05/22/2014 07:00 am ET | Updated May 22, 2014

Food Chains With The Most Recognizable Scent, In Order


You know you're in an airport when you smell the sweet aroma of Cinnabons wafting through the air. There's no doubt you're in a mall when the overpowering scent of Auntie Anne's pretzels makes you crave a warm, buttery pretzel like you never have before. And even if you've just had lunch and don't even like the sandwich chain to begin with, the unmistakable smell of Subway bread emanating from the store always makes you consider whether or not you should duck in for a footlong.

The Wall Street Journal published an article on May 20 detailing the way certain food chains use smell to entice customers. It's a delicate balance -- stores want to draw in customers but not offend neighbors, and they want to make the odor strong enough without overpowering people.

Cinnabon is the obvious offender -- or benefactor, depending on how you feel about it -- that comes to mind. As Bill Gellert, president of a group that owns several Cinnabon locations in New York, put it: "Aroma is who we are. It is our greatest asset." Indeed, Cinnabon stores are purposefully situated in malls and airports so that the smell of baking the Cinnabons, which are baked at least every 30 minutes, can linger in a space where people are spending extended periods of time. Ovens are also placed near the entrance of Cinnabon stores.

Cinnabon isn't the only chain with a specific scent strategy. Subway also puts its ovens near the door so that the smell of baking bread can waft out. According to this Wall Street Journal story, Panera has used a test oven that doesn't have a hood to encourage smells to permeate the store. Cinnabon franchisees are directed to buy ovens with "the weakest hoods possible," Kat Cole, president of Cinnabon, told the Wall Street Journal.

Scent is clearly an important component of food advertising strategy.

Here are nine fast food chains with unmistakably distinct smells, in order of recognizability. Which restaurants would you add to the list?

  • 9 Pizza Hut
    Facebook/Pizza Hut
    Pizza Hut definitely has a particular pizza smell. We can't quite put our finger on it, but we know it when we smell it.
  • 8 Mrs. Field's
    Facebook/Mrs. Field's
    We know not all chocolate chip cookies are created equal -- and they don't smell the same either.
  • 7 Dunkin' Donuts
    Facebook/Dunkin' Donuts
    DD's donuts have a very distinct taste (and we're not necessarily on board all the time), so it stands to reason that they have a very distinct smell as well.
  • 6 Jamba Juice
    Facebook/Jamba Juice
    So artificial and so sugary. You can't call these things smoothies.
  • 5 Cold Stone Creamery
    Facebook/Cold Stone Creamery
    This is what a sugar overdose smells like.
  • 4 McDonald's
    From the hash browns, to the Chicken McNuggets, to the fries, McDonald's food has a very particular smell. It's as comforting as it is unsettling.
  • 3 Auntie Anne's
    Facebook/Auntie Anne's
    The hot, buttery smell that emanates from Auntie Anne's is totally irresistible. It feels so dirty and so, so good.
  • 2 Subway
    Subway places its ovens by the entrance of its stores, to purposefully entice passerby. The smell of Subway's bread baking is unlike any baking bread we've ever smelled.
  • 1 Cinnabon
    You know it well -- it has kept you company on many a layover and made you feel queasy before too many early morning flights. There's nothing quite like it.

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