If you have ever heard the term apéro and wondered what it was, you’ve come to the right place. The word “party” doesn’t cover it. It is a get-together that has become a ritual in France after a long day of work, a wonderful excuse to sit down with a drink and enjoy the evening.
And I should note the classic French apéro is not just a thing for young and hip Parisians. As someone who has lived in France for 10+ years, I have to note that it goes much beyond that. It is 1 part cocktail party, and 1 part casual gathering of good friends, with a good mix of alcohol and hors d’oeuvres thrown in.
You can have an apéro at a brasserie, someone’s house, or even a picnic somewhere. The French version of happy hour, where you relax and enjoy people’s company.
And unlike a full-on traditional dinner, no one gets too stressed about whether they are eating with the correct cutlery or accidentally insulting the chef. And when can you have an apèro? Let me count the ways. Allons-y!
Different types of Apéros
1. The Happy Hour before the Meal
In the evening, the Happy hour apéro starts anytime after 5pm. Light snacks are served like chips, olives, carrot sticks, etc. Since wine is only served with the main meal (starter, main, dessert), the apéro hour is the perfect time to serve something else. Classic french apéritifs like pastis or kir are mainstays, and why not a glass of champagne?
You can actually have an apéro before lunch as well as before dinner. Not on a weekday obviously, but a Sunday apéro can start at 11:30 am before lunch. This is usually with close family and friends, perhaps after a trip to the morning market or church.
Guests are usually careful not to indulge too much though, the French etiquette rule for lunch and dinner is that you must finish your plate!
☞ READ MORE: 15 Best Apéritifs for your apéro
2. The Apéro Dinatoire
If you want to invite people over to your place, but don’t want to feed them a formal dinner, then an apéro dinatoire is in order.
In France, the typical dinner is usually a formal affair even at home. So you can imagine what a dinner party is like. Elaborate table settings, multiple courses, different wines to pair with each course, starters, mains, desserts, cheeses, the list goes on and on. And all the while, the host is scurrying back and forth to keep the meal moving along, without truly enjoying his/her guests.
The French apéro is the response to that exigence. No need to fear inviting people over, this is the casual version where you can let loose a bit. No need to set places, decorations, or meal courses, just put out a few large appetizers and drinks and you are good to go. Guests usually are given small plates for finger foods to help themselves.
There is no French word for “potluck“, but at an apéro your guests may even contribute a bottle of wine, some charcuterie, pâté, cheese, crudités, and bread to help out. (French guests don’t usually bring wine to a formal dinner party, as it is presumed that the host has picked the wine to match the meal!)
The apéro dinatoire can go on late into the night, as all good get-togethers do. If the food does run out and people are hungry later, well tant pis pour eux (too bad for them). Keep a couple of digestifs on hand though!
3. At a Brasserie
Now an apéro doesn’t necessarily have to be at someone’s house, it can also be at your neighborhood bar or brasserie. After a long week at work, on a Friday night, it is a moment to enjoy relax and just do nothing.
Pick a place in a central location, invite some friends, and enjoy!
☞ READ MORE: Pastis: The Ultimate French Apéritif
4. At a Picnic
Apéro-ing out all the time may get pricey, and since apartments in Paris are small, the local favorite is the apéro picnic. Every evening you will notice hip Parisians gathering around their favorite places to picnic near the Seine and Canal Saint Martin, ready for the evening apéro, perhaps with a game of pétanque.
Just like the apéro at home, anything goes and the gathering goes late into the night.
☞ READ MORE: Packing the perfect Parisian Picnic basket
5. At a Wedding
Yes, there is such a thing as the Wedding apéro, also known as vin d’honneur. In France, it isn’t considered bad manners to invite someone to the morning ceremony, but not invite them to the dinner afterward.
I’ve been at weddings where there was a ceremony at the church, then photos, and a cocktail apéro where guests mingled and chatted with small plates. And then some of the guests left, and the rest of the guests (mainly close friends and family) sat down for the long traditional dinner.
