Select Page
7 min read

Continuing our series on restaurant science, we are going to talk about another quality of restaurants that are not too frequently controlled or even consciously thought about, smells. Everyone can think about great smells of the food in a restaurant, but not many owners or managers are using these great smells to purposefully improve their customers or potential customers experience.

Let’s take a look at some good smells and some bad smells that may occur. Notice as read through this article that the smells I address you can almost smell as you read through, it’s this effect that makes controlling the actual smells that much more important.

Let’s get into it.

Good Smells

There are many good smells in a restaurant that you’ll want to heighten if possible in order to increase customer perception and enjoyment.

For instance, as a tactic in smaller downtown restaurants or areas with large amounts of foot traffic, it has been common to vent the hoods near or over the sidewalk. In this way, potential customers walking past smell the flame-grilled hamburgers or homemade pasta sauces and want to stop in. Obviously, you are likely not going to spend thousands of dollars to reroute your hood system to exit over the sidewalk, but you should be conscience of the smells your customers and potential customers are smelling before and after they enter your restaurant.

Set up basic fans or vents to redirect good smelling scents out towards your restaurant where possible. Ensure that these can be turned off or redirected so that if something gets smokey or burnt you don’t fog the dining room.

For restaurants that serve soup, keep a soup well near the server’s entrance to the dining room. Not only does it waft delicious smelling soup scents throughout the dining room, but it also is quicker for the servers to grab and deliver.

When bringing a black and bleu steak or other great smelling entree to a table, take a longer route when delivering it to the table so that the smell fills the dining room encouraging more customers to order it. Play with people’s senses.

Even your specialty drinks can be accented to smell delicious. Certain liqueurs, fruit purees, and garnishes can add delightful scents that further the enjoyment of the drink. It doesn’t all have to be fruity though, the scent of a great beer can also be very appealing to the right audience.

Consider smells when putting entrees together as well. Simple additives such as cajun, cinnamon, unique cheeses, mushrooms, or garlic can set off your olfactory sensors and make your food come alive in scent and flavor.

Bad Smells

As you know, there are bad smells in restaurants as well. However, there are a number of ways you can reduce or eliminate them.

Don’t try to just spray or hang air fresheners in your restaurant to make it smell better. Artificial smells like these first off, are noticeably fake. Second, the scents of the smells will actually affect the taste of the food they do order. No one wants a Bacon double ‘Clean Linen’ burger.

If you are trying to cover up a bad smell in your restaurant, use odor neutralizing sprays or better yet burn unscented candles. Bad smells are attracted to oxygen which is burned by the candle eliminating the smell. Note: if you do not eliminate the source of the bad odor, it will return after extinguishing the candles.

The only place it may be acceptable to have artificial scents would be in the bathroom, as the smell of clean linen is still better than the smell of bodily fluids. If possible still use an odor neutralizer instead of a scented air freshener, but a scent freshener is forgivable here if needed.

Other bad smells in a restaurant may present themselves in the form of uncleanliness. Old beer is a pungent smell that attacks the nose and is unmistakably bad. Soup that spilled behind the booth ferments into an unforgettable stench. Make sure every night, you are doing a thorough cleaning of all surfaces of the restaurant. Have a weekly deep clean of each area as well. Clean up spills quickly and change your dishwater frequently.

Be conscious of where your grease trap and dumpsters sit. Keep them as far from public entrances or seating areas as possible. Ensure that dumpsters stay closed and covered as much as possible. You don’t want potential customers to smell old, rotting food when trying to determine if they want to dine at your restaurant. Having a grease trap or dumpster too close to outdoor dining areas will affect the flavor of the food through their scent. Remember the ‘Clean Linen’ burger from earlier, it’s sounding a little better when compared to dumpster bisque. Sorry, that went a little too far. However, get your dumpsters away, even if you or your employees need to walk a bit farther when taking out the trash.

For our last bad smell I introduce one that can be more uncomfortable to deal with than a stinky bathroom and that’s a stinky employee. This one can be awkward to address with employees but it is imperative you do so. Smelling body odor while receiving the delicious shrimp scampi you ordered, immediately reduces your appetite and experience. Take an employee aside and let them know they are smelling a bit ‘fresh’ and excuse them to the bathroom to address it if possible. If it’s not addressable with a quick restroom visit, you need to send them home, as tough as this is to do. If you do this once, it should not be a problem again.

Employee odor needs to be observed throughout the shift. As employees deal with the stresses of the shift body odor can start to become an increasing problem. Providing cheap unscented spray deodorants may help to reduce this problem.

Further employee’s that smoke will often smell like cigarettes after returning from their break. This factors into food flavors as well. However, employees that know this may take it too far the other way bathing in cologne or perfume. These scents also affect flavors. Your best bet to combat this aside from eliminating smoke breaks would be to keep your smoking area far from guests but in an area with good air flow and possibly an outdoor fan that sucks the smoke upward. After smoking, employees can lightly rub clothes with an unscented dryer sheet to cheaply eliminate the smoke smell.

There are many smells in a restaurant, but if you are conscious about them, you can control your scents to accent desirable foods or drinks while minimizing and eliminating off-putting or pungent smells. All of these subtle factors play into the total experience of your customers. By focusing on these details you will increase customer satisfaction possibly without them even consciously realizing. It’s the little details in the background that make the greatest experiences appear effortless.