Driveby moments in a story -- when two characters come together for a very short time -- usually last no more than a manuscript page. These mini-scenes are where I see housekeeping dialogue used most often, i.e.:
"Hi," Nick said to the innkeeper. "How are you?"
"Very well, thank you," he replied. "How may I help you, mademoiselle?"
"Is your wife here?" Nick asked. "I'd like to speak to her."
He gestured toward the kitchen. "She is cooking dinner."
That's a standard driveby -- it's very quick, exchanges the necessary information, and thanks to the housekeeping dialogue, reads totally flat and boring. You could delete the entire conversation and replace it with a single line:
The innkeeper told Nick that his wife was in the kitchen.
It's tempting to skip drivebys, as it can be a real challenge to make them useful and interesting to the reader. I like them, though, because you can turn them into quick sketches to better illustrate your characters:
Excerpt from Night Lost by Lynn Viehl
When Nick approached the innkeeper, she saw that he was sorting through receipts and adding up figures.
She stooped to pick up a receipt out of the small trash can next to the desk. "You dropped this one, M. Laguerre."
"What?" He took it from her and examined it. "Mon Dieu, the laundry invoice. How did I . . . " His dark gaze went from the trash bin to her face. "Thank you, mademoiselle."
Nick was grateful he spoke flawless English. She usually embarrassed herself trying to speak French to the natives. "May I ask you something?"
"Of course." He scanned a yellow delivery slip while his fingers tapped the keys of an old adding machine.
"Is your wife here?" Nick kept her tone casual. "I'd like to ask her about one of the old houses around town."
"Adelie is in the kitchen." He nodded toward the back of the inn. "If you go in there, she will ask you to sample her fish stock. It tastes like dish water and smells worse."
He leveled a stern eye on her. "If you sample it, you will tell her it is ambrosia, or she will fret and burn my dinner for the next two weeks."
Nick cleared her throat, mostly to stop a rising chuckle. "I'm allergic to fish."
"I wish that I were." He flipped over the receipt and began adding in figures from another.
The driveby performed its main function -- Nick finding out where the innkeeper's wife was -- but among other things it fleshed out the characters of Jean and Adelie without a lot of exposition or fuss. It also delivered a little humor, something I try to do in unexpected places in the story.
How do you take advantage of drivebys in your stories?
No one else calls them drivebys, I guess, but I found a good article I think might prove helpful to those who want to ditch the housekeeping dialogue -- Glenn Patterson's Writing Believable Dialogue.