Blind Waiters Serve Diners in the Dark

Meals at the restaurant are served in complete darkness, other senses take over.

August 18, 2010, 4:12 PM

Aug. 19, 2010— -- Imagine not being able to see your food. Would the smells be stronger? What would it taste like?

Diners in America might soon get to find out for themselves. A new restaurant is promising to serve meals in complete darkness with blind waiters navigating the pitch-black spaces between the tables.

"You taste the food like you never tasted it before," said Edouard de Broglie, the man behind the restaurant Dans le Noir ? -- French for "in the black."

When sight is eliminated, the other senses grow more intense.

"People realize they are a bit handicapped with their nose and tongue," de Broglie told ABC News.

A restaurant, Blinde Kuh, was opened in Zurich in 2000 by a foundation for blind people. It was followed by another in Berlin. Dans le Noir? became the first such privately-run restaurant in 2004 when its Paris location opened. It expanded to London and Moscow in 2006 and Barcelona in 2009. (There have also been temporary restaurants for special events in Warsaw, Bangkok and Geneva.)

Now a New York restaurant is slated to open at the end of this year or early next year, depending on when it gets necessary permits The restaurant just passed its first hurdle by getting a liquor license.

"If it is a success in New York, we will try to go to other cities," de Broglie said. "It's a big country."

A handful of other restaurants in America do offer so-called dark dining, including CamaJe Bistro in New York which uses blindfolds and the Opaque restaurants in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego which have darkened rooms and blind wait staffs.

The dining experience starts in a room -- with lights -- where diners read a menu and make their meal selections. But don't think you are picking specific dishes. No, here the international menu with a French influence is a surprise. Pick meats, fish, vegetarian or a complete surprise tasting menu and warn the kitchen of any allergies. That's it. Without sight, the flavors and smells -- even the varying temperatures of the plates -- mix together to make a unique experience.

Dark Dining

To keep the dining room completely dark, after placing their orders, patrons are asked to place all potential sources of light including watches, cell phones and cameras in lockers in the reception room. They are then led into a pitch-black dining room and seated at big communal tables.

Eating in the dark might be a bit of a challenge but de Broglie said that people quickly learn to use their other senses. Hearing, touch and smell take over where people normally rely on sight.

To get food to your tables, the restaurant employs blind waiters. While that might seem counterintuitive, the blind staff is used to walking around in the dark and are best able to navigate the restaurant and assist diners.

That means that anybody eating there has to put a lot of trust into the staff. Want to use the bathroom in the middle of your meal? The staff will escort you from your table. Otherwise you are likely to bump into something or somebody else.

There's more to the restaurant than food -- de Broglie said it creates "a really interesting social experience."

Since all diners sit a large communal tables, he said "it is impossible not to talk to your neighbor."

But of course, you are in the dark, making conversation a bit different too.

"Since you don't see them," de Broglie adds, "you don't have a preconceived notion of who they are."

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