On New Year's Day, I published a wish list for 1991. One wish concerned The Speechlet that a restaurant server utters whenever he or she places the check in front of a customer.

"I'll take this when you're ready," the server always says.

Please make those six words disappear during the new year, I urged. No server will take my payment before I'm ready, I wrote. So why such verbiage? Could it be a euphemistic attempt to inform me that I don't have to march the check and my money up to a cashier? Then why not say so?

I also suspected in print that the real message is economic. The server is really trying to say that the restaurant makes its money by "turning" tables, so would Levey please get off his ample derriere and let the house serve someone else?

Or perhaps The Speechlet is a veiled attempt to bump the size of one's tip, I suggested. If so, the attempt usually backfires, at least with me.

It wasn't long before the restaurant industry responded. Sweetness and tenderness were not on the menu.

"You are an idiot, a moron and a bozo," began one particularly warm letter, scrawled by "Waiter in Northwest Washington."

"Have you ever heard of politeness, Levey? What if I put a check in front of you and growled, 'Pay this right away!'? Not very subtle, is it?"

Joan Boitano, a waitress at a "medium-priced place in Silver Spring," said I'm right that The Speechlet is a nudge to vacate the table.

"But most customers accept it in the spirit in which it's intended," Joan said. "They realize a restaurant is in business to make money, and so is a waitress. They didn't get up on the wrong side of bed the way you did."

Lisa Fox, of Ellicott City, a waitress during her just-ended college days, offered an explanation that would never have occurred to me. She says The Speechlet is "an attempt to glean some sort of customer intention regarding check payment." In other words, will the customer pay up right away, or should the waitress check back in 20 minutes?

(Interesting theory, Lisa, but again, I think directness would serve the same purpose. How about: "Would you like to pay right away, or should I check back in a few minutes?").

Finally, Richard Aronowitz, director of operations at Fitch, Fox & Brown in downtown Washington, says The Speechlet is a way to let the customer know he's not being harassed or hurried.

"The server is saying, 'Now you're in control. I'm not asking for the money now, so please don't feel rushed, but the check is here for you so that you can pay it at your convenience,' " Richard argues.

Richard comes closest to persuading me to change my mind. I certainly don't want to be rushed when I'm desperately digesting. And I certainly would rather have the check sit by my side for a few minutes than have to wave, whistle, shout and beg for the check, as I've often done.

But all you restaurant workers are overlooking two key points:

1) Placing the check on the table makes the speech for you. No words are necessary. When you deliver The Speechlet, you're implying that I might not realize I'm expected to pay for the meal I've just consumed. That's more than a little patronizing.

2) Anyone with two eyes knows before he even sits down whether he should eventually pay the waitperson or hunt for a cashier. Is it a French place with gaudy prices? Pay the server. Is it Bob's Big Boy? Pay the cashier. Is it someplace in between? The customer will look around, and answer the question for himself.

To boil it into a slogan:

Good manners from a server are next to godliness. But silence is golden.

Wish I'd seen it. Thanks to R. F. Heisey of Arlington for the fill-in.

Brother Heisey lives in the 900 block of South Frederick Street in Arlington. Near his apartment house is a steep hill that R.F. calls "as good or better {for sledding} than 13th Street {NW} at Florida."

During the ice storm of Jan. 8, a briefcase-toting Yuppie was trying to pick his way down the hill on foot. Three times, as R.F. looked on, the Yup slipped and fell right on his you-know-what.

Finally, ingenuity took over. "He dropped his briefcase down in the street," says R.F., "wrapped his coat tails loosely about him, sat down on the briefcase and coasted to the bottom of the hill."

R.F. is not just a reporter. He is a man with a $1 million idea.

"How about briefcases with runners?," he suggests.

The Wall Street Journal reports that a Long Island bagel shop announced its recent demise with a sign in the window, which read:

"Ran Out of Dough."