Enjoy l’apéritif! (the French way)

You are in France. What do you do when a native says the following to you:

On prend l’apéritif?

or, slightly more familiar:

Vous venez chez moi ce soir pour l’apéro?

What if you just received an invitation reading:

– Retrouvez-nous mardi soir pour un apéritif dinatoire, 19H00.

Apéritif. Apéro. A time-tested tradition in la Belle France where many indulge in the ritual on a regular basis. If you hear the magic word, it means a French native wants to spend quality time with you, usually at the end of the day, at a café terrace, in their garden, or their living room. There may be other friends. There will be lively conversation. Laughter. Drinks, alcoholic, mostly (even if mineral water and fruit juice will also be available.) There will be some food, but in small quantity; unless we are dealing with apéritif dinatoire. More about that later.

(Wikipedia Commons)

You may be thinking the French are not the only people in the world who enjoy sharing a drink with friends at the end of a busy day. You are correct, but les Français add a twist to the ritual.

L’apéritif refers to an alcoholic drink enjoyed at the beginning of the meal. A French waiter (like an American one,) approaches guests and, before he takes the order, asks: “Désirez-vous un apéritif?,” or: “Pour commencer, un apéritif?” (Would you like a drink? How about a drink to start?) It is entirely up to you to accept, or refuse. In a French home, your host will offer un apéritif before the meal.

Most importantly, L’apéritif, (“l’apéro,”) in France, also refers to a special moment shared among friends. The atmosphere is laid back. It is time to relax, trade jokes, or get to know new acquaintances better. Your host may announce: “A la bonne franquette, hein?” (There will be no fuss. Expect an informal gathering.) Toasts may get exchanged, (“A votre santé !” “A la vôtre !”) Whether l’apéritif is held indoors or outdoors, guests sit down. No standing around the kitchen island! It’s important to be comfortable, even if the chairs are made of plastic.

(Photo credit unknown)

L’apéritif has been around since the Middle Ages, but at the time, there was more focus on the medicinal properties of the drinks, intended to ease digestion and soothe the stomach. Over time, it became a ritual, shared by many, no matter what their circumstances might be, a chance to enjoy quality time with friends, an excuse to drink, too. A whole industry soon grew around the different drinks offered in France. Suze. Campari. Cinzano. Lillet. Dubonnet. Noilly-Prat. Spirit-based wines, flavored with proprietary blends of herbs, spices, and other botanicals. Iconic brands, representative of French regions, currently enjoying a revival, not just in France, but in other countries as well, where they are used as a base for cocktails. Absinthe, so popular in the 18th century, was a traditional apéritif. Pastis, the cloudy and refreshing aniseed-flavored drink originally launched by Pernod, still rules the apéritif market, and not just in Southern France.

(Wikipedia Commons)

Kir, of course. The popular drink hails from Burgundy, and is made with white wine and potent crème de cassis (currant liqueur.) Kir Royal, its elegant cousin, involves currant or blackberry liqueur, and sparkling Crémant de Bourgogne (or Champagne.)


In my native Southwest, Floc de Gascogne (sweet, strong  vin de liqueur fortified with Armagnac, the local brandy,) routinely shows up during l’apéritif.


Wine, red or white; Whisky (introduced by American troops during the Liberation of France,) fruit juice, and bottled mineral water (always!) complete the selection.

When hosting a French-style apéritif, keep in mind food is served in much smaller portions than at parties in the United States, especially if offered before the meal. L’apéritif, after all, is supposed to whet the guests’ appetite, not kill it. Peanuts (or the trendy Spanish Marcona almonds,) cherry tomatoes, slices of saucisson (dry, cured sausage,) chips, olives, are common choices. A la bonne franquette, remember? Easy-Peasy. Other options include carrot or cucumber sticks, and the ever-popular endives. They are cheap in France, and they make the perfect container for eggplant or smoked salmon caviar, tarama (the fish egg-based, pink paste,) or tapenade.


