HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


BO from table nearby

We went out for a casual, though not low end, dinner last night and about three quarters through, the table next to us turned over and a couple was seated. About two seconds later, I noted a really powerful, foul whif of BO. The whif turned into an oppressive cloud that quickly filled the space - heads were turning, the waitress looked uncomfortable...really, really bad.

Needless to say, it was just gross. There was no way to enjoy, let alone stomach, the rest of our meal, so we had the rest boxed up, I downed my wine, and we made like a banana and split.

But I still feel a bit incredulous about this whole scenario. How the heck is it that a person can carry such a powerful odor and not know it? How did his DC (well, in fairness I guess it could have been her stinking up the place) not manage to say "honey, you need a bath and some deordorant before we go out"?

Anyone else ever have this experience? What does one do in a situation like this, as a patron or proprietor?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. There are few things more offensive than body odor. Talk about an appetite suppressant.

    1. If the restaurant is large enough to move out of the aroma field that would be the easiest, but I think the restaurant should reseat the offensive group in a remote area. I had this happen but it was someone with a massively heavy cloud of perfume, we requested another table immediately.

      1. bleck! that's just awful, how does their DC even handle it? I feel the same way about perfume and cologne. I just can't handle it.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Foodnerds

          I have breathing problems and overwhelming perfume will make me wheeze. I think that the hostess, or whomever seats a person with BO, or heavy perfume, should really take care to put them in an area with either good ventilation, or off the beaten path!

          Off topic: what is a DC?

          1. re: Foodnerds

            I've written about this on Chow before only to have my post pulled. I can't abide strong perfumes or colognes while I'm eating either and do wish there were a delicate way to handle this scenario. I've had quite a few meals ruined when other aromatic patrons have been seated next to me.

          2. I am one of those people with a sensitive nose. Bad odors go straight from my nose to my stomach, and it's hard for me to keep from gagging when I smell something terrible, and BO is one of them.
            A friend, also with the same type of nose, had this same experience at a nice Italian restaurant. She, her boyfriend, and another couple went to a nice, upscale Italian restaurant in out town. Appetizers were ordered and brought out by the waiter. My friend said when the waiter reached across the table the smell made her eyes water. She said it smelled like he had not bathed in years. She couldn't eat the appetizer, and by the time the entrees were served, could not eat anything at all. She said her stomach was churning, and she had to keep a napkin to her mouth when he came by. (in addition to holding her breath). She was seriously afraid of throwing up at the table. Her boyfriend just came back from serving in Afganistan, where sanitary conditions are dismal, so he is oblivious to bad smells. The other couple said he smelled, but admitted that neither of them had a great sense of smell.
            My friend said she could not get out of the restaurant fast enough, and took her meal home. The rest of the night she ate nothing. She called me to ask how I would handle such a situation. I wondered if she should call the restaurant and explain what had happened the night before with the smelly waiter. She elected not to do anything, but absolutely refuses to ever go back to the restaurant. Because of this, I also have turned down all attempts to try this newer restaurant. Too many other nice places to try!

            6 Replies
            1. re: mschow

              When the offender is one who is waiting on your table, I think it's not only permissible to report that to management, it's necessary. I'd feel the same way if the waitperson were doused in cologne or smelled from cigarette smoke. Any odors that would detract from your dining experience are out of line, and the restaurant has a responsibility to make sure they're dealt with.

              1. re: CindyJ

                Absolutely. This should be reported to management immediately. Yes, they work in a hot, hectic environment, but Body Odor that bad is unacceptable for waitstaff. It isn't just a comfort issue but a health issue.

                1. re: Aimi

                  How is body odor on a server a health issue?

                  1. re: KTinNYC

                    I think it could be health issue because if the waiter is that oblivious to his personal hygiene, then he could be oblivious to other hygienic practices, like not washing his hands etc.

                    1. re: HungryRubia

                      Not washing of hands is a health issue, not body odor. It is quite a leap to assume because someone doesn't use deodorant s/he also doesn't wash their hands.

                      1. re: HungryRubia

                        Exactly. It wasn't just that he wasn't using deodorant -
                        "She said it smelled like he had not bathed in years."
                        That is clearly a hygiene issue. It is not a great leap at all to think that someone who doesn't bathe might not be washing their hands.

              2. Asked to be moved or leave and only pay for what you have eaten.

                What bugs the heck out of jfood is when the server has his "butt break" and then comes back smelling like an ashtray. That is major buzz kill.

                1 Reply
                1. re: jfood

                  uugh. i hate that. especially when the odor is not really from the server's clothing, it's from their dominant *hand* and is sniffed by the customer when the server is clearing dishes or setting down new items/beverages etc.--because that of course means they did not wash their *hands* when re-entering the kitchen from their cig break, which means they don't have much/any regard for cross-contamination, and perhaps they don't wash their hands after a lavatory break either. ***eeeeeeewwww*** total buzzkill Jfood, agreed.

                2. Ugh! There's nothing more I can't stand than BO. I've got a sensitive nose. I've always said that no matter how perfect a guy may be, if he's got BO, it won't work.

                  I've run into a lot of people with BO and/or bad breath. Not all of them are remiss in their hygiene habits. There can be medical reasons for the BO/bad breath. So I've got a bit of sympathy for them. Some of them can't control it. Some are aware of their odors, and some are totally clueless.

                  So unless it was extremely horrible (where I'd just pay the check and leave), I'll try to deal with it because I don't want the person to feel self-conscious about it.

                  1. I have had a server with terrible BO (not just sweat BO... but rather like they had not changed thier underwear in weeks) and thier breath was horrible too, not just bad, like it was halitosis or something. I know I immediately told the manager he should enforce some sort of hygiene rules or lose customers. No one wants a server that when they are near smells like he/she lives in a porta potty. While I realize this was in an ethnic restaurant, and I know conditions in the homeland are abysmal but this is America, and we have soap, running water and washing machines.

                    1. I think everyone who has replied has hit on all the things I was thinking at the time. If the source of the problem was the server, I would definitely bring it to management as if a person is ignoring their breath/bathing, the implication is that they are not going to be upholding basic cleanliness rules around the restaurant.

                      But since it was not one of the employees, it's tough. That is why I was curious about what level of responsibility people think the restaurant should assume, as how do they handle this gracefully? Especially if they consider the stinky customer may indeed have some sort of health problem that makes them essentially disabled? (ok, for full disclosure, I personally think this is getting into territory that is a little too PC, but I can't say 100%) I would feel bad storming out as the stinky person is a customer too and who am I to say who they should deny service to? But if the one table is affecting 2, 4 or 8+ tables around them, should they not protect the majority from this meal ruining experience?

                      The net result is that I do harbor some bad feelings against the establishment about it. I don't necessarily think that's *fair* but it's my gut reaction - I am not too keen on going back.

                      1. could this be cultural? We americans are obsessive about body odor, other countries not so much. We had a yound woman student from another country working in our office and her BO was obvious and over powering. She would never be able to find a job in corporate america. Yet she is oblivious to that. We had to gently explain to her the facts of life in these united states.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: PeterL

                          That's a good point Peter. It is cultural, but if you are living here, in America, you need to know that it's not okay in public. At home you can stink to high heaven!

                        2. Make like Michael Jackson and beat it. That's all you can do.