What is the difference between appetizers and hors d’oeuvres?

Appetizers and Hors d’oeuvres. Are they the same thing?

The words are commonly used interchangeably, but they actually have subtle differences that most people don’t realize. Let’s dive in to the differences between appetizers and hors d’oeuvres.

appetizers and hors d'oeuvres

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What is an Appetizer?

First things first, what is the actual definition of an appetizer? Merriam-Webster defines an appetizer as a “food or drink that stimulates the appetite and is usually served before a meal.” The term appetizer was first thought to have been used in the 1860s. The word appetizer comes quite literally from the word “appetite”.

What is an Hors d’oeuvre?

The word hors-d’œuvre (pronounced awr -durvz) is a French word that quite literally means “outside the work” aka “not part of the ordinary set of courses in a meal”. It’s a dish that can stand on its own as a snack or support the main course. Hors d’oeuvre are often designed to be eaten by hand.

Merriam-Webster defines hors d’oeuvres as “any of various savory foods usually served as appetizers.”

Serving drinks prior to dinner became a custom towards the end of the 19th century. As this new pre-dinner cocktail trend became popular, the British took inspiration from the French and took it one step further by serving hors d’oeuvres or one-bite items before dinner.

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What is the difference between appetizers and hors d’oeuvres?

It’s important to note that both appetizers and hors d’oeuvres are meant to stimulate but not fill the appetite. They can both be served hot or cold, creamy of crunchy, etc.

As you read in the official definition of hors d’oeuvres above, they are usually served as appetizers. Hors d’oeuvres are an example of an appetizer.

There are several subtle differences below but my personal opinion is that the main difference is both the size of the portion and when it is consumed.

Time Eaten

Appetizers are the first course of an actual meal, typically served at the main table and meant to coordinate well with the rest of the dishes being served.

For example, you might typically see crab dip as an appetizer for a seafood meal or bruschetta served as an appetizer for an Italian meal. They compliment the flavors of the main dish. The main function is to prepare your appetite for a full dinner.

While appetizers are typically served at the start of a meal, hors d’oeuvres can be served at any time, not necessarily at the beginning of the a meal. Appetizers, however, tend to mark that a meal is coming.

Hors d’oeuvres are typically served at a wedding’s cocktail hour, corporate events, fancier events, cocktail parties, etc.

Toast Cups for Appetizers for Parties

Portion Size

Appetizers tend to be slightly larger in portion than hors d’oeuvres which are a small serving of food. As previously stated, they tend to compliment the main course.

As a general guide (but by no means a rigid rule), appetizers tend to be 3-4 bites in size, often shared with other guests, while hors d’oeuvres tend to be 1-2 bites in size. They are small bites. Hors d’oeuvres tend to be more known as savory finger foods and typically no utensils are served.

Options Served

Typically, one serves a few different types of hors d’oeuvres whereas typically you have one appetizer per meal. That’s not a hard and fast rule, of course, because you can certainly enjoy more than one appetizer before a meal or serve only one “hors d’oeuvre”.


Again, no rigid rules here, but hors d’oeuvres are commonly served in a “mix and mingle” setting with cocktails aka served on passing trays while guests enjoy walking around the party.

Appetizers, on the other hand, are more traditionally consumed sitting down with small plates at a table before the main course of a meal. They act as the first course of the meal.

Are Appetizers the same as Starters?

There is no difference between appetizers and starters, in the United States especially, the words are used interchangeably to mean a small portion enjoyed prior to a larger meal.

Whipped Ricotta Crostini Appetizer

What are common examples of Appetizers?

  • Stuffed Mushrooms
  • Dips
  • Cheese Balls and Cheese Spreads
  • Chicken Wings
  • Sliders
  • Egg Rolls
  • Pigs in a Blanket
  • Salads

What are common examples of Hors d’oeuvres?

While you might hear people hosting appetizer parties, they’re typically not serving them as the start to a larger meal. But, in the United States especially, there are no strict rules, the words appetizer and hors d’oeuvre are used as synonyms of one another and most people understand the dual phrasing.

I hope this helps clear up the subtle difference between appetizers and hors d’oeuvres!

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