When Richard Marcus and three other George Washington University Law School students heard Ridgewell's Caterers was hiring 300 waiters to serve the state dinner at the White House Monday, they figured they could serve salmon mousse as well as anyone.

So they rented tuxedos, breezed through a cursory Secret Service security check and ended up dealing dishes near Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat.

"I just wanted to be there," Marcus said. "It was history in the making. I kept waiting for my invitation, but when it didn't come, I figured I'd play waiter."

Marcus said he and the other students learned of the catering jobs separately Friday through word of mouth on the George Washington campus.

They called Ridgewell's, identifying themselves as students, and gave their Social Security numbers, date of birth and places of birth.

"They asked us if we had (table waiting) experience and tuxedos," Marcus said. "We had neither, but we claimed we had both."

When they showed up in their rented outfits at the White House Monday night, they expected to be frisked for weapons or walked through metal detectors.

Instead they were rushed right to the dishes.

According to a spokesman for the Secret Service, the students were declared safe to serve only after their birth information and Social Security numbers had been run through police record computers.

"We get a list of names and we check them," said Jack Warner, assistant to the director of the Secret Service. "If the system were perfect," Warner said, "we would not have agents inside the White house."

However, it took only a moment for Ridgewell's supervisors to realize that not all their new waiters were veterans.

"Hwn our man talked to (Marcus), he said he knew French service," sniffed Jeff Ellis, president of Ridgewell's. "But we had to train them quickly in the waiters' tent."

"I felt badly for the people at my table," Marcus sighed, "but I didn't spill anything on them. I tried to follow the waiter in front of me and somehow I pulled it off."

There was no immediate report of just who Marcus served, but it apparently wasn't the presidential table.

As for his fellow waiters, Marcus said one was named Milton Shockley. The others, he said, he knew only by sight.

Ellis was appalled by the whole episode.

"Why didn't he tell us he didn't know French service? There are certain rudimentary things involved," the caterer steamed.

Marcus, however, was content to have witnessed history.

"I think it would be a tragedy if security became so strict that others like me can't do this in the future," he said. "It was a very exciting evening."