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apéro dînatoire is French for early bird special

So many messages here on the forum regarding dining are from Americans who can't adjust to southern European dinner hours for one reason or another and are looking for workarounds or solutions -- in Spain the fix is a tapas bar, in Italy it's a tavola calda in a trattoria, but what to do in France?

The answer is to turn an aperitif into a meal, which the French oftentimes do themselves, such that they have a term for it, the
apéro dînatoire.

I'm calling it their equivalent of the early bird special here in the USA among the white shoes and silver hair crowd, but maybe it should be thought of as more like happy hour with snack specials?

It's on my mind today because with the start of the sunny part of the year I saw a restaurant board in central France that listed two seatings for dinner, first at 7:30pm and second at 9-ish pm, depending on when the first folks get up. I was imagining that this would put some American tourists on edge (while I like to adjust to Spanish timing so the after-9-pm would be starting to seem ok, not too too early) but the saving grace of this was that the place is open for apero at 6:30pm, might even let you in a little before.

I like this list / photo spread of suggestions for this snack time, especially how they compare to the previously mentioned tapas or hot table items:

Posted by
6999 posts

Apéro dinatoire is something people do at home for a dinner party when you do not want to sit down. It is typically not a restaurant meal, and you might get quizzical looks if you ask for that at a restaurant.

This said, your observation does confirm a trend; more and more places do serve tapas-style dishes in the late afternoon/early evening! Not easy to make a real meal out of them, though.

Posted by
10297 posts

Grazing this is for the young with clear arteries and strong digestive systems. We also see groups of young friends splitting charcuterie boards (nitrates, salt, fat) with a glass of wine because it's inexpensive when costs are shared. Nope, not the solution for the early birds.

Posted by
15554 posts

I thought the hours of an early bird dinner in France was known as.......lunch.

Seriously, I would suggest the main meal at lunch and then an early "dinner" meal at a cafe. Cafe's are usually open all day during the day.

Posted by
2531 posts

But Bets, it's French charcuterie so it doesn't have anything bad in it, just like French pastries don't have any calories!

And regarding the other observations about meal times -- that's the point of my highlighting apéro dînatoire --
if you don't want to wait for the 7:30pm dinner seating in a restaurant, or you don't want to have a full meal for dinner because you had your main meal at lunch, then you make a light dinner out of the small bites available during the aperitif service.

Also, regarding @balso's comment, here in American English we refer to a party at home where you don't want people to sit down to the table but you do want to have finger foods as 'passed hors d'oeuvres" -- those might be appetizers, but often enough those are the whole service. American expressions like hors d'oeuvres and entrées (main courses) can be tough to translate into civilized languages.

Posted by
155 posts

In Italy (Naples and SE) in 2019, we never had any problems in the evening ordering a salad to share, then 2 mains but almost never ordered a pasta course unless it was going to be our main. A litre of house vino rosso, a bottle of water, acqua frizzante, and often a coffee for me with grappa. This said ITALY, ‘we’re not in Kansas anymore’.