Sound, smell, and touch—these are the subtler senses to consider at your restaurant—not only for Valentine’s Day but also year-round.

How Smells Can Enhance a Dining Experience

Don’t ignore the relationship between nose and tongue. This olfactory connection is one of the reasons the French use silver-dome tops to present food to guests at a banquet—which is still done in some fine-dining establishments. While the flourish of removal lends itself to dramatic presentation, the release of scents is the intended effect. The infusion of smells awakens the appetite and has guests leaning toward their plates in anticipation of the first bite.

One way to do this without old-glamour embellishment is by opening your kitchen to the floor. This allows flavorful cooking smells to waft through to the tables. Whether garlic is being sautéed, meats are on the grill, or pancake batter has just been mixed, the smells of your kitchen will surely whet appetites. If your kitchen is removed from the dining floor, place soft-smelling fresh flowers, potpourri, or candles at the entrance to hit your guests with a subtle and discreet sensory experience upon arrival.

There is a limit to this, however. Smells need to be complementary to the overall ambiance, so be sure to avoid clashing scents or overpowering odors.

You also want to avoid fetid smells. One of the most disturbing smells for a diner is that of cleaning products. Nothing is quite as jarring as smelling Windex as the contents of your fork are moments from being devoured. What you use to clean your restaurant after hours should not leave a strong bleach smell, which can be instantly detected and be immediately detracting.

Use a scentless surface cleaner to wipe down tables. Remove odorous trash immediately, and install the right ventilation to prevent smoke from permeating the dining area.

Don’t Forget about Sounds and Texture

The importance of the right music selection should be doubly stressed since volume has a direct effect on mood. Bars play loud music because patrons want to dance and revel in the moment, whereas breakfast diners opt for soft and low tunes so patrons can relax—and never the twain shall meet. The type of music you enjoy at your favorite tapas restaurant might have the opposite effect at a pub. Discern the mood of your restaurant and play a genre that matches, at a volume that is agreeable.

Also, consider the noise level. A noisy kitchen, a busy street, or really an endless number of factors can contribute to the decibel level at your establishment. Take the time to sit through an entire meal at your restaurant. That way you can pinpoint which sounds are distracting, and then tackle them head-on.

If the acoustics at your restaurant cause the clashing of pots to ring out, consider a design improvement. If your outdoor patio faces a loud roadway, try installing an attractive wall divider to diminish the sound levels. Making an effort to reduce distracting and grating sounds will go a long way toward customer satisfaction.

Touch is a subtle yet powerful sense to play with. Research states that touch is fundamental to the human experiences of communication, interaction, and health. The feeling you have when sitting in a chair is an excellent place to start. The texture of the fabric, the firmness of the seat, and even whether or not the chair has an armrest all contribute to the overall feeling.

For instance, a barbeque restaurant does well with a long picnic bench. This tells customers to relax and keep their elbows on the table. Whereas diners at a brunch spot would want to feel relaxed in a different way. In this case, soft cushions and comfortable backs will encourage patrons to remain languid and order another round of mimosas. Utensils, napkins, soap, and water glasses also play roles in the sensory experience your restaurant or bar provides.

As you create a plan for ambiance, be sure to choose items that are satisfying to hold and feel.

Does ambiance really affect profitability?

As a diner, you only have to ask yourself why you prefer one restaurant over another. Is it really just about the menu? More likely than not, there is a non-food-related element that makes you want to go back. Plus, the proof of the pudding is not just in the eating; it is in the extensive list of diverse and dynamic restaurants worldwide.

The idea of creating ambiance in a restaurant is not new. Back in the ’80s, the New York Times reported this insightful tidbit: “An inspector for Guide Michelin once said that if the food was good enough he would give three stars to a restaurant that had Formica tables, neon lighting and blaring music in the background. ‘But,’ he added, ‘in actual fact, the kind of place that goes to the trouble to make that sort of food naturally takes a great deal of trouble with the ambiance.’”

And the same holds true for today’s standards.

Even if you are not striving for a Michelin star, build an attractive ambiance. It is a surefire way of turning a new customer into a familiar face.