Discover the fine art of l’heure de l’apèro (French Apèro time.) The time of day in France to unwind and socialize before dinner with a light drink (or two), a salty snack, and your favourite people. Sounds simple yet this time-honoured French tradition that every French person understands confuses so many newcomers to France.
French Apero time, known in France as “l’heure de l’apero!” No doubt you’ve heard about it, but do you really know what it is?
- Is it an appetizer?
- Is it the evening meal?
- Is it alcoholic beverages?
- Is it similar to happy hour or maybe a cocktail party?
- Is it an occasion?
- What time is apéro hour?
- What kind of French food and drinks do you eat during apero time?
Let’s demystify the wonderful French apero tradition by exploring all these questions and more.
By the end of this guide, you’ll know enough to throw your own apéro get together, and be better prepared when you visit France and dine out at French restaurants, bistros, and brasseries in France.
THE BASICS: What Is An Apéro?
What’s the purpose of a French aperitif?
The purpose of the French apero time is to unwind and or socialize at the end of the day before dinner and to stimulate the appetite.
Traditionally, the apéritif (predinnerserved during l’apéro is meant to stimulate the appetite but without ruining the appetite, so apéritif drinks are usually bitter, sweet and light in alcohol.
I have an extensive guide and list all about French aperitif drinks here.
The light snack and nibbles served during l’apéro are usually salty to stimulate thirst; such as a bowl of green olives or crisps. Again, the snack shouldn’t ruin the appetite either.
Examples of when to enjoy L’apéro (French aperitif)
- A quick drink after work with friends at a nearby cafe with olives, chips, peanuts or fruit.
- An invitation to enjoy an apéro (drink and nibbly bits) at a friend’s house.
- To meet friends and family, for a quick drink possibly followed by dinner elsewhere.
- A drink you enjoy at a restaurant before you order your meal. Servers will often ask you if you would like to start with an aperitif.
- Sometimes it’s a drink at home with your family out on the patio with a bowl of chips.
- Sometimes it’s alone at home or at a café after a stroll, shopping, or work.
- A French aperitif is also part of the French multi course meal families enjoy to celebrate special occasions.
- And sometimes it’s a full meal, called an apéro dînatoire. Usually, this includes both salty and sweet. The portions are still small but add up to a full meal.
THE FINE ART OF THE FRENCH APERO EXPLAINED IN DETAIL!
What Time is Apero?
Take a walk through any French town in France at the end of the day or in the early evening between 7 and 9 pm.
Like magic, you’ll see empty terraces and cafes come to life with people chatting away while sipping on French apéritif drinks and nibbling on a small salty snack.
Around the same time that restaurant terraces are coming to life, some friends and families are also gathering in homes across France to enjoy each other’s company over aand small plates of nibbly bits.
This is Apéro time (l’heure de l’apéro).
“There’s nothing better than a friend,
except a friend to enjoy an apero with “
“Il n’y a rien de meilleur qu’un ami,
sauf si c’est un ami avec l’apéro!”
7 to 9 pm might seem late, but dinner is served much later in France and much of Europe.
Most sit down restaurants in France don’t open until 7:30 pm or 8:00 pm, with things picking up pace around 9:00 pm, ending well past 10 pm or 11 pm.
So while happy hour usually ends between 5 pm to 7 pm, apéro time is just beginning between 6 to 7 or 8pm and can last until 8 pm or 9 pm or beyond.
What to expect during an apero
Apero time at a restaurant, café terrace, at the beach and beyond
If you’re meeting someone after work for l’heure de l’apero, the server will usually bring you something salty to nibble on; a bowl of green olives, black olives, pistachios, peanuts, or pretzels etc.
These salty snacks are usually free, but some places have small bites you can order for an additional cost, tapenade, focaccia bread, etc.
Don’t be confused: When you sit down for diner at a restaurant in France, servers will often ask if you would like an aperitif before the meal.
They are simply asking you if you would like a beverage to start.
In this case you can order something classic like a Kir or a glass of rosé, or pick up the menu and flip to the aperitif drink section.
Apero time at someone’s home, maybe yours?
