Imagine the sheer joy of sitting down to a relaxing candlelight dinner at a fabulous restaurant — one that you’ve waited months to get into. Now imagine the experience without the candle. You and your guest are eating in complete darkness.
It’s a trend that people are voluntarily undertaking, and one that began in Zurich, Switzerland more than 12 years ago.
Dining in the dark, now a phenomenon across the globe, started as a project affiliated with the “Dialogue in the Dark” exhibition that ran at the Zurich Museum of Design. A team of blind and partially sighted individuals envisioned a darkness-themed restaurant and eventually opened “Blindekuh” in September 1999.
Since then, restaurants based on the concept have opened in Cologne, Berlin, Paris, London, and even Moscow.
More recently, dining in the dark restaurants have begun attracting attention in the United States.
Opaque, a group of restaurants that encourages a diner to “close your eyes and see,” currently operates dining in the dark experiences in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. On Valentines’ Day 2012, it opened additional locations in San Diego and Dallas.
“In this era of information overload, visual stimulation has reached an all-time pinnacle. But imagine, just for an hour or two that you cannot see, that you are abandoning vision in exchange for a new, more stimulating dining experience,” according to the restaurants’ website.
Meals are served by blind waiters, while diners sit and eat in complete darkness. The menu is impressive — from mustard and sage baked free-range chicken breast to grilled beef tenderloin with crispy shallots.
Diners are provided with very specific directions from waiters, aimed at making the experience as enjoyable and memorable as possible — and are encouraged to check bags. Cellphones must be turned off.
And in case there’s concern that the lack of a menu at the table means a surprise bill at the end — the meals are all prix fixe. The bill may be paid outside of the dining area, in the light, after the meal is complete.
WHAT’S THE APPEAL?
For many, eating out is an experience for both the eyes and the taste buds. A beautifully presented meal is a culinary piece of artwork. So how does taking away the visual aspect of dining change the overall experience?
“Darkness leads to openness about flavor,” according to chef and cookbook author Yvonne Stephens, who in 2004 earned her Associate of Science degree in Culinary Arts from The Art Institute of Philadelphia.
Stephens believes that dining in the dark is a concept based on trust. Diners must believe in their chef and waiters, and give in to a completely different sensory experience.
“It could eradicate preconceptions and let diners face the realities of ingredients and cuisine. It takes away fear or apprehension of the unknown,” Stephens adds.
Knowing the menu is also a bonus, so that there are no surprises when fork moves to mouth in the dark.
“It’s letting your taste buds take over from your eyes,” she says.
Stephens notes that dining in the dark is likely to appeal to people who have “seen it all or tasted it all.” And at a price of nearly $100 per person, it isn’t a dining experience that can fit comfortably into many people’s budgets.
“It is a challenge, but maybe a good one,” she states.
THE REVIEWS ARE IN
Popular restaurant review sites are abuzz regarding the dining in the dark experience.
Many reviewers believe that the experience is beneficial in helping sighted people better understand the world of the blind.
The requirement to turn off cellphones also forces diners to completely disconnect from technology — which can leave email and texting junkies feeling jittery throughout what is supposed to be a calming and invigorating sensory experience.
But on the upside, diners note that the lack of light forces people to communicate better, holding more in-depth discussions than they might have had in a traditional restaurant.
Opinions on restaurant review sites range from cautious praise to full out like — and dislike.
A recent reviewer on OpenTable wrote that dining in the dark is an “adventure experience — not particularly comfortable — that gives you a perspective on how it may be to not be able to see. It’s an adventure that you can learn from.”
Another had a less optimistic assessment of the night out.
“Very interesting experience. I enjoyed my dinner there but once in a lifetime is enough.”
Written by freelance talent for Ai InSite
Contributing writer for EDMC.