Here's how the French do snack dinner, or Apéro Dînatoire.

By Rebekah Peppler
September 19, 2019
Victor Protasio

You know snack dinner: the weeknight meal that offers free license to pull assorted things from the fridge, loosely arrange them on a platter or cutting board, and call it dinner. The French have perfected the art, dubbing it l’apéro dînatoire, and in the process, created a chic way to shift fluidly from cocktail hour to dinner with nary a place setting in sight.

The best apéro dînatoires are simple, abundant, seasonal, and perfect for company. Food that’s served is grabbable, dippable—great with a drink or three. And those drinks fall under the umbrella of aperitifs: low-alcohol and lightly bitter, meant to be enjoyed during the golden cusp between day and night. Our favorite aperitifs (see below) are ideal as a base for cocktails but are also excellent poured solo over a big ice cube.

What’s more, the apéro dînatoire is friendly to anyone who also wants to enjoy their own party. Start with a round of Pineau Spritzes—a shaken, sparkling cocktail that combines complex flavor with dead simple technique. Prep some crudités, and make Pissaladière Batons, Saucisson Spread, and Marinated Olives with Vanilla and Cinnamon in advance. At the start of the night, use one hand to pop cheese in the oven to bake and the other to sip your own spritz. Guests will think you’re incroyable; you’ll know it’s just the magic of apéro dînatoire.

Victor Protasio

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A solid collection of aperitifs is key to making apéro dînatoire look and feel effortless. Start with these classics.

Byrrh

Pronounced “beer,” this red wine–based aperitif is loaded with warming spices and relies on quinine for lightly bitter undertones. Think of it as a slightly spicier sweet vermouth and use it as such in a Negroni, or drink it straight with a large cube of ice.

Suze

This vegetal, herbal, bright yellow liqueur gets its bitterness from gentian root, a plant grown in the mountainous regions of France and Switzerland. Cut its bitterness with tonic or soda water before drinking it as the French do: over ice with a wedge of lemon.

Lillet

Sweet and subtly bitter, wine-based Lillet comes in three varieties: blanc, rouge, and rosé. All are lightly fruity blends of Bordeaux wine and brandy macerated with a combination of fruits, barks, and peels, and all make for an ideal aperitif on the rocks with a twist.

Pastis

Created in the early 1900s in response to the ban on absinthe, this sweet, anise-based liqueur is flavored with fennel and coriander. Set a bottle on the table by a pitcher of ice water, and let guests self-serve; the proper ratio is one part pastis to five parts water.

Vermouth

Without this wine-based aperitif in one of its forms (sweet, dry, and white), martinis and Manhattans wouldn’t exist. But vermouth isn’t just for the cocktail set. Served solo on the rocks it’s the simplest aperitif you can get; just twist a top and find the ice cube tray.

Pineau Des Charentes

This sweet aperitif, made in the Cognac region of France, combines that region’s namesake product with fresh grape must for a delicate, fruity drink. It’s just as excellent in cocktails like the Pineau Spritz as it is served chilled and neat.

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