Millions of people live with blindness every day, relying on senses other than their eyes to navigate the world around them. For a sighted person, imagining what it would be like having to complete everyday tasks without the aid of sight may seem tough to imagine. To get just a small understanding, try eating a meal in complete darkness. Luckily, there are Canadian restaurants specializing in the experience to help you.
O.Noir and Dark Table restaurants in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver offer a unique dining experience where patrons eat in pitch-black surroundings. The experience is meant to enhance your less dominant senses like smell and taste, while at the same time offering awareness on what it’s like to live without sight.
The concept has been proven incredibly popular in major cities like London, Paris, New York, and Los Angeles. Visique sat down with the restaurateur who founded the establishments in Canada, Moe Alameddine. The entrepreneur was in Calgary this month finalizing his plans to open a location in the Stampede city.
Alameddine first came across the idea when he saw a similar presentation on a visit to Zurich, Switzerland. The blind dining concept originated in the home of blind man Jorge Spielmann, who blindfolded his guests in an attempt to show them what eating is like for a visually impaired person. For Alameddine, he was looking to offer Canadians with a unique dining experience that gets you to appreciate your vision.
How it works
If you’ve never experienced dining at O.Noir or Dark Table, the first thing you’ll notice is how different it is from your average restaurant meal. Guests check in at a lighted lounge area, where menu selections are made. When ready, a
blind or visually impaired server called a guide server will lead your group to a table in complete darkness.
O.Noir Montreal owner and general director Alejandro Martinez emphasized that some patrons come for the food, some for the experience, and some for the social experiment aspect itself.
Once seated, your guide server describes where you can find everything on your table and how to access the lighted bathrooms if needed (with the assistance of a blind server). No cellphones, watches, or other light-producing technologies are allowed in the dining room.
Without the sense of sight, the senses of touch, taste, hearing, and smell are intensified. Diners are even encouraged to eat with their hands if utensils start getting in the way.
Martinez added that because food is so strongly related to visuals, often people tend to eat with their eyes. But at the restaurant, patrons are completely blind and must rely on taste entirely.
Employing the blind
With an unemployment rate of 70%, the blind face obvious challenges in Canada. Dark Table and O.Noir exclusively hire guide servers who are visually impaired. The cooks, bartenders, and hostesses are sighted. Alameddine is adamant on giving opportunity to the visually impaired community. His stance is if a person with less than perfect vision wants to work in the hospitality industry, they should be able to if they so choose.
Both Martinez and Alameddine note that many who apply to be guide servers don’t complete the training, as the job of a server requires the ability to perform in a fast-paced environment, strength to serve heavy dishes, and an energetic personality that can handle dealing with many different clients on any given night who are out of their element.
For more information on employing the visually impaired in Canada, visit the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.