The darkness did another thing –
it stripped us of our labels.
When it comes to unusual meals, I’ve done everything from eating live octopus to eating a fried sheep penis and grilled goat testicles to having “Dinner in the Sky” at a table suspended 180 feet off the ground – so it goes without saying that I love my food with a dash of excitement and a side of adventure! This is what appealed to me about a restaurant called, “Dans le Noir.”
“Dans le Noir” is French for “in the dark” and that’s exactly what your dining experience at this restaurant entails! Only they take it one step further. Not only do you dine in the dark, but you are served by a wait staff that is visually-impaired! But let me back up a bit and share my entire experience with you, from beginning to end.
I had flown into New York City to visit some friends over an extended weekend. As usual, I was on the look-out for unique and unusual things to do – and my Internet search did not fail me (Google is your friend, folks)! As soon as I read about “Dans le Noir,” I called several of my friends to see who was down for an adventure. None of these resident New Yorkers had even heard of the restaurant before! So after telling them about the concept, they were as excited as I was to try it out.
Upon arrival, we waited in the welcome area, discussing this unique idea over cocktails. This is also where we ordered our eclectic, French-inspired meals because of course, we wouldn’t be able to see the menus in the dining room. You don’t order specific foods or drinks because figuring out what you’re actually eating and drinking is part of the fun in the dining room. But more on that later!
When our blind waiter arrived to show us to where to stow our things, our minds were blown: “How was it going to be possible for a blind person to lead us into the dining room and serve our group a full, multi-course meal?!” We were beyond intrigued! When we thought about it; however, it made perfect sense! Aren’t blind and visually-impaired people already living in a world of darkness? That means they’ve already learned to navigate a world devoid of light. We had so many questions for our waiter – not just about the restaurant, but about living daily life without the benefit of sight. This is to be expected, so all of the staff are most accommodating regarding answering questions and raising awareness about disability in general, and blindness in particular.
Before heading into the dining room, we made two stops. One was to secure our belongings in lockers. Anything that has a light (e.g., watch, cell phone, camera) must be secured outside the dining room so as not to spoil the dining experience. Also, pathways in the dining room must remain clear for the wait staff to navigate safely, so coats, purses, and other items must be stowed in the provided lockers.
The other stop was the restroom facilities. If you have to go – this is your time to go! Once inside the dining room, guests aren’t allowed to get up and go to the restroom at will – your waiter has to guide you in and out of the dining room for safety reasons. So you want to make sure you utilize the facilities before sitting down for dinner.
When everyone is ready, you enter the dining room in single-line fashion – everyone puts one hand on the right shoulder of the person in front of them and follows their assigned waiter into the dining room. To say the dining room is pitch-black doesn’t really give you an idea of just how dark it is! You can’t even see your hand right in front of your face! But the restaurant has been laid out in a way that keeps safety, security, and emergency evacuation in mind – so just relax and put yourself in the highly-capable hands of your wait staff.
The seating is “family-style” with 60 diners at a shared table. Upon sitting down, the fun REALLY begins! Your waiter will give you tips and strategies for eating and drinking without being able to see your glass, plate, or even your utensils, but be prepared for things to drip, spill, and fall!
The social and psychological aspects of eating with other people in a completely darkened room are what I found most fascinating. After a short while, I found myself closing my eyes and keeping them closed. There was no reason, after all, to leave them open because I couldn’t see a single thing in the room. So eating and carrying on a full conversation with someone while my eyes were closed was a totally unique experience!
In my opinion, people were more open and uninhibited during our table conversation. My friends surprisingly talked about things I never expected them to discuss with other people present. I, myself, even opened up and shared more than I normally would have under other circumstances. It’s as if you could be more transparent in your conversation without people looking at you!
Maybe that’s what inhibits us from being more open in our daily communications – the fear that people will SEE more of us than we intend by observing our non-verbal gestures, and in turn, we will see their judgment (intentional or not) on their faces and in their gestures. Being in the dark removes these subconscious and unconscious non-verbal cues, which comprise a huge part of the communication process. And perhaps in the absence of sight, a bit more trust is formed.
The darkness did another thing – it stripped us of our labels. Whoever we were walking into the restaurant – our status, our income, and other categories that defined us in the lit and sighted world outside – it all fell to the wayside in the darkness, where we were all on an equal playing field.
Lastly, another thing I noticed was how my eating habits regressed! But I wasn’t the only one! As we used our utensils to eat, our natural inclination was to smell and feel the food. We wanted to know if its scent or texture gave it away – before putting it into our mouths! And this became a continuing game akin to, “Who can guess what the mushy lump on the right side of your plate is – the one that smells like a cross between apples and chocolate!” But in the midst of all that smelling and feeling, it seemed as if the utensils became, well, useless! And the next thing we knew, we were eating with our hands and fingers!
Dans le Noir is a total experience of the senses. Additionally, it stimulates and provokes your mind and thought processes in ways you would never imagine from a simple restaurant dinner. And finally, it challenges your inhibitions and preconceptions while providing an environment that fosters thinking and learning. From the beginning when you first walk into the end when you leave the dining room and get a chance to see what you ate and drank (and how right or wrong you were with your guesses!), dining in the dark is a social and sensory human experiment!
While the restaurant in New York City is no longer open, Dans le Noir has locations across the globe, in places like London, Auckland, Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, and St. Petersburg. Be sure to add it to your travel and adventure bucket list!