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.
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.
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?