Do scents belong in a restaurant?

11 February, 2020 by
Annabelle Cloros

When Hospitality asked our Instagram followers if they used candles in their venues, the consensus was a firm no, to the tune of 58 per cent. But a hard stance might be jumping the gun a little. While heavily scented candles and co. can wreak havoc in an experience as sensory as dining out, makers are producing goods that complement instead of dominate. Plus, location is everything.

Hunter Candles founder Vianney Hunter has worked with a number of hospitality venues in Sydney to create bespoke candles, recently collaborating with Chiswick and Acre Eatery. Hunter says each scent was curated according to the ethos of the venues. “Both these beautiful restaurants celebrate fresh produce from their on-site gardens,” she says. “At Chiswick, we created a native bee honey and thyme scent as they have a native bee hive in their garden. When you taste the earthy honey, it takes on the notes of the herbs surrounding it, which was thyme, in this case.”

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Acre executive head chef Gareth Howard took Hunter on a tour of the Acre gardens in Camperdown, which produces everything from flowers to greens and herbs. “We crushed many types of lavender and bonded over the versatility of the lemon tree, so Acre’s scent celebrates lemon bark and lemon myrtle with white lavender and sage.”

The perks of the scents are two-fold for Chiswick and Acre: they burn them and they sell them to customers wanting to take their experience home.

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The Butcher’s Block Group, which operates venues in Wahroonga, Barangaroo and Granville are firmly on the candle bandwagon. Group manager Chris Clarke says candles add a luxe touch which ties in with the dining experience. So what’s their scent of choice? Glasshouse’s Kyoto, which diners will find in all Butcher’s Block bathrooms. “We allocate one candle per bathroom which sits on the sink shelf,” says Clarke. “We receive many compliments about the attention to detail we add.”

The group buy the candles in bulk, but they’re still pricey. Luckily, the venue hasn’t experienced any theft so far. “We haven’t come across any candle snatchers just yet,” says Clarke.

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Aubergine restaurant in Canberra are also fans of using scents in bathrooms, but with mist diffusers. Diffusers are relatively inexpensive to purchase and have a long lifecyle compared to a candle or reed diffuser. But good-quality essential oils will set you back around the $20-plus mark for 10ml.

Sous chef Joshua Huxtable says Aubergine uses them “to ensure a clean look” — but you’ll only find them in the bathroom. “We avoid anything in the dining room in favour of a flower or a native branch,” he says.

While it’s easy to forgo candles, don’t forget about their ambient characteristics — they aren’t all scented! Joe Jones uses tea lights in crystal vessels at his Melbourne bar Romeo Lane and says they can romanticise anything — even a plain old white wall. “Candles play an irreplaceable homage to ambience and positively affect people’s moods,” says Jones. “Scents, however, I don’t f**k with. One scented thing can ruin the smell of the bar quickly. No point paying $20 for a drink with a beautiful bouquet and all you can smell is ‘mountain mist’ instead of the
food you’ve ordered.

“Plus you’ve got to consider what you’re taking away. The bar smells beautiful anyway, like the smoky husk of last night’s fire emanating from the fireplace, the actual fire in itself or bright fresh citrus juice.”

So there you have it — whether it’s brightening up a bathroom, bringing in a new revenue stream or creating an atmospheric environment, there’s plenty to gain from a little aura.

Image credit: Joe Jones

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