How to Celebrate Happy Hour the French Way

June 23, 2017

You’ve got your pals, a patio, and the golden hour. All that’s missing are drinks. What better way to celebrate than with aperitifs: low-alcohol cocktails served with light snacks.

The goal of an aperitif is perhaps a bit more convivial and a bit less utilitarian than the classic American happy hour. As Drew Lazor puts it in his new book How to Drink French Fluently, “The aperitif celebrates the beginning of the night.” In other words, no one should be drinking heavily, but rather sipping on light cocktails that are geared towards whetting your appetite. “The utilitarian function of an aperitif is to get you ready for dinner,” writes Lazor, “not ruin it.”

Lazor has several tips on how to properly host an aperitif party:

  • Keep the drinks simple. The cardinal rule of aperitif hour is to relax, so make sure you’re catching up with friends, and not frantically preparing cocktails and ignoring your guests. Bubbly cocktails like a spritz or a champagne cocktail are common, but a crisp beer or glass of chilled white wine is totally acceptable, too.

  • Stock up on bubbles and liqueurs, like Campari, Aperol, and St-Germain. Put out some wine glasses and an ice bucket, and let guests combine champagne and their liqueur of choice over ice. And if you’re feeling fancy, put out a bowl of orange twists or berries for garnish.

  • Batch your cocktails beforehand. If you’re set on serving something a little stronger for your aperitif party, make big batches before the party and let guests serve themselves from pitchers.

  • Keep the snacks simple, too! Some nice fruit from the farmers market and a few interesting cheeses will do the trick.

And that’s pretty much it! “Don’t forget that the aperitif, or l’apéro, is more than a ritual—it’s a state of mind,” reminds Lazor. And if there was ever a state of mind suited to summer, l’apéro is it.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • M Stuart Itter
    M Stuart Itter
  • Carrie Speaking
    Carrie Speaking
  • ChefJune
Paula Forbes has reviewed cookbooks for nearly a decade for sites like Epicurious, Eater, Eat Me Daily, and now Food52. She's currently working on a cookbook about the foods and restaurants of Austin, Texas.


M S. June 24, 2017
Actually, helpful to hear that the French present cheeses before dinner. Was greatly influence by David Lebovitz who suggested in his blog awhile back that the French would be surprised and amused if they knew American;s served cheese before dinner.
M S. June 23, 2017
Cheese before dinner! That is the French way?
Carrie S. June 24, 2017
Yes, a platter of cheeses for l'apéro is one of the basics :) Traditionally, cheese is a meal-closer, right before a sweet dessert. But in everyday life, we have lighter meals than "entrée-plat-fromage-dessert", and we have more apéro, especially in the summer!
ChefJune June 24, 2017
Yes Stuart. The difference in France is it's a platter, not the whole cheese store! :-)