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What is the smell in a Dunkin' Donuts?
September 3, 2013 8:55 AM   Subscribe

As far as I can tell, every Dunkin' Donuts has the same somewhat acrid smell. Is it just burned coffee? Some by-product of deep-frying donuts? Or do they spray it in as their signature scent?

I walk past at least two on my way to work, and the smell pours out onto the sidewalk. I tend to patronize donut shops, so perhaps non-Dunkin' establishments smell the same way.

Obviously, shops--particularly food services--have their own smells, but the Dunkin' Donuts smell is not one I can readily associate with either of the main products they sell (it's not sweet like a pastry and smells nothing like coffee), and is not (in my opinion) pleasant. It's so strong and so universal that I assume they must cultivate it, but I'm at a loss why and what it might be.
posted by Admiral Haddock to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
It smells pretty similar to 7-11 to me so I assume it's an unfortunate combination of burned coffee, sugar and industrial strength cleaning supplies.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 9:06 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think I know the smell you mean. Their coffee does have a fairly distinct aroma... maybe it's the smell of stale coffee and/or spent coffee grounds? I don't care much for their coffee, but every once in a while I'll get some beans from somewhere else that somehow make my own kitchen smell like Dunkin Donuts.
posted by usonian at 9:09 AM on September 3, 2013


I think it is coffee. Or at least I've associated it with their coffee in my mind and therefore want it every time I pass by. I don't eat donuts and actually find almost all their food to be sort of off-putting, so I don't think it's the food smell that pulls me in. Maybe it's coffee + that weird plasticy smell of the cups.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 9:10 AM on September 3, 2013


The outside of Dunkin' Donuts always smells like powdered sugar to me, which is bizarre because their donuts sure don't ever taste freshly baked. But I'd guess that acrid smell is burnt coffee; really dark roasts tend to smell harsh to my nose.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:12 AM on September 3, 2013


Rancid fryer grease in the exhaust ductwork?
posted by jon1270 at 9:15 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's coffee. Delicious, delicious coffee. Plus they do a lot of bagels and things so there's more of a bready/yeasty smell than sugar. Still sweet but different-sweet.
posted by headnsouth at 9:16 AM on September 3, 2013


I got coffee almost every morning at Dunkin' Donuts for several years (I know, I know - it was a dark time for me and I couldn't muster the strength to do much else.) The smell components as I see them:

1. Airborne powdered sugar and cinnamon.
2. Flatbread grease and other residue cooking and recooking on the panini-style grills they use.
3. Premade hashbrowns, etc. being warmed in the microwave.
3. Cheap coffee being warmed (they tend to move it so fast that it doesn't actually burn.)
4. Bleach and Simple Green cleaner, which DD seems to use a lot of. This accounts for the acrid edge.

It's a smell that now, through association, makes me a little sick.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:20 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't be so specific, but I notice the same thing about Subway restaurants. I always attributed it to the centralized standardized franchised nature of the gig.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:22 AM on September 3, 2013


It's coffee. I once worked in a Starbucks, and their coffee smell is similar, but way worse--kind of like rancid cheese.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:24 AM on September 3, 2013


Ha! I know that smell, Dunkin Donuts was my first job ever.
Believe it or not, the doughnuts ARE fresh, they make the day's batch early early in the morning (or at least they did in the '70's)
I think it (the smell) has much to do with the grease.
posted by bebrave! at 9:26 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's mostly the coffee. I currently work at a coffee shop that doesn't sell donuts, and we have the same smell, but softer. I mainly notice it in my clothes when I get home (it's an almost smoky smell, like faint tobacco smoke mixed with roasted coffee).
posted by jb at 9:33 AM on September 3, 2013


