Restaurants

Please Don't Bathe in Perfume Before Eating Out

July 21, 2016

It doesn’t matter if you’re a sandalwood lady or a musky man: There’s really nothing worse than smelling like you’ve been swimming in a kiddie pool of perfume. In my eyes, it’s a public service to keep your scent-of-choice to just an ever-so-faint wisp—like a lovely, well-kept secret.

Can you even smell that mint right now? Photo by James Ransom

Unfortunately, this attitude isn’t embraced by everyone, especially the flocks of cologne-doused people who tumble into restaurants, their smell leading the way. Here’s the thing: Being overly-perfumed almost always overwhelms a person’s palate, distracting from (or covering up) the nuance of dishes and drinks. It’s also become a widespread point of frustration for restaurant workers and bartenders, who not only have heightened senses of smell and taste by nature, but are concerned for the well-being of other guests—those who might not want to sniff your White Diamonds while they sip their cocktail.

Celebrated bartender Kimberly Patton-Bragg of Three Muses in New Orleans has a “bionic nose” when it comes to smells inside her bar. Located on lively, music-filled Frenchman Street, there’s certainly no shortage of scents tussling about in the air outside the space. How does she react, then, when a guest comes in enveloped in a cloud of Axe body spray and cigar smoke? Below, Kim discusses how being lightly scented (or unscented) might be the ticket to mutual respect between employee, guest, and what’s on your plate.

When it comes to perfume—and scents in general—my staff says that I have a bionic nose. Maybe it’s because I worked in retail stores for years and have PTSD, but I can’t stand overpowering scents. Angel perfume, for example, puts me in a fit of migraine rage. It’s just so sweet and overpowering, and [people] always keep putting more and more on, forgetting that everyone around them has to smell it, too.

Perfume should be an intimate thing, not a trumpeting of scent.

It’s hard for me not to judge people by how they smell, because it’s kind of like a first date. If you smell like a cigar factory, you’re always going to be that guy. Whenever I’m hungover, though, that’s when anyone and everyone who wears patchouli seems to find me. Someone with it on will come and sit right there in front of me at the bar—and they'll sit there for three hours. I mean, it was created to cover the smell of dead bodies. It’s so offensive and goes right to my nose. Mostly, I want you to be able to smell the nuances for food and drink we’re serving. I think sometimes guests don’t even know that they’re not smelling that underlying note of tobacco, or raisin, or any of those other little details that are so important. They’re robbing themselves of a better experience and don’t even know it. They’ve put on their super designer dress to go out for the night, but then covered themselves in this expensive perfume, so whatever they’re eating or drinking is not totally coming through. Perfume should be an intimate thing, not a trumpeting of scent.

It’s a double-edged sword, though, and the other edge is staff. I don’t want your B.O. coming into work, and I don’t want your sweat, cigarettes, or perfume, either. I’ve had to have some awkward conversations and tell employees, “You need to wear some deodorant.” It’s terrible to have that talk because, a lot of the time, they don’t know it. Or, it’s just a personal choice, but it’s not the choice of my guests to smell you. It starts with being polite enough to be an unscented person. You really need to honor the food in that way.

Scent is just so personal. Perfume should be something intimate—my gift to you—and not something you can smell four tables over.

Sarah Baird is our newest writer in residence. Read her other pieces here. And tell us: Do you also hate smelling your neighbor’s White Diamond while eating dinner?

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18 Comments

W K. July 23, 2017
34,7% of people suffer ill health effects from scents. With the stats that high scents should be banned in public spaces. The majority of the 4000 unregulated chemicals that go into making scents are petroleum based.
 
Bev J. July 22, 2017
No one should be allowed to force others to damage our health by breathing in toxic stink. It should be regulated like tobacco is. More. How about banning all toxic chemicals put in scented products, including detergents? <br /><br />We should have the right to not get cancer or chronic illness, or smell such disgusting stench.
 
Artemis July 27, 2016
Perfume and aftershaves even deodorant's are like a toxic cocktail of synthetic chemicals. I can't eat out any more between the honk from other diners and the staff. Have eaten food that tastes of aftershave or hair gel because the stench is so strong it gets onto your hands and into the food. So many people wear the honking stuff it gets into the soft furishings and you end up smelling a less than fragrance mix of everyone's toxic chenical. Don't even start me on bathroom sprayers or lobby 'fresheners' when will we learn ? This is just a mass experiment in exposure to cheap , nasty and toxic chemicals - and no it doesn't matter how much you spend - you are only paying for the packaging. One huge con from start to finish . I cook at home - even though anything bought in a supremarket now sMells of that washing powder. Even if we go fragrance free there is always dryer sheets and stinking washing powder to contendo with. We will look back on this time and wonder why we were so very gullible .
 
Julie July 24, 2016
The problem is easily resolved, change up your perfume/cologne. One's nose becomes accustomed to a constant scent and one cannot smell it as easily, so they bathe in it. If one changes their perfume every so often, they will use less naturally. People need to stop being obsessed with the "signature scent" and be open to different scents.
 
