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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dining Blind

Today's post is my reaction to an article in Sunday's Free Press about "blind dining."  While it certainly has nothing to do with raising Future Leader Dogs, it does have something to do with raising awareness about the blind and visually-impaired.

Perhaps Bon Apetit's restaurant critic Andrew Knowlton is just afraid to experience what eating in any kind of restaurant must be like for a vision impaired person.

In a recent Associate Press article by Karen Matthews, "Blind Dining Concept Heads to New York", Knowlton was quoted as saying "I think it's absurd," when asked his opinion about the concept of dining in a completely dark room.  He continued, "Anytime there's a gimmick involved with eating in a restaurant I have to be a little wary."

I think Knowlton missed the point.

A French investment group, Ethik, committed to "environmental and social innovation," owns successful blind dining establishments in Paris (open in 2004), London (2006), and Moscow (2006), and plans to expand its Dans le Noir? (French for "in the dark") franchise to Barcelna and Manhattan.

The Dans le Noir? eateries follow the example set in 1999 when the Blind-Leicht Foundation opened the restaurant blindekuh (literally, "blind cow," the German name for the children's game "blind man's bluff") in Zurich, Switzerland.  The Blind-Leicht Foundation was started the year before by Stefan Zappa, a visually impaired psychologist, and three other blind people, to develop programs that "foster the integration, dialogue and mutual understanding between the sighted and the blind."  In 2008, more than half of the Foundation's employees were visually impaired.


WHAT IS BLIND DINING?

The tables are turned in a blind dining experience.  Sighted patrons are dependent on visually impaired servers to guide them through an unlit dining room (and to the restroom if needed, which is lighted) to their table where they will eat in complete darkness.

The Dans le Noir? restaurants offer four categories of meal selections:  fish and seafood, vegetarian, meat, and chef's surprise (a combination?).  Afterwards, diners are encouraged to guess what they have eaten.  At the blindekuh (the name is in all lowercase), customers choose from a menu before entering the dining room.

Both restaurant chains are happy to accommodate special dietary needs.  And both profess that "blind dining" not only frees the other senses, it improves interaction between the sighted and the blind or visually impaired.


So, Mr. Knowlton, this "gimmick" of being served by visually impaired wait staff in a pitch black room is more than just a theme concept designed to draw in paying customers hungry for a new fad.

Blind dining is a daring business model, calculated to raise our consciousness, which seems to me to be worth the risk of a less-than-perfect meal.  Given the chance, I look forward to trying it.

Oh, and by the way, blind dining ventures also create jobs for a segment of our population who struggle to find work in a good economy.

2 comments:

  1. Mr. Knowlton definitely missed the point--thanks for sharing this! What a wonderful way to not only expand people's experience, but to build bridges of understanding between the sighted and vision-impaired world