When it comes to pre-dinner drinks, the French have the right idea. Unlike the traditional American happy hour which focuses on cheap beer, fried foods, and bottom-shelf liquor, the French apéro features sophisticated sippers and small yet thoughtfully curated snacks, perfect for transitioning into dinnertime ahead. Looking to get in on the joys of a sophisticated post-work apéro yourself? Bring the best of French drinking straight to your home by following these steps to hosting the perfect at-home apéro from the comfort of your own home.
What Is Apéro?
Apéro is a time to share drinks and light snacks amongst friends. However, compared to normal American happy hours, French apéros tend to start a bit later, run a little longer, and incorporate a different selection of food and beverage options.
Where Should I Host Apéro?
Apéros are generally always hosted at someone’s home. The French love to be outdoors, so hosting in a backyard, on a patio, or even a small balcony is ideal. Fresh air paired with an even more refreshing drink? Count us in.
Less is More
The French tend to be relatively unfussy in their set-up, and preparing for at-home apéros is no exception. Simply pop a simple folding chair/bistro set open, drape a chic tablecloth on top, and adorn with a vase of fresh cut flowers. In the world of apéro ambiance, less is always more.
A Bit Late, but Worth the Wait
Unlike American happy hours which can begin as early as 4PM, French apéros generally start on the later side of the evening. Apéros usually begin around 6PM and can last anywhere from one to three hours. It’s always a good sign when apéros run directly into dinner -- this means that the company (and drinks!) were equally delightful.
So, What’s to Drink?
Classic apéro drinks tend to be low-alcohol and slightly bitter, which are ideal for sipping during those hours in-between day and night. Riffs on the spritz, Suze & tonic, kir, or a simple coupe de Champagne are some of the more traditional sipping options. For a classic apéro beverage that packs a bit more punch, look no further than pastis, the signature anise-flavored sipper from the south of France. Crisp bottles of white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet, Chablis, or equally thirst-quenching bottles of rosé, are also perfect for popping at apéro. If you’re more of a beer drinker or red wine drinker, then popping one of those options also works. The bottom line is to drink what you love!
Snacks are Key
No apéro is complete without a solid stash of snacks. For a quick drink amongst friends, simply provide the basics: olives, nuts, radishes, and cornichons. To elevate your snacking, a crisp pain de campagne served with salted butter, creamy cheese, and a solid hunk of paté are sure to keep your guests happy. Dried sausages, terrine, and duck rillette are also a few classic French favorites that will bring your apéro to the next level. For those really looking to get down in the kitchen, try your hand at whipping up some homemade gougères or a savory tartine to split amongst friends -- and if you’re really looking to get fancy, there’s always tinned caviar and raw bar favorites (we’re pretty sure this will guarantee that your guests return!)
Create an Ambiance
Although food and drink are certainly important, the main purpose of apéro is to relax, unwind, and catch up with friends. Therefore, creating an overall apéro-appropriate ambiance is key. Consider the fact that conversation will reign king. Playing light background music is certainly acceptable, but keeping it at an appropriate volume is a must (insider tip: soft jazz is our go-to pick for apéro playlists!)
The Party That Never Ends
Truthfully, the best kinds of apéros are the ones that go all night long. Most weeknight apéros are often forcefully cut off due to dinners, bedtimes, or other obligations. However, when it comes to weekend apéros, the party knows no limits. Should you find yourself at a delightful outdoor apéro marked by a French-inspired ambiance, tasty drinks, and even more delicious company, we wouldn’t blame you for bailing on your pre-scheduled dinner plans and letting the all-night apéro run its unexpected course.