Something’s Gotta Give: My Initiative For Fragrance-Neutral Dining

The restaurant business. I know it well, from both sides of the table. I’ve done my share of dining out, for business and for sport. I’ve proudly been part of the wait staff at several of NYC’s most elite dining establishments. I even took the plunge and launched my own restaurant Goldie’s By The Bridge in the 1990s. And since those days, so much has changed and evolved in the restaurant business that it would be barely recognizable to a time traveler from the not-so-distant past.

At Goldie’s, we did things the old-fashioned way, since after all, it was still an old-fashioned time. We placed orders by bringing handwritten tickets right into the kitchen. We added up guest checks with a calculator. And we functioned without the benefit of Open Table to simplify the reservation process. When I first opened, I actually had smoking and non-smoking sections, as dictated by the law!

Well, fast-forward 25 years to the present, when running a restaurant unleashes a whole new set of challenges to reckon with: Website maintenance, patrons distracted by their mobile devices, and online pressure from Yelp to please everyone every time. At least the smoking predicament has been eliminated, thanks to a better law. But there is one devilish culprit that continues to suppress everyone’s ability to seriously enjoy their food and beverage, and it’s seemingly beyond the restaurateur’s control. I call it the “designer fragrance damnation”, and if I were to open another restaurant, I would designate a ‘fragrance-free’ section!

A Matter Of Taste

Here’s the deal. 80 to 90% of our sense of taste is derived from smell. If this seems surprising to you, just think about the last time you had a head cold and couldn’t taste your food. It wasn’t because your tongue stopped working, but rather, because the olfactory senses in your nasal cavity were impeded. In the case of cologne or perfume, when your sense of smell gets dominated by those intense and synthetically-heightened aromatic oils (which are in sharp contrast to the organic compounds that provide the aromas in food and wine), your dining experience is offset by that same 80 to 90%, in favor of the perfume. Yet unfortunately, when some people get dolled up before dinner at a hot restaurant, a spritz or three of designer fragrance is part of that right-of-passage. In their brains, they’re just trying their best to “make the scene”; In my brain, they’re voiding out the sensations of an expensive meal in the name of drawing attention to themselves. But the bigger disservice is that they’re also ruining that same culinary experience for others in the dining room, and I think we can all agree that it’s not fair.

From A Server’s Perspective

My experiences with the ‘damnation’ were a-plenty when I was involved with those aforementioned elite NYC restaurants in the past. I would need more than two hands to count the number of guests who had asked to change tables after an offending fragrance flaunter was seated near them. On one particular evening at a restaurant known for its close-quarters seating, a party of four decked-out, perfume-doused ladies pranced through the dining room and were seated in a section that held 4 other occupied tables. Each of those other parties subsequently asked to be relocated! Of course, this was impossible to accommodate, as it was 8:30 on a Saturday night and the house was packed. My heart broke for these folks, who were there to experience a world-class meal (at an average of $130 per person BEFORE tax and tip), only to smell and taste 10% of it!

From A Diner’s Perspective

My own olfactory senses were severely assaulted recently when dining out at an iconic restaurant with my spouse for his birthday celebration. Not only were we seated in a romantic corner booth, but the chef was an acquaintance and offered to prepare a coursed meal specially for us. Shortly after the 2nd of eight courses arrived, as we were admiring how well it paired with a decade-old Riesling, a couple came wafting in and were seated right behind us. The smell of their cologne completely cancelled out the aromas in our wine glasses, and our dining experience was halted like a needle scraping across a vinyl record. It was devastating. And despite the server’s gracious ability to relocate us, our senses had tensed and sobered. To add insult to injury, the cycle began again during the 5th course when a young lady wearing powerful hair product sat near us at our new location!

Be A Part Of The Solution

With all of the people who are starving in the streets, the first-world problem of having to deal with others’ synthetic aromas hardly seems like a travesty by comparison. But please realize that many, many people take fine dining seriously, and spend hard-earned money to enjoy the delicacies, employing young, professional wait staffers and contributing to the growth of small businesses in the process. With this, I challenge you to seriously reconsider competing with other people’s sensory experiences simply to show off your expensive fragrance. By trying to sport that extra layer of sex appeal, you end up being the elephant in the room!

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