If you’re invited to someone’s house for an apéro, the spread might be a little more elaborate or substantial than the free olives and pistachios served at a cafe terrace.
There might be three or more choices like cheese, charcuterie slices of saucisson, pâté, a bowl of cherry tomatoes, chips, or something to spread on slices of bread.
There will be alcohol too, formally called the apéritif.
“Whether it’s a problem or a question, apero is always the answer.”
“Quel que soit le problème ou la question, l’apéro est toujours la bonne réponse!”
WHAT APÉRO IS AND IS NOT:
Sometimes to better understand what something is, we have to look at WHAT IT IS NOT.
Apéro time is not the same as happy hour or cocktail party
I’ve seen some articles describe an apéro as being similar to happy hour, cocktail parties and even English “high tea.”
Sure, all three involve food, drink and socializing.
In reality, the French apéro is much more with a set of traditions and unsaid rules, and that is where people unfamiliar with this tradition get confused.
Here are some of the main differences.
APERO IS A WIDESPREAD TRADITION: Happy hour & cocktail parties are not
Many French alcohol and snack companies have conducted marketing studies to determine the apéro habits of French people.
One of the most glaring differences between an apero, happy hour and cocktail parties is that Apero time is a tradition that most French people experience regularly.
It’s estimated that roughly 70% to 80% of French people in France regularly enjoy an apéro.
Those numbers only increase during the holidays and weekends!
In the flip side, you can go your whole life without ever having experienced a cocktail party or happy hour because they ARE NOT traditions.
Here are some studies conducted on the apero hour in France.
- A survey conducted by Deliveroo France concluded that 6/10 people in France take an apéro at least once a month. 3/10 people enjoy an apéro once a week, and 1/10 people take an apéro every day.
- This 2020 study found that 5/10 people surveyed enjoyed an apéro at least once a week.
- This study asked 1011 French people about their apéro time habits: foods served, locations and frequency. This is what they found:
- 21% of people surveyed enjoyed an apéro one or more times per week.
- 54% enjoyed an apéro 1 to 3 times per month
- 19% enjoyed an apéro 1 to 10 times per year.
- Only 6% of people surveyed enjoyed less than one apéro per year.
- Studies have even shown that taking an apero with your spouse or significant other is good for your relationship.
Apéro is not an appetizer.
Apero is not an appetizer or the starter dish consumed at the beginning of the meal before the first course.
The apéro is separate from the French meal.
You can have an apero at one place, then get up and leave to have your meal someplace else.
Or you can have an apero on the terrace of a restaurant and then decide you also want to have diner there.
Apéro is not a full meal, but an Apero dînatoire IS a full meal
Anything goes when it comes to apero food, but the plates are small, salty or savoury, and bite-sized; little to no cutting is required.
And you don’t fill up on the small plates because you don’t or shouldn’t ruin your appetite before the actual meal.
There is an exception, it’s the apéro dînatoire.
Dinner apero (apéro dînatoire)
Apero dînatoire is exactly the same as an apero except for duration, time, quantity and types of food served.
While an apero happens before dinner, the apéro dînatoire is the meal, so it may start later during regular dinner hours after 7:30 pm.
Amount of food:
While an apero Is NOT meant to be a full meal, an Apéro dînatoire is a dinner of small plates.
The plates served during an apero dinatoire are the equivalent of an entire meal in finger food portions.
Also, the type of plates served during an apero dinatoire are more elaborate the the ones served during the pre dinner apero.
And lastly, the apero dinatoire happens almost exclusively at someone’s house, and not a restaurant. But, it could happen in certain situations such as at a work event, or school event.
LOCATION: APERO TIME CAN HAPPEN ANYWHERE: Happy hour and a cocktail party cannot.
Unlike happy hour, which is always at a bar, or a cocktail party that is usually at someone’s home or an event, you can literally enjoy an aperitif anywhere.
On a café terrace, at someone’s house, at the beach, picnic-style along the Seine river, on the steps of an old church, at the office, on a train, and even at Disneyland Paris.
APERO TIME CAN HAPPEN FOR ANY OCCASION: Happy hour cannot.
Unlike happy hour and cocktail parties, an invitation to an apéro can be for any occasion. Here are just a few.