Servings get more generous when the event is referred to as “apéritif dinatoire.”  An invitation to share a traditional apéritif does not mean you will be staying at your host’s house all night,  but you can expect l’apéritif dinatoire (the dinner version of l’apéritif) to last the whole evening. The setting is still relaxed. Finger foods are de rigueur. A few years ago, les verrines (small portions, sweet or savory, served in a verrine, or small glass,) were all the rage. So were slices of cakes salés, (savory breads.)

(Wikipedia Commons)
Cake salé

Sometimes, things get more elaborate, with an attractive selection of amuse-bouches and petits fours. For years, my Mom served these during our family’s traditional Christmas Eve dinner celebration, as we all sat in the living room, around the coffee table…


I wonder if many people still have a Pain surprise, (party loaf,) prepared by the local boulanger these days… The mini-sandwiches carved out of a loaf of rustic bread are delicious and come in a variety of flavors, pâté, smoked salmon, crudités, etc.



This year, when Thanksgiving comes, why not try serving your guests a French-style apéritif before the meal of all meals? See suggestions below…

A bientôt. 


Further reading:


1. Find out more about traditional French apéritif drinks and brands listed in the story here.

2. The world is mad for Lillet, the iconic French apéritif drink, and a personal favorite of mine. Find cocktail and other recipes on the company’s website.


Lillet Poster

Dear readers:

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What did you think about this article? Let me know in the comment section below, (I love reading your messages and reply to most.) Don’t be selfish and share with a friend! Merci. Véronique (French Girl in Seattle)


  • v this post was absolutely delectable – on so many levels- the food pictures has got my mouth watering-I swear I cold almost taste them-the colors and presentation – no fuss but what a treat for the eyes-and the cultural aspect explained-in only a way you could do- better than any book- can I ask one question how do you know when to leave if the gathering is at a home or personal garden if the l’apero is not a precursor to a sit down meal-I felt myself getting a little nervous-that is how involved I become with your posts-like a good book-when do you leave….Well another winner here SIMPLY ADORE the cultural aspects you share-HAVE A GOOD WEEK and a HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO YOU AND JR.!!

    • Merci, dear g. I am happy you enjoyed this story. To answer your question, an apéritif that is not followed by dinner, but still held at someone’s home, typically lasts under two hours. If other guests are there, you would watch and get the hint, as they start leaving. If you were the only guest, and “l’apéro” started around 6:30, then I would probably thank the host and get ready to leave around 8:00 pm (which is dinner time in France.) If the host wanted you to stay longer at that point, they would let you know, and would likely offer more food too 🙂 Bonne semaine. Hope you are surviving the cold weather on the East Coast.

  • What a delicious post! It took me back and gave me a “heads up” on the present all at the same time – what a wonderful combination!! Of course, you know that I can never pick up a Kir without thinking of you, ma chère Véro. That would be carrément impensable!! I will be checking out all these wonderful links for future reference.

    Big bisous, my dear friend, M-T

  • Veronique, l’apertif is one of my favorite Frenchie things. I still have very fond memories of sitting on the terrace at Le Rostand with one of my best girlfriends on our first trip to Paris together, sipping champagne and discussing whether or not we should start pitching olives at the cute Frenchman seated in front of us to get his attention.

    A little Lillet, a kir, champagne and potato chips, I love meeting friends for a quick drink or two, a bit of chatter and the start to a great evening! XOXO

    • Bonjour Jeanne. So good of you to check on me and your creation, Coco the Frenchie. You know, I bet that Parisian guy would have loved being hit by olives thrown by two pretty American ladies! Maybe next time… Happy Thanksgiving, Jeanne!

  • L’apéro is one of the French traditions which I enjoyed so much when I was living in France and during my many visits. In fact, I had my first sip of Pastis when I was sixteen and staying with my French penfriend’s family for the summer! My preference now is a Kir Royal and another favourite is Pineau which was so popular when I lived in Saintes, Charente-Maritime. It’s such a leisurely, sociable activity especially sitting outside in the sunshine. Those verrines look so appetising and the cake salé too. I hope both you and Junior enjoyed Thanksgiving yesterday. Bon week-end, Véronique!

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