I Own A Dinner Party Store—Here’s How I Fight Pre-Company Stress

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When former Infatuation editor Katherine Lewin opened Big Night in Brooklyn in 2021, it couldn’t have come at a better time. We were all mostly avoiding restaurants, and at-home entertaining was bigger than ever. 

And yet, three years and one more store location later, Big Night is still thriving, thanks to Lewin’s thoughtful tabletop curation and delightful party-ready snacks. In fact, the store has become so popular that Lewin just released her first book, Big Night: Dinners, Parties & Dinner Parties, which is part cookbook, part entertaining guide, and—most important—a primer on cheese math. 

Photography by Chaunté Vaughn

In this excerpt, Lewin shares the 13 hosting rules she lives by. 

1. You don’t have to serve dinner to have a dinner party. Snacks can be dinner. And if those snacks run out, pizza is always a phone call away. 

2. Rather than a hard start time, give people an arrival window: “Come over anytime after 6:30—we’ll eat around 8.” This framing accomplishes a lot: It tells people they can expect drinks and snacks before dinner; it gives them flexibility if they need a little more time; and it conveys an actual deadline for them to show up by. All in one clearly communicated sentence!

table setting with pink tablecloth and scalloped plates

Photography by Emma Fishman

3. Anything—even a store-bought thing—looks good in the right bowl. Do not underestimate the power of a great (or unexpected) serving vessel. Whip out a gravy boat filled with hot fudge for pouring over ice cream and watch the people freak out.

4. Right bowl, right size. If you’ve ever wondered why your dip or salad or cheese plate looks a little sad, consider: Does it fill out the vessel you put it in? Fit is important; don’t go too big. Your food should be wearing its outfit, not the other way around.

5. Anything can be zhuzhed. Good olive oil, flaky salt, freshly cracked black pepper, a sprinkling of chile flakes, a fistful of fresh chopped herbs, or a scoop of chili crisp can turn a meh dish into a much better one—or even breathe new life into leftovers.

Mediterranean dinner party spread

Photography by Emma Fishman

6. Sometimes—most times—the best appetizers are the simplest ones: A hunk of great cheese, a bowl of olives, and a little pile of salted nuts make for a perfect starting spread.

7. If you’re serving cheese, take it out of the fridge at least half an hour beforehand. You want to be able to taste the cheese, not your fridge. These 30 minutes can be the difference between a just-pretty cheese plate and an utterly delicious one.

8. If at any point you feel overwhelmed or stressed by the menu you’ve planned to serve, delete a dish. No one will know, and you won’t be cranky and stressed.

cocktails with garnish

Photography by Emma Fishman

9. CAYG: Clean As You Go. It’s a lifestyle—one that is, for me, sometimes more of an aspiration, but still. The more I tidy and wash as I cook, the happier I am at the end of the night not to be staring at a Mount Everest of mess.

10. If you can turn something into a bar, do it. A Spritz Bar, a Deviled Eggs Bar, a BLT Bar, a Bloody Mary Bar—people love a bar, they love options, and they love to customize. Everyone wants to be their own special snowflake! And hosting is so much easier when everyone becomes the master of their own destiny.

BLT party bar

Photography by Emma Fishman

11. Don’t forget dessert. It can be as simple as fancy chocolate bars broken up and shared right on the tablecloth. It can be as nostalgic as Klondike Bars or Chipwiches or Otter Pops pulled from the freezer. It can be as easy as pastries outsourced from your favorite bakery. It can be as fancy as a three-layer cake you made from scratch—but if you’re going this route…

12. Don’t stress dessert. Only make it yourself if you really want to, and do it before the party has started. Your maximum dessert effort should be scooping it into glasses, reheating it in the oven, or making fresh whipped cream—in fact, simply add some sliced berries tossed with a little sugar, and that right there is a perfect dessert.

dessert in green dishes

Photography by Emma Fishman

13. Accept help with the dishes—but only at the very end of the night.

Excerpted with permission from Big Night: Dinners, Parties & Dinner Parties by Katherine Lewin © 2024. Published by Union Square and Co.

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