Imagine sitting around a table in a pitch-black room with friends. Suddenly a plate of delicious-smelling food is placed in front of you. You can’t see it, but your sense of taste, smell, and texture are heightened as you take the first mouth-watering bite.
Vancouverites will have the chance to try this intriguing dining experience with the opening of Dark Table, B.C.’s first “blind dining” restaurant, on Sept. 20.
The more I hire blind people the more I’m happy. This is what I like to do.
— Restaurateur Moe Alameddine
The concept was introduced in Canada by Moe Alameddine, owner of O Noir, two other such restaurants in Montreal and Toronto.
“It was a big challenge in 2006 when I started,” says Alameddine.
“All of my friends were saying, ‘Oh, you’re crazy, you’re gambling with your money.’ But I proved that it’s the other way. The concept was successful. People took it positively and it was a very big success in Montreal and Toronto, and hopefully now in beautiful Vancouver.”
Already a hit in major cities like London, Paris, New York, and Los Angeles, blind dining originated in Switzerland in the home of a blind pastor, Jorge Spielmann, who blindfolded his guests in an attempt to show them what life can be like for a blind person.
Spielmann’s guests were extremely impressed and reported that when their sense of sight was removed, taste, smell, hearing, and touch were both more focused and amplified to the extent that the pleasure of eating and conversation was greatly enhanced.
These initial dinners evolved into a restaurant concept that included a dark dining room and blind servers, a tradition that Dark Table will continue, giving customers a new sensory experience.
“It’s a very unique experience,” Alameddine says. “It’s different—people are very excited about the experience.”
After choosing their meal from the menu in the lighted lounge, customers are then led to their table in the dark dining room by a blind server. The meal can last up to two hours in complete darkness—no flashlights, matches, cigarette lighters, cell phones, or other luminous items are allowed.
One-third of the staff at Dark Table will be visually impaired, including many of the waiters, who “guide” diners through the uncharted territory of eating in the dark.
“The whole idea is you trust them to do the job. It’s called transfer of trust—they’re going to be guiding and you’re going to be like the blind person as a customer,” Alameddine says. “They will guide us through the evening, and we have to trust them with their work.”
One of the most satisfying aspects of his work, he adds, is the ability to employ people who are legally blind, many of whom have no previous experience in hospitality. The unemployment rate for the visually impaired varies between provinces, but hovers around 70–80 percent.
“The more I hire blind people the more I’m happy. This is what I like to do, I like to hire as many as I can.”
Alameddine notes that while the majority of new customers are thrilled with the experience, there is always two or three percent of people who discover they are fearful or feel claustrophobic in the pitch-black atmosphere.
“It’s funny, because sometimes the claustrophobic people are not only young or old, it can be the big guy with big muscles, he can freak out when he sees the darkness, from my experience,” he says. “It could be anyone.”
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