Washington leads the nation's top metro areas in growth of service industries, the huge sector of business that includes hotels, theaters, repair shops, hairdressers, doctors, lawyers, private schools, parking lots, health clubs, public relations and even data processing.

Service industries generally don't make or sell a product; they serve or assist individuals, businesses and industries such as government, manufacturing, banking and finance and retail (including restaurants).

Recently released figures from the 1982 U.S. Census of Service Industries show that such industries have grown here 251 percent in the five years between 1977 and 1982, 32 percentage points above second-ranking metropolitan Boston, according to a study prepared for the Greater Washington Research Center by George and Eunice Grier, private consultants to the center. Nationally, service industries grew only 89 percent during the five-year period.

The District of Columbia has the greatest number of service industries and the largest regional share of dollar receipts, 33 percent or $4.2 billion annually, with Montgomery, Fairfax, Prince George's and Arlington counties having all but 8 percent of the remainder.

While Washington is the fastest-growing metropolitan region for service industries, it is not the largest. Its $17.3 billion in service industry receipts in 1982 ranked it fourth in the nation. New York City was first with $38.5 billion, followed by Los Angeles and Chicago.

The service industry figures here do not include organizations exempt from federal income taxes such as noncommercial research and educational services, membership clubs and trade associations.