Believe it or not, the doughnuts ARE fresh, they make the day's batch early early in the morning (or at least they did in the '70's)
I fondly remember when you could get a fresh donut at Dunkin! But from what I understand, these days most of Dunkin' Donuts baked goods are made in giant regional factories and trucked to the stores every day, so I'm not sure grease is as much of a factor anymore.
posted by usonian at 9:40 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think it's mostly coffee and grease ... especially since they've expanded their menu to include stuff with sausage, etc. And kind of off topic but does anyone else notice that no matter what you order there, it all tastes like donuts? The muffins taste like donuts, the bagels taste like donuts, etc.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 10:33 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I too think it's the coffee stink in general. I noticed last winter that the old sweatshirt I habitually throw over my pajamas to go downstairs to sbux in the morning had a mysterious pong unlike anything else in my house.
posted by elizardbits at 10:39 AM on September 3, 2013


Spent grounds for sure. Tim Hortons smells the same way (as does your uniform if you have the unfortunate fate of working there).
posted by AmandaA at 10:50 AM on September 3, 2013


Ditto on the Subway smell. Every single one smells the same - not good.
posted by davebush at 11:33 AM on September 3, 2013


To me, DD smells like old coffee + dirty bleach rags + yeast.

Not to hijack the thread, but your question reminded me that every. single. bagel from Dunkin Donuts tastes like an onion bagel, which, in my opinion, is the most offensive bagel flavor. Blueberry runs a close second.
posted by quixotictic at 12:13 PM on September 3, 2013


Is it a Dunkin Donuts/31 Flavors combo store? Because I notice that the ones near me can occasionally have a "spilled dairy mopped up with bleach" kind of smell.

And yeah, they cook lots of stuff now, and a lot of it is cooked in salamander-type toasters. That plus the muffin and bagel toasters could lead to a slightly burny smell.

I don't find Dunkin Donuts' coffee to smell acrid at all; not nearly how McDonald's or Starbucks' does. I find it to be relatively strong, but super mellow.

Believe it or not, the doughnuts ARE fresh, they make the day's batch early early in the morning (or at least they did in the '70's)

I fondly remember when you could get a fresh donut at Dunkin! But from what I understand, these days most of Dunkin' Donuts baked goods are made in giant regional factories and trucked to the stores every day, so I'm not sure grease is as much of a factor anymore.


I was talking to a DD franchisee recently. It depends on the region. The store I go to has a crew that cooks donuts right on site, all night long. Then they send some of the donuts to the smaller "express" stores nearby. But they don't do it that way everywhere.

Quick Service Restaurants are surprisingly local with a lot of stuff. The fresher it is, the more local it is. Dairy and vegetables are going to come from as close as they can manage, because freshness counts. Not just in food quality and safety, but in logistics and waste. And it just makes sense to have distribution facilities relatively close, because it costs a lot of money to send refrigerated trucks all over the place.

For example, I was talking to an Autozone guy one time. They have regional "Master Stores" that stock everything in their catalog. Then the rest of the stores in the area tailor their product mix to what sells in the local area. That way you can order an O-ring set for a 1991 Dodge Shadow and they will have it there the next day. But they don't have to bother with keeping an 80,000 item inventory.
posted by gjc at 3:39 PM on September 3, 2013


I noticed the Dunkin smell when I lived on the East Coast and had more opportunities to partake. I wonder if the acrid note is from the hot styrofoam? I think Dunkin might be one of the only places (except Sonic maybe?) that still uses styrofoam cups.

(To me, all Subways smell like rancid mop water and dirty feet. Like a regular subway with less urine, I suppose.)
posted by easy, lucky, free at 5:11 PM on September 3, 2013


This question reminds me of the smell of a local, non-corporate, old tea room (the kind that still sells egg sandwiches* and is patronized only by people over 70). It smells like forty years of ham sandwiches.

*Not McDonald's type egg sandwiches, Depression-era type egg sandwiches.
posted by bad grammar at 6:37 PM on September 3, 2013


I worked at DD after high school. What you are smelling is despair.
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 12:51 AM on September 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


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