Event professionals are constantly thinking about how to best stimulate our guests’ senses in order to create the most memorable experience and greatest impact, whether it’s a wedding, corporate meeting or event, fundraiser or social gathering. Many people focus on only three of the five senses: taste, sight and sound. Rarely do planners pay attention to touch or smell. Strategically paying attention to scent and how it interacts with other sensory experiences can greatly impact the overall quality of an event.

The fact of the matter is events and venues all have a unique smell whether or not you plan for it. Strategically scenting an event space can become another instrument in your symphony of creating magical and memorable experiences.

Often overlooked or dismissed, 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 birth. It is also the receptor that is most closely linked to memory. Our ability to taste is directly linked to smell. Our 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 Mass. And in ancient Mesoamerica, indigenous tribes used a resin from the copal 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 smell, which is not always pleasing, or you are bringing in scents through the fragrance of flowers or aromas from food.

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 International Live Events Association (ILEA) Denver’s ScentEvent meeting at Grant Humphreys Mansion in September, The Sentologist, a pioneering consulting firm that creates sensory-based experiences, worked closely with the caterer to create four unique spaces. Each of these spaces included complementary décor that was paired with a culinary creation. At the entrance to the event, The Sentologist paired a Red Hook Manhattan with the scent of red leather, which had notes of oud, tobacco and bergamot.

To show diversity in the use of scent, the planners created spring and fall rooms with food, décor and scent to bring them to life. For spring, a scent called springtime with notes of white tea, green leaf and jasmine was harmonized with ricotta toast topped with peas, walnut and pesto. The room was filled with fresh, non-fragrant flowers. For fall, a fragrance called Amish harvest was used with notes of clove, cinnamon and dried fruit. This was complemented with a savory course featuring a fall salad and cotechino with polenta. The décor was a cornucopia of pumpkins. Dessert provided by Yours Truly Cupcake featured bisvi (a traditional Swedish dessert), Kahlua French macarons and cookie sandwiches. The sweets and coffee service were paired with peppermint wafting through the air.

“Incorporating strategic scent brings brand stories to life in a way that is both visceral and inspiring,” says Dovie Lopez, regional sales manager of ACCESS Destination Services and past president of ILEA Denver. “I hired The Sentologist to create unique scent experiences to complement some of our largest events. Recently, The Sentologist created a scent called Winter Tree to enhance our ‘Into the Forest’ theme. Coupled with over-the-top décor and bespoke catering, the scent was the keystone to transporting the more than 700 guests from a hotel into a forest.”

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 audience demographic. Remember that all spaces and events have a distinct smell and that you have the opportunity to alter the aroma to elevate your guests’ experience. 

Teresa Preza first came to Sugar Land 14 years ago while pursuing a job in event management. Today, she’s assistant director of economic development for the city. Here are some of her reasons for calling Sugar Land her “home sweet home.”

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