As event professionals, we are constantly thinking about how to best stimulate our guests’ senses in order to create the most memorable and greatest impact and to reach event goals, whether it’s a wedding, corporate event, fundraiser or social gathering. Many of us focus on only three of the five senses: taste, sight and sound. However, rarely do planners pay attention to touch or smell. It is my belief that strategically paying attention to scent can greatly impact the overall quality of an event.
The fact of the matter is that events are scented, whether you are planning it out or not. Strategically scenting an event space can become another instrument in your toolbox.
Scent is often overlooked not only in the event world, but also the world in general. Scent is important to the way in which human beings interpret their surroundings and create meaning every day. In fact, the sense of smell is the only sensory receptor that is fully developed at the time of birth. It is also the receptor that is most closely linked to memory. Our ability to taste is directly linked to smell. Taste buds are chemoreceptors and have the ability to detect and distinguish chemicals; it is the aroma of food that brings the flavors to life.
Scenting spaces is not something new. It has been used as a tool for creating sacred space for hundreds if not thousands of years. The ritualistic use of incense is an integral part of Catholic masses. This traces all the way back to the day of the Epiphany when the three kings reached baby Jesus; it is undisputed that two of the three gifts were scents, myrrh and frankincense, and both are derived from tree resin. In ancient Mesoamerica, indigenous tribes used a resin from the cabal tree as part of their rituals to create sacred space.
The reason it’s important to think about scenting your selected venue is because the space is already scented. Either the space has its own distinct aroma, which is not always pleasing, or you are bringing in scents through flowers and food. While most people love to stop and smell the roses and salivate from the succulent wafts drifting out of the caterer’s tent can cause, there are more ways and reasons to scent.
Much of the scent industry is based on neutralizing offensive odors. This can be a useful tool when thinking about bathrooms for your events. Bringing a candle or small reed diffuser into these intimate areas can create positive experiences for guests. Another way to bring scent into an event is to strategically pair the scent to match the theme.
For the International Live Events Association Denver’s ScentEvent meeting in September at Grant-Humphreys Mansion, I worked closely with the Greens Point Catering to create four unique spaces. Each of these spaces included complimentary décor and was paired with a culinary creation. At the entrance to the event, we paired a Red Hook Manhattan with the scent Red Leather with notes of oud, tobacco and bergamot.
To show diversity in the use of scent, we created a spring room and fall room. Springtime with notes of white tea, green leaf and jasmine was harmonized with ricotta toast topped with peas, walnut and pesto. An Amish harvest scent featuring cloves, cinnamon and dried fruit was complemented with a savory course featuring a fall salad and cotechino with polenta. Dessert provided by Yours Truly Cupcake featured bisvi (a traditional Swedish dessert), Kahlua French macaroons and cookie sandwiches, and the sweets and coffee service were paired with peppermint wafting through the air.
Sara Lawrason, an event planner with Operation Altitude, was in attendance and was able to reflect upon scent being the underlying reason for choosing or avoiding a certain venue. She now feels confident that scent shouldn’t be a deterrent and understands that she has the ability to scent a space to her specific needs.
If you have the opportunity to add a scent, make sure to do so in an area that is separate from other smells or pairs with them. Choose scents the same way you choose other event elements and weave them into the theme, overall look, décor and personalization for the client. Remember that all spaces and events have a distinct smell and that you have the opportunity to alter the aroma to elevate your guests’ experiences.