Left: a dimly lit room with a table with plates, candles, and a wine glass. Someone is pouring a bottle of wine. Right: View of a room with a balcony overlooking Paris. There is a table with two glasses and food and two chairs.
Top: rebekahpeppler / korthavens / Above: deareverest

When I first arrived in France, I was amazed by the appreciation of food. As an American with the habit of eating a sandwich at my desk and calling it “lunch,” I was in awe of the luxurious 90-minute lunch breaks that are pretty standard here. And don’t get me started on dinners that tend to span between three and four hours. The French like to savor their food as well as talk about it. A standard conversation at a French table is centered around it: what they’re eating, what they ate earlier in the day, and what they hope to eat tomorrow. I soon realized that France was a foodie paradise, and I was happy to be here. 

Left: a balcony in Paris with a red table and two red chairs. There is food and rosé wine with two glasses on the table. The sun is shining and Parisian buildings can be seen in the background. Right: a Parisian building with several windows and balconies. There is a small garden visible on the roof.
karina_escher / Louis Paulin

Then, I was introduced to l’apéro. The term comes from the word l’apéritif, which is the French word for drinks served with small bites before a larger meal. It typically occurs around 7 pm, but on a Sunday afternoon, I’ve been served l’apératif before lunch. Not only does l’apéro help stimulate your appetite as you enjoy a pre-meal drink, but it’s also a time to relax and rehash your day with friends or family. 

If you want to enjoy one of my favorite parts of French culture, here’s how to host a French apéro at home. 

Left: two women on a Parisian balcony with two small tables with food and drink. The woman on the left is sitting and holding a glass and the woman on the right is standing and also holding a glass. The sun is setting. Right: A group of friends in a dimly lit room with an open window. There is food and drink on a tables and lit candles, and there are three women, each holding their arms up and close to one another.

1. Determine your menu

One of the best parts about l’apéro is that it doesn’t involve much cooking. Go for foods that are easily shared as most apéros involving picking from an assortment of nibbles spread out across a table. Remember that this is a time for sharing in general, whether it be food and drinks or stories from your day or week. 

Unlike American happy hour which, in a younger crowd, may involve fries and onion rings, the French prefer fresh bites like cheese, charcuterie, veggies, and salty things like olives and nuts. You should also try to score a fresh tradition (or a few) as well as spreads like tapenade, hummus, tzatziki, and terrine. If you want to go really French, pick up some radishes to eat with salted butter. 

Left: a table set with plates, candles, a wine glass and food with a large window overlooking Paris in the background. Right: several pieces of cheese on a cutting board as seen from above.
pariswinesociety / Rebecca Orlov

And if you’re feeling especially ambitious, I have been to apéros that featured hot food. Think mini quiches or homemade gougères, which are bite-sized cheese puffs made with Gruyère cheese. David Lebovitz has the perfect apéro recipes if you need more ideas for complimentary snacks (and drinks!).

Cheeses: Camembert, Comté, tomme de Savoie, or a chèvre. Try to pick various types of cheeses that range from soft to hard and cow to goat to sheep. Remember to always take your cheeses out of the fridge about an hour before serving for best results.

Charcuterie: Prosciutto, jambon de pays, saucisson, or other dried meats. You could also add in a pâté, terrine, or rillettes.

Left: an arm and hand holding a glass of out of a window in Paris. Gray slate Parisian roofs and other buildings can be seen. Right: A woman standing in an apartment in Paris with a glass of wine in her hand. She has short brown hair and is wearing jean overalls.

2. Gather your drinks

What you drink at your apéro really depends on the tastes of you and your guests. You may want to stick with lighter choices such as wine and beer so you don’t risk getting a bit too tipsy before dinner, but a traditional French apéro can feature liquor as well. 

Left: a plate with cut pieces of a baguette, cheese, olives, artichokes. There is a knife to the right of the plate. Right: A window in Paris with a cat sitting on it. There is a tree inside the apartment that is visible.
amour_frigo_ / Barthelemy de Mazenod

However, steer clear of complicated cocktails. Remember that an apéro is all about unwinding after a long day and catch up, so in addition to little or no cooking, you don’t want to go overboard with elaborate drinks that will keep you from enjoying your guests either. 

Wine: Chablis for white, Bourgogne for red. If you’re hosting a summer apéro, consider a rosé. Or for a wine-based spirit, try Lillet Blanc.

Beer: French or Belgian brews such as 1664 or Leffe.

Liquor: Pastis, Suze and tonic, kir. 

3. Prepare your table and invite your friends

You may have caught on by now that l’apéro is a no-fuss kind of get together. That means that you shouldn’t feel pressure to put up any sort of specific decorations or set a fancy table. As mentioned, you’re going to be snacking on foods you can share, so make sure you set out small plates for your guests to pile with goodies. Otherwise, a few candles and some light music will do!

Left: a man to the left and a woman to the right are standing on a Parisian balcony. The man has a glass of red wine and the woman has a beer. Right: A French cheese shop filled with different varieties of cheeses on display on a wooden table. There is a mirror above the table.
nicoletwohy / Elisa Michelet

Now it’s time to invite your friends over to show off your French apéro skills. Stick with small groups of no more than 8* people for a more intimate setting. Follow the lead of the French and tell your guests to come over around 7 pm. Wait for them to arrive and, as they say in France, and à votre santé!

*Disclaimer: While this article is centered around meeting with friends, in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, we strongly suggest that you consider having your apéro over video or with members of your immediate household until it’s safe to hold in-person group gatherings again.

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Written by Molli McConnell for HiP Paris. Looking to travel? Check out Haven In for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long-term or buy in France or Italy? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates. 


Molli Sébrier

Molli is American and has been living in Paris for over 6 years, where she completed her master’s degree in Literature. In her spare time, Molli runs a book review website that focuses on female writers. When not writing, you can find her in a cafe with a coffee in her hand and her nose in a book.

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