Julie July 24, 2016
The problem is easily resolved, change up your perfume/cologne. One's nose becomes accustomed to a constant scent and one cannot smell it as easily, so they bathe in it. If one changes their perfume every so often, they will use less naturally. People need to stop being obsessed with the "signature scent" and be open to different scents.
 
Julie July 24, 2016
The problem is easily resolved, change up your perfume/cologne. One's nose becomes accustomed to a constant scent and one cannot smell it as easily, so they bathe in it. If one changes their perfume every so often, they will use less naturally. People need to stop being obsessed with the "signature scent" and be open to different scents.
 
Julie July 24, 2016
The problem is easily resolved, change up your perfume/cologne. One's nose becomes accustomed to a constant scent and one cannot smell it as easily, so they bathe in it. If one changes their perfume every so often, they will use less naturally. People need to stop being obsessed with the "signature scent" and be open to different scents.
 
Julie July 24, 2016
The problem is easily resolved, change up your perfume/cologne. One's nose becomes accustomed to a constant scent and one cannot smell it as easily, so they bathe in it. If one changes their perfume every so often, they will use less naturally. People need to stop being obsessed with the "signature scent" and be open to different scents.
 
Lucia C. July 28, 2016
No, the answer is quit enabling those who profit from distributing toxic chemicals. Even the Arctic is contaminated with synthetic musk, which is a hormone disrupter.
 
Judith E. July 23, 2016
Well written. Fragrances definitely obstruct a dining experience. How can you taste anything else when you're tasting someone's perfume. Ugh. Not to mention you are creating risk to those of us whose medical condition (there are actually several!) makes one ill from fragrances. By the way, "clean does not have a smell." If you stink, you need a bath, not doused in bug spray. (Yes, that is what perfume, cologne, body spray and "air freshener" is like, medically speaking, to some of us).
 
peg D. July 22, 2016
I think you went a little too far. You could have little tiny rooms that you fumigate in between diners, which might make the stink of people a little more palatable. Just remember, you probably smell ghastly to some people.
 
Katherine M. July 22, 2016
I wish this attitude was more prevalent!<br />I get very woozy from unknown ingredient(s) in many fragrances. Nowadays I rarely chance going out. I recall a few years back though, I went to one of the best restaurants in the city, and the menu was stellar. Even the side dishes were incredibly creative & detailed. They also had a lot of interesting cocktails and good wines. I went to the restroom to wash my hands after ordering and they had so much scent in there that I actually got lightheaded & clumsy & sank to the floor as I tried to get back to my table (they didn't even seem concerned- nice). I smelled that garbage on my the rest of the evening. Not only is that harmful to many of us, but I just can't understand why they'd want to ruin everyone's palate. The restroom was down a hallway, nowhere near the diners, so there was no worry about foul odors seeping out (and when that IS a concern, installing good ventialtion should be the solution). I pity anyone who blew $100 on a bottle of wine there only to have it taste like cooking wine thanks to that "air freshener".<br />Casual places also need to smarten up. We ate at a burger and sandwich place once and their hand soap was so pungent that no amount of rinsing could remove the scent from our hands! Very unpleasant when most of the menu is eaten by hand. Every bit of our burgers was enveloped in a cloud of fake lily-of-the-valley. To their credit though, when we pointed this out... next visit they'd switched to a milder soap! So don't be afraid to speak up! People will never change their ways on this stuff if nobody even notifies them they're causing any problems!
 
al W. July 22, 2016
I agree. There are too many with severe allergies that can go into shock. And there are too many who just don't know how to wear perfume.
 
dymnyno July 21, 2016
I completely agree! I think I have the nose of a dog. Also, I am a vintner and my first taste is through my nose.
 
Robby H. July 21, 2016
A French woman once said to me, "You should wear perfume as though it is a little secret for you and your lover. Only someone that gets close enough to hug you should be able to smell it." Such good (and memorable) advice. Although I don't wear anything scented if i can avoid it because my nose is very sensitive.
 
cv July 21, 2016
This goes way beyond restaurants. <br /><br />Don't do this at wine tastings. Don't do this at the symphony hall. Don't do this at the opera house. Don't do this on the airplane. Don't do this...<br /><br />Et cetera ad nauseam.
 
K B. July 3, 2018
I remember watching horrified as a woman sprayed herself (& surroundings) with her perfume while at the airport gate awaiting a flight.
 
Valhalla July 21, 2016
Amen! This is a needed plea to people, especially when they are going to a crowded restaurant, to refrain from scent! I was so close to saying something to the person who was obviously on a first date, as she was doused in rose perfume on a bench within touching distance from me, but I refrained, sparing her my migraine-induced rage (no way to be civil about it when you re at that point). Not only does it affect our palates, it makes some peole ill!