Ambient scents at retail stores have been found to modulate customer perceptions and attitudes toward retail products and stores. Although ambient scent effects have also been observed in restaurant settings, little is known about the scent-related influences of restaurant wait staff on patron perception and behavior. This study aimed to determine whether olfactory cues from restaurant wait staff can affect patrons’ dining experiences and interpersonal behavior with respect to menu choice, flavor perception, overall liking of meal items, meal satisfaction, consumption amount, and tip amount for wait staff. A total of 213 adults with no olfactory impairments were asked to select and consume one of four chicken meat menu items: baked, broiled, fried, and smoked chicken, in a mock restaurant setting, under one of the three most likely scents of wait staff: congruent (smoky barbecue scent), fragrance (perfume scent), and no scent (control) applied to fabric aprons of wait staff. The results showed that menu choice and flavor perception of chicken meat items did not differ in the presence of the three scent conditions. The effects of wait staff scents on overall liking of chicken meat items, meal satisfaction, and tip amount for wait staff were found to differ as a function of patron gender. Female patrons gave higher ratings of overall liking and meal satisfaction under the fragrance scent condition than under the no scent condition, while male patrons showed no effect with respect to overall liking and an opposite result in the meal satisfaction. Female patrons gave larger tips to wait staff under the congruent scent condition than under the no scent condition, while male patrons exhibited no effect. Patrons also were found to consume chicken meat items the least under the congruent scent condition. In conclusion, this study provides new empirical evidence that wait staff scents at restaurants can affect patrons’ dining experiences and interpersonal behavior and that the effects of such scents vary as a function of patron gender.
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