. Here at the Electoral Cottage and Roadside Rest, Election Night parties are a piece de ga teau, and what works for me will work for you -- trust me.

Celebrating Election Night with friends is an old and honorable tradition. Didn't your great-grandfather and his neighbors huddle over the crystal set for days waiting for returns from the Taft-Bryan race of 1908? Of course they did. How were they to know that people wouldn't start broadcasting until 1920?

You can just imagine, though, how much food your great-grandmother had to prepare to keep all those people happy. Today's hosts and hostesses have it much easier. In fact, with pre-election and exit polls getting more and more sophisticated, the problem is just the reverse: The evening may be over almost before it starts. Still, your invitations are already mailed -- no use crying over spilt milk, as we expert chefs like to say.

Let's talk basics. Remember that there are two major parties -- not counting the one you're throwing, of course. (Strange that they'd use the same word, isn't it? Maybe that explains all those balloons . . .)

Where were we? Right -- Republicans and Democrats. You can invite friends from both groups if you like, assuming you're one of those rare people who has friends from both groups. At the Electoral Cottage and Roadside Rest, we open our door to everyone -- even independents -- although we've found it a good idea to provide at least two televisions. Also unbreakable dishes.

Dishes lead us right to food. What about food? you ask. I say: Yes -- definitely. Serve food. This is where knowing your guests comes in handy. Democrats, by and large, won't eat very much. So long as there's hunger anywhere in the world, they'll tell you, it wouldn't be right. Republicans, on the other hand, will eat everything you offer them, and as quickly as they can get their hands on it. (In fact, that's the source of the term "trickle down" -- so have plenty of napkins around.) They'll also moan about waste in the school lunch program, but don't you take it personally.

Now, what kind of food? Have you considered a political menu, in keeping with the spirit of the day? Serve snipe. Serve leeks. Serve Cabinet pudding. Then use your imagination and whip up a vat of, say, Supply Cider. Or climb into your superhero tights and cape and serve Electoral Man Dates -- they're always a hit. What an insider you are, my friends often say to me. Wouldn't you like them to say that to you? They just might, you know.

A Very Important Tip: Study up. Is the election expected to be a cliffhanger, or a landslide? Some people eat more when they're nervous; others forget about food altogether. If 90 percent of your guests will lose 90 percent of their appetite when Ohio goes the "wrong" way six minutes after the polls close, you should know that. Or are your friends the kind who'll eat to forget? It makes a difference.

One final question. You say: What if the polls are wrong? What if I'm left with more food than I know what to do with? I say: Don't worry. The first 1988 primary should be along any day now. Have your friends in. Just defrost and serve.