As part of our unofficial Time to Make Local Friends campaign, I invited (or rather, had Frédéric invite) a local family over for "apéros" last Friday night. Apéros, short for "apéritifs" or before dinner drinks, are typically served around 5 or 6 pm, so you can go home and have dinner afterwards. But after issuing the invitation, we remembered that Benjamin had his swimming lessons Friday night, so we wouldn't be home until 7 pm. So I asked them to come for dinner instead, and the wife suggested an "apéro dinatoire."
An "apéro dinatoire" basically means drinks with enough appetizers to count as dinner. It's a less formal gathering than a sit-down dinner, and by cutting out the other multiple courses (main dish, salad, cheese; we did have a mini-dessert and coffee towards the end), it lasts only around 3-4 hours, as opposed to the typical 5-6 hour French dinner.
It also allows the kids (in this case, our two and three out of their six) to pop over to the table for a bite, and then run back off to play, without the pressure of trying to keep them seated and well-behaved at the table for hours.
Things you might serve at this type of dinner - things we did serve, or they brought - include: quiche cut up into bite-size pieces, veggies and dip (ok, that's the American touch), little toasts with cream cheese and salmon, toasts with pepper-cream cheese, toothpick-size skewers of ham or turkey wrapped around bits of garlic cheese, others alternating pieces of ham and swiss cheese (are we sensing a cheese theme here? It is still France, after all), chips, mini-pizzas, and shrimp. For the dessert bit at the end, we had a green tomato cake (American again) and French pastries, accompanied by coffee.
While the appetizers did take some preparation, it felt like a lot less work than an entire dinner. Perhaps I should give up dinners entirely in favor of this format. (I know, I know, those of you who know me are saying that I'm not the one doing the work anyway, but I did participate in the preparation, and post-dinner-party clean-up usually falls to me. This version doesn't even require plates, only glasses and coffee cups later.)