- Apéro birthday party
- Apero Christmas party
- Weekly apero family get together
- Apero Retirement party
- Apero party to celebrate passing an important exam
- Apero dinnatoire marriage.
- Apero at the end of a business meeting
- An apero end of year school party
- After parent-teacher meetings.
- Just because you want to for no other reason.
There is no limit to what type of occasion an apero is suited for.
The most important thing is it happens before diner, but sometimes people take an apero before lunch.
APERO CAN BE CASUAL AND STRESS-FREE: Cocktail parties are the opposite.
Cocktail parties are usually fancy events, where guests stand enjoying hors-d’oeuvre, and the host has spent hours planning something elaborate for guests.
The main goal of an apero is to relax, enjoy yourself and socialize.
A French apero means no slaving over the stove preparing a meal while your guests wait and watch you.
Not only is cooking a full meal while you’re guest watch not relaxing for the host, it’s not very relaxing for your guests to watch you zipping around the kitchen trying to cook, plate, and get things together to serve.
This is why it’s crucial to serve certain types of food items at an apero party.
Good food and dishes that you can put out ahead of time that can be eaten at room temperature.
If it’s more of an upscale apero, choose fancier and better quality:
A giant charcuterie board with saucisson, paté,
Don’t forget a bottle of and . Maybe kick off the apero with a
AN APERO CAN BE IMPROVISED OR IMPROMPTU: Cocktail parties cannot.
Apero time can be as fancy as you want for special occasions and get-togethers. But more often than not, apero time is usually very low-key and not fancy at all.
It’s too much work to do so often.
This is why an apero can be with whatever you have on hand in the cupboards—a bowl of nuts and a glass of wine and each other’s company.
CHILDREN ARE VERY WELCOME DURING APERO TIME: But usually not at happy hour or cocktail parties.
Another critical difference between an Apéro, happy hour and cocktail parties is children.
Children are not excluded from apéro get-togethers, especially an apero at someone’s house or outdoors, such as an apero at the beach or picnic.
Apero culture is ingrained in French culture; it’s not uncommon for young people as early as 17 or 18 years to have aperos with their friends.
WHAT PEOPLE USUALLY SERVE DURING APÉRO TIME (AT HOME)
Everyone’s idea of a is different but here are some general guidelines to follow if you want to do it the .
APERO DRINKS: Not all drinks are appropriate apéritif drinks
When it comes to and parties, anything goes. Not so when it comes to l’heure de l’apero.
An apéritif ( ) is meant to stimulate the appetite.
A pre drinks should meet specific criteria: can count as an apéritif, but in general, all
- A should have low alcohol content. No one should get drunk or ruin their appetite with heavy and high alcohol level drinks.
- Many drinks are bitter and sweet: Bitter to whet the appetite and sweet to cut the bitterness.
- The limit is usually one maybe two drinks before everyone heads their separate ways to have .
There are no sweets desserts during apéro time.
Since an apéro is an appetite opening (not squashing) predinner event, eating sweets during the French apero is a no no in France.
Eating sweets would not only squash and ruin your appetite, but in French culture, sweets are eaten after the savoury parts of the meal are finished.
This means that that sweet desserts are taken after all the courses are finished: appetizer, main course, cheese course, then dessert.
I wrote a guide about the order courses are served in france here.
The exception is during an apero dinatoire.
It’s ok to serve something sweet at the end of an apero dinatoire because it is the main meal.
You can also serve an after-dinner digestif drink and coffee at an apero dinatoire but not for an apero.
Food Should be ready to go and can be served at room temperature
None of your food should need additional cooking or attention.
You’re buying components to mix and match everything.
If you want to make something in advance like mini quiches, that’s fine, but, again, no one should be stuck cooking in the kitchen.
An apero is the perfect time to try new or fancier food products that you wouldn’t usually eat or serve your family:
Some classics that typically make the apero list are charcuterie boards with saucisson, cheese, and spreads such as guacamole, houmous or tzatziki.
The food served for l’apéro can also be regional.
For instance, in Marseille and Nice, the specialty is Panisse and Socca, both made with chickpeas and not really popular or readily available in other parts of France.
