Deciphering the complex interconnecting bacterial responses to the presence of aromatic compounds is required to gain an integrated understanding of how aromatic catabolic processes function in relation to their genome and environmental context. In addition to the properties of the catabolic enzymes themselves, regulatory responses on at least three different levels are important. At a primary level, aromatic compounds control the activity of specific members of many families of transcriptional regulators to direct the expression of the specialized enzymes for their own catabolism. At a second level, dominant global regulation in response to environmental and physiological cues is incorporated to subvert and couple transcription levels to the energy status of the bacteria. Mediators of these global regulatory responses include the alarmone (p)ppGpp, the DNA-bending protein IHF and less well-defined systems that probably sense the energy status through the activity of the electron transport chain. At a third level, aromatic compounds can also impact on catabolic performance by provoking behavioural responses that allow the bacteria to seek out aromatic growth substrates in their environment.