If taking the family out for dinner in a department store seems like a strange notion, you probably haven't tried it lately. It's true that at one time a department store dinner meant a BLT hastily ingested at a noisy, crowded counter.But the greening of the United States' shopping centers has happily included department store dining rooms, often now as stylish and pleasant as some of their counterparts outside the malls.

At Tyson's Corner, Bloomingdale's Provence Restaurant and Woodward & Lothrop's Williamsburg Restaurant both offer lovely ambience and good food for families weary of struggling through the sales, but either is worth a visit whether you're shopping or not. Unfortunately, Hecht's Edgar's isn't even trying to compete. A meal there is an exercise in mediocrity.

PROVENCE RESTAURANT, top floor, Bloomingdale's. Open Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Sunday.Reservations unnecessary. Bloomie's credit card.

Unquestionably, the best food is available at Bloomie's Provence Restaurant, a beautifully rustic place after the manner of the country houses of the southern French province. The stucco walls, reproduction French tapestries and gleaming chandeliers create the panache one expects of Bloomie's; the stylish signature is seen also in its presentation of food.

The menu, offering five entries from $5.95 to $6.95, and an assortment of soups, sandwiches, quiches and omelettes priced around $4.75, makes for a fairly expensive lunch, but a rather reasonably priced dinner. Since a lovely salad bar is included with whatever you order, and there are tempting desserts to choose from, Bloomie's is probably not the place for a light lunch.

Kids can order a hot dog or tuna salad sandwich with potato chips, salad bar and drink for $2.65, and that's what two of ours did. The girls filled their plates with traditional greens and garnishes from one side of the salad bar, but my husband and I were more drawn to several offerings less frequently seen on restaurant sideboards: rice salad, a carrot-raisin-walnut combination in a sweet combination in a sweet dressing and bright chunks of papper, zucchini, tomato and onion dressed in oil, vinegar and herbs.

Although Bloomie's offers several gussied-up hamburgers, our older daughter ordered a plain one, served with steak fries for $4.75. Both hot dogs and hamburgers were large and juicy. My husband's spinach quiche was, he said, one of the best he has had, and my omlette Italienne was deftly turned out -- firm but not overcooked, with a creamy, delicious filling of ricotta, proscuitto and mozzarella.

The chocolate mousse wasn't rich enough for our tastes, but the pecan pie is a winner. Service at the Provence was gracious and expert; we look forward to going again.

WILLIAMSBURG RESTAURANT, top floor, Woodies. Open Monday trhough Saturday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday, noon to 3 p.m. Reservations unnecessary. Mastercharge, Visa, American Express, Washington Shopping Plate.

If you have young children in tow, you may prefer to try Woodies' Williamsburg Room with its pleasing and comfortable colonial ambience. Kids will enjoy seeing waitresses in pretty Williamsburg costume, complete with mobcaps, and they're likely also to enjoy the children's menus, taped inside kiddie storybooks. If you're lucky, the kids will keep right on reading after they decide what to eat.

The children's selections are reasonably priced from $1.25 to $1.95 and aimed at the 8-and-under set, although our 9-year-old girls found them adequate. One ordered fried chicken, which she enjoyed; the other requested a "shopping bag" dinner, which is a fun idea for little ones. Her meal -- hot dog, potato chips and an orange -- arrived at the table in a smart little shopping bag, complete with surprise tucked inside -- a box of crayons. Plaudits for whoever thought that one up; it has undoubtedly placated many a 4-year-old while his parents finished their dinner.

Woodies' menu offers a variety of a la carte selections at different prices, so you can eat lightly or less expensively here by choosing an omelette for $2.75, let's say, or a pot pie for $2.25. Full course dinners go for $3.50 to $7.95 and include either a cup of good soup or garden salad, vegetable, rolls and butter.

The food is uneven in quality, but overall we were pleased. Soup was delicious and salads large and fresh; rolls are plentiful and served warm.

On the other hand, a popover served with decent roast beef ($6.95) was the heaviest popover I've ever tasted; duckling ($5.95) was tough and vegetables overdone. But then again, sauteed liver and onions were tender and delicious, and at $3.50, a great buy.

Baked desserts were disappointing; stick with ice cream. Service is pleasant and accommodating.

EDGAR'S, lower level, Hecht's. Open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Sunday noon to 3 p.m. Reservations unnecessary.Hecht's credit card.

Edgar's, Hecht's entry into the department store restaurant lists, finishes far behind its two competitors. Located in the basement of the store, its decor is mundane and its staff inattentive and indifferent. Despite the face that the place was not busy the day we went for lunch, we had to rouse someone both to seat us and to take our money.

Although prices are lower than either the Provence or the Williamsburg, the food ranges from mediocre to poor. Children's portions can be served, although you will have to ask for them; the menu doesn't offer children's prices. Edgar's menu, ranging from $1.95 to $4.95, is basically another sandwich, quiche, crepe and salad affair with several entrees and specialties of the day available in the higher-price range.

We ordered children's hamburger and hot dog platters for the younger girls; a bacon omelette, $3.15; spaghetti with garlic bread, $3.50 -- a special that day -- and chicken salad platter, $3.50. The omelette was very good; properly cooked and generously filled with crumbled bacon. The hamburger and hot dog were okay, the girls said. The chicken salad was bland and dry and meagerly portioned, although the platter itself was colorful and prettily garnished.

The spaghetti, unfortunately was a disaster, served with what looked like a Campbell's soup sauce and inedible meatballs.

The girls enjoyed hot fudge sundaes for dessert, but bakery cheesecake with frozen strawberries spooned over and ersatz whipped cream was another big mistake.