An hors-d'oeuvre (/ɔrˈdɜrv,ˈdɜrvrᵊ/; French: hors-d'œuvre[ɔʁ dœvʁ] (listen), literally "apart from the [main] work") or the first course, is a food item served before the main courses of a meal, typically smaller than main dishes, and often meant to be eaten by hand (with minimal use of cutlery). The French spelling is the same for singular and plural usage, hors-d’œuvre; in English, the ⟨œ⟩ ligature is usually replaced by the digraph⟨oe⟩ with the plural commonly written hors d'oeuvres and pronounced /ɔrˈdɜrvz/.
If there is an extended period between when guests arrive and when the meal is eaten (for example during a cocktail hour), these might also serve the purpose of sustaining guests during the wait, in the same way that apéritifs are served as a drink before meals. Hors d'oeuvres are sometimes served with no meal afterward. This is the case with many reception and cocktail party events.
Hors d'oeuvres may be served at the dinner table as a part of the meal, or they may be served before seating. Hors d'oeuvres prior to a meal are either rotated by waiters or passed. Stationary hors d'oeuvres served at the table may be referred to as "table hors d' oeuvres". Passed hors d'oeuvres may be referred to as "butler-style" or "butlered" hors d'oeuvres.
Though any food served prior to the main course is technically an hors d'oeuvre, the phrase is generally limited to individual items, cheese, or fruit. For example, a glazed fig topped with mascarpone and wrapped with prosciutto is considered an "hors d'oeuvre," whereas figs on a platter are not.
In the United States, Appetizers are served before a meal, and is the most common term for hors d'oeuvre. Light snacks served outside of the context of a meal are called hors d'oeuvres (with the English-language pluralization).
Starters are served in the UK, Ireland and India, and are the colloquial term for hors d'oeuvre.
Đồ nguội khai vị ("cold plate first course") is Vietnamese for hors d'oeuvre.
Lěng pán 冷盘 ("cold plate"), or qián cài 前菜 ("before dish") are terms used for hors d'oeuvre in Mandarin.
Meze, a selection of small dishes served in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Balkan cuisine.