In the south of France, anchoïade, a garlic anchovy paste which you spread on small pieces of bread or as a dip for carrots and cucumbers, usually makes an appearance.
The closer you get to Spain, the more likely you’ll come across Tapas at an apero.
French grocery stores aisles where people buy their apéro products
In France, the number one aisle people usually shop at for their aperitif goods is the apéritif aisle which usually has chips, salty cookies, pretzels and fancy
In the refrigerated section, you’ll find bellinis and spreads such as tzatziki.
And in the condiment aisles cornichons.
At the top of the list of things people serve at an apero party at home are crudités: carrots, celery, broccoli, etc.
Not far behind are nuts, charcuterie, and cheese.
Then there are quiche and salty cakes (cake salé), chips, crackers, olives, dips, spread, and small bites that one might prepare but can also be bought in French grocery stores.
Here are other small finger foods that make great apero food choices.
- Petits four: small bite-sized cooked items, Mini quiches, pigs in a blanket, pizza bites,
- Verrines: food served in a small glass.
- Soft Cheeses: Crème de
gruyère, camembert, brie, goat cheese/chèvre
- Semi Soft Cheese:
Tomme de Savoie, Beaufort, mozzarella, Fourme d’Ambert,
- Hard cheeses:Comté, Beaufort, Parmesan, pecorino, maredsous, etc.
- If you’re bold, there is always stinky French cheese.
Charcuterie: Cold meat
- Saucisson sec
- Jambon sec
- Foie gras
Spreads, Dips & Sauces: Tartinage
To eat with bread or with the cruidtés.
- Anchoiade (anchovy paste)
- Tapenade (an olive spread)
- Onion Confit (sweet onion jam)
- Tomatine: (type of tomato pesto: sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, olive oils)
- Yogurt or Creme fraiche garlic sauce
- Fougasse (bread)
- Cherry tomatoes
- Carrot sticks
- Chips / Crisps
- Tuiles: pringles shaped chips
- Cornichons (Look like baby pickles but crunchier and not sweet).
Small Bites precooked:
- Salty cakes
- Quiche (large or mini quiche)
- Pigs in a blanket (Roulées saucisses en pâte feuilletée)
- Pizza bites
- Smoked Salmon
Number of bites
- When estimating quantities, plan on serving around six bites per per for a two- party.
- For a light , it takes 4 to 5 bites per .
- For a full of ; apero dinatoire about 15 plus bites per per .
Serve plenty of .
Every good apéro has something alcoholic to , so count on serving a light that stimulates the appetite.
I’ve read some articles online that say That’s just not true. is not part of an apero.
and , but they should be light and crisp, not heavy.is always recommended for an apero, even
Some category, which are sweeter than normal wine such as liqueurs like , port-like drinks and aromatized drinks like sweet vermouth. staples fall under the
Here are some safe choices:
- or Champagne
- see my guide on aperitif drinks
In France: You can order apéro kits delivered
There are an abundance of pre-packaged apero kits and services for the busy or the who enjoys trying something new.
I recently tried APERIX which offers curated apèro boxes from four different French regions: Alsace, Brittany, Lorraine and Provence.
Each box has French products made by local producers from one of those regions.
These kits come in handy in the off chance that you don’t have time to get to the store or you have an unexpected guest.
An apero kit is also handy when you’re in a pinch, like when you’re invited to someone’s house for an apero at the last minute and want to arrive empty-handed.
French Apero expressions and phrases
When it’s apero time in France, people will usually say, “On prend un apéro? (shall we take an apero?)
Another common way to say it’s apero time in French is:
“C’est l’heure de l’apéro.”
This phase usually gets translated to English as “It’s Apero Hour,“ but idiomatically, it means “It’s Apero time.”
Here are some examples of other common French phrases using “C’est l’heure de…”
- It’s Apero time = C’est l’heure de l’apéro.
- It’s diner time = C’est l’heure du dîner.
- It’s bed time= C’est l’heure de dormir
- It’s time to workout= C’est l’heure de s’entraîner.
Wrapping up the French apero
As you can see, the French apero time is serious business in France