Clients Plunged Into Darkness in Swiss Diner

ByRichard Gizbert

Z U R I C H, Switzerland, Jan. 31, 2001 -- The shelves are marked in Braille, the water level in a glass can only be determined on a weighing scale, where the needle can be felt, and the waiters cannot be flagged — you have to call out their names.

It's a part of the fine dining experience at the Blinde Kuh, a restaurant in Zurich whose name literally translates to "Blind Cow." Here the blind — like the waitresses — lead the sighted into the world where they live.

The brainchild of Joerg Spielman, a blind minister, the Blinde Kuh is the hottest meal ticket in town where customers pay good money to eat food they cannot see — and sometimes cannot even get into their mouths.

Patrons of this eatery sometimes find themselves shuffling empty forks into their mouths in the pitch dark. But it's a predicament, Spielman notes, he has to contend with on a day-to-day basis.

And that's the purpose behind the Blinde Kuh. "We have found an ideal platform of public relations work for disabled people, especially blind people," he says.

For restaurant manager Adrian Schaffner, it's a matter of turning the tables on his customers. "When you see blind people in the light — you always think they have a problem," he says. "But as soon as you come in the dark, they don't have a problem. But you have one."

Dining Experience Made Difficult and Easy

While dining in the dark can pose a major challenge, there are a few perks.

In the sighted world, it is sometimes rude to dip your bread in the sauce, but at the Blinde Kuh, nobody has a problem with it.

As for food presentation, not surprisingly, Schaffner receives no complaints. "We save on the flowers on the table," he chuckles. "No pictures on the wall, or maybe you can make them in your imagination."

But it's not an easy place to run. Most restaurants keep track of orders on paper. Chef Thomas Hawney can see a little, but he and the blind waiters communicate by voice and intercom.

To make sure no light leaks into the dining room, the food is passed through a special trap door.

There are three main courses on the menu, each served on a different kind of plate. The waiters can tell the plates apart by feeling them.

The blind know when a glass is full by using their finger. But that's not hygienic enough for a restaurant, so the waiters weigh the glass instead — on a scale where they can feel the needle.

Helen works as a waitress at the Blinde Kuh, but in the sighted world, she is a lawyer.

"The difference is that in here I am the same as my guests," she said. "I am not regarded as a disabled person. They need me. In the outside world, in my other job, I am always noticed as different and can feel it."

And that is the key to the phenomenal success of this restaurant: it reverses the disability — and makes you think.

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