I love my little convertible at this time of year and being able to drive around in the Surrey and Sussex countryside with the top down and taking in the fresh air and hearing the birds sing. There is a downside though – it means you don’t have a buffer between you and some of the not quite so pleasant countryside smells, such as the field of cabbages not far from where I live! Or the smell of farm waste being spread in the fields.
You might well think that the subject of smell is an odd choice for an article. But smell can be very evocative and if used positively can help to create the right emotions in your visitors, guests and customers. When I worked in Paris my boss there always wore a particular perfume and to this day almost 35 years later (oops, I’m giving away my age now!) whenever I catch a whiff of this perfume it always takes me back to where I worked.
The same of course could also be said about the wrong type of smell in creating negative feelings for your customers. Even the subtlest hint of a smell can sometimes be enough to send out the wrong message. The trouble is that if we are around the smells the whole time we become oblivious to them and stop noticing.
The fresh air
In most situations ‘fresh’ air is a good thing. And who doesn’t love the smell of freshly cut grass or the sea air?
But when the wind is blowing in the wrong direction do your customers get a whiff of the sewage farm, the local gasworks or traffic pollution. Obviously you can’t control these things but you might go some way to minimise the impact. How you position or screen your terrace or outside sitting area. Is it worse on some days than others?
Do you need to warn hotel guests who want to leave their windows open if you know that when the wind is blowing in that direction? Is there an option or other alternatives when you’re downwind of the offending smell?
If you have outside space making the most of this will not only be pleasant for your customers but also potentially attract the right type of wildlife. A well-stocked garden with a mix of plants that have a fragrance, not just during the day, but come to life in the evening – such as honeysuckle. Or the use of herbs which might be used in the kitchen too.
Compare this to the smell of dustbins or an extractor fan pumping out kitchen fumes directly into areas where customers will need to walk to access the building or while sitting outside. Think about where you place your smoking area. As a non-smoker one of my pet hates is being prevented from sitting outside because the whole area is monopolised by smokers (apologies if you’re a smoker; I hope I haven’t offended you!) or having to walk through a group of smokers to get from A to B.
Estate agents used to say that when you’re selling your house to put some fresh coffee on and bake bread! Well having walked through the supermarket today and past the bakery section I can certainly vouch for the fact that the smell of freshly baked bread does wonders for the appetite!
But what happens when the cooking smells aren’t quite so fresh? When beer or food has got trodden into the carpet leaving the lingering odour. Whenever I smell air freshener I become suspicious as to what it’s trying to cover up. Check your rooms too; mildew, evidence of guests smoking, smells wafting up from the kitchen can all mar a guest’s stay. If you own a pet is it allowed to enter public areas and leave a smell that you probably never notice, but your customers might well do.
Be careful with flowers too. A big vase of lilies can give a dramatic effect, but as the blooms fade the small can become over powering, and not a good match for food or drink (not to mention the risk of pollen on cloths).
What lingering smells do you get from your cleaning materials? If you have hard top tables, do your table sanitizers leave a sickly clinical smell? And what about the detergents used in public toilets. Being taken back to my school days is not a good marketing tactic. Anyone else remember that smell of Izal?
Obviously in the hospitality industry personal hygiene is key and we’d probably be very quick to pick this up on any of our team. But what about smokers? If you smoke you are probably completely unaware of the smell that lingers on your clothes and those of your team. But for a customer being served food by somebody who smells of smoke can be completely off putting. I used to share an office with someone you smoked, and I’m not joking – I could smell her coming down the corridor after she’d been for a cigarette.
Be aware of the inappropriate use of perfume and aftershave. What might be fine for a night on the town may not be suitable for those serving food or drink. And in the same way I can always detect the smell of my former boss’s perfume, it doesn’t take much for it to become irritating or off putting.
So why should you care about any of this?
In hospitality we are about creating emotions and making people feel welcome. Being exposed to a smell that offends or even repels people doesn’t achieve this end, and in fact if anything is likely to either turn people away, shorten their stay (and spend) or at the very least make them reluctant to return. Not the best strategy for building customer loyalty.
So get out there, enlist the help of someone who won’t have become oblivious or desensitised to any of the smells and ask them to experience the full customer journey. Someone who won’t be afraid of being brutally honest to tell you the truth if something stinks! And make sure you come up smelling of roses!
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