It is a way for the wedding party to keep costs down, while still inviting everyone they would like to have there. It is also a great option for guests with young kids, who may not make it through a 4-hour dinner late into the night!
What food should you bring or serve at an apéro?
Pre-cut vegetables like carrot sticks, radishes, celery, and cherry tomatoes are also popular finger foods. And you can never go wrong with pitas, hummus, tzatziki, and other dips. Other ideas for an apéro include:
1. Savory Cake
Cake salé is not a sweet cake but a savory one. Salé means salty in French.
They tend to be a staple at apéro hour with young Parisians since they are so easy to make in advance and transport if you are having a potluck type get-together. It is also great as finger food as people can pick it up directly and eat.
2. French Egg Muffins
Similar to a cake salé, French egg muffins can be prepared in a batch in advance, and served whenever you want.
With a provençale influence of tomato and garlic, these bite-sized snacks are also great finger-foods if you are having an apéro cocktail at home with friends. You can get the full recipe for French egg muffins here.
3. Baked Camembert
Camembert is a soft creamy cheese that comes from the Normandy region of France. It is similar to Brie, which comes from the old Brie region (now Seine et Marne) of France.
Baked camembert cheese is as easy as it sounds. It comes in a wooden box, so simply open the wooden box and take off the plastic wrap and cook in the oven for 15 minutes. You can add sweet toppings such as honey or fig jam, or savory ones like pesto and chili flakes. You can find the full baked camembert recipe here.
4. Charcuterie and Cheese board
In France, if you are serving a cheese and meat board at your apéro, it is not usually followed by a main meal. This is casual party platter and is the meal in itself.
Served with a bit of wine, get a variety of fine cheeses and cured hams. Along with a few baguettes, you have a quick and easy charcuterie platter. Add some grapes and pickles for added touch.
☞ READ MORE: Proper Cheese etiquette: the French Way
5. Veggie Crudités
With all that meat and cheese, perhaps it is time for a few veggies? And herein comes the crudités platter. No French apéro would be complete without it! See how to put together a crudité platter here, including which vegetables you should pick depending on the season.
6. Smoked salmon canapés
For a Blini au Saumon, take a blini and top it with a dollop of cream cheese. Add a piece of smoked salmon on top, and you are done. For the full recipe, see here.
7. Socca flatbread
Originating in Nice, socca is a type flatbread made with chickpea flour. It is quite easy to make, a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, and of course chickpea flour and you are good to go. Get the full Socca recipe here.
8. Tomato bruchetta
If you are looking for a delicious, quick, and healthy recipe, then tomato bruschetta is the perfect apéro snack to munch on. It is most commonly associated with the Mediterranean region and as a result, especially during the hot summer months.
Toppings for bruschetta usually range from cheese to a wide variety of vegetables. My favorite however is a light provençale-style bruschetta, with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and jambon cru (smoked ham). You can get the recipe for tomato bruschetta here.
What alcohol is served at an apero?
You can also offer light wines like the Beaujolais which is low in tannins or the Côtes du Rhônes. Generally for an apéro, you would select wines that are not too fancy in taste or in price tag (no Pauillacs please!) You can read more about wine and cheese pairings here.
☞ READ MORE: Easy Guide to the French Wines
Who should you invite?
An apéro is a casual event, so I wouldn’t suggest inviting the President of France or your boss for instance (unless they are cool like that)! It is usually for close family and friends, who you happily want to spend a few hours with.
Other tips to attending an apero for the 1st time
- If you are invited to an apéro at someone else’s house in France, they will tell you if they want you bring something. If nothing has been specified, bring a bottle of alcohol such as wine, or champagne.
- You could also bring dessert, like an assortment of cakes or little pastries from a patisserie.
- When you arrive, you must greet every person who is at the party individually with a bonjour, and either a handshake or the double cheek-kiss.
- The alcohol is usually self-serve, unlike other occasions, so feel free to serve yourself. Don’t get drunk though, most French people rarely over indulge.
- Normally apéros are a casual event so don’t stress. Just enjoy the event and be prepared for a lot of small talk. Amusez-vous bien!