Beyond happy hour: how to make the most of aperitifs

24 July, 2017 by
Madeline Woolway

Aperitivo is an age old tradition, but in 2017 venues are pushing the boundaries and adapting the European custom to suit the Australian milieu.

Done right, aperitivo should achieve two things — stimulate the appetite and relax the mind. The drinks are usually dry, with vermouth, Aperol and Campari often associated with aaperitif, while the food is snack-sized, and tends to lean toward salty, fatty flavour profiles.


“It’s basically catching up over a refreshing beverage and a snack to finish your day, start your night or both,” James Hird and Monty Koludrovic tell Hospitality.

Hird and Koludrovic recently introduced an aperitivo hour at Surry’s Hills venue The Dolphin, which has seen a hit list of guest chefs, sommeliers and wine-makers from the around the country take up one-night residencies.


“We love the irreverence of such a simple concept existing in a venue based around such high-quality product and service. It’s a great chance to engage without friends, fellow chefs, wine makers and customers,” say Hird and Koludrovic.

While they acknowledge that happy hour has been on trend for a long time, both Hird and Koludrovic feel that the vibe is beginning to change.


“As our venues transition over time, from classic Aussie pubs, to welcoming open and friendly F&B outlets, the incorporation of super approachable offers suit the occasion.”

The transition from stereotypical happy hour to a more laid-back, food-oriented aperitivo hour that honours the tradition’s social roots is welcomed by Joe Vargetto, owner of Massi in Melbourne’s CBD.

“When I look at a menu and see bourbon and coke, that’s not aperitivo,” he says. “I have seen a lot places using it as the equivalent of happy hour with half price drinks encouraging people to drink until they’re crawling on the floor. That’s not what it is. They’re just using it as an alternative name.

“[In Europe] you meet at your favourite bar, have something very simple [to eat] and have a chat about life. You don’t get drunk. The food fills you up only to point, so you can still fit a substantial meal and the drinks are usually bitter, aren’t high in alcohol and are normally made with spices. What the Italian’s have noticed is that those spices open up your appetite.”

Although aperitif has a different vibe to happy hour, it can also be used to get diners through the doors and increase spend per head.

“It’s more contained to bars in Italy, rather than restaurants. At Massi, people will come in for aperitivo, sit at the bar and then continue to sit there until they have their meal, maybe an hour later,” says Vargetto.

“So they get one drink, like our prosecco spritz, and we send out a selection of three to four small snacks like arancini, crostini, small bruschetta, or mortadella, for a set price of $20.”

At The Dolphin salty, crunchy, big flavour bites that go well with high acid, bubbly chilled drinks are on offer between five and seven on Sunday through Thursday evenings for $5 or $7 each. A broad demographic, from lone rangers to groups of 20, have been drawn in by the aperitivo hour, say Hird and Koludrovic.

“It’s a real leveller, nothing too scary, nothing too intense, nothing too expensive.”

This article originally appeared in Hospitality’s June issue. Click here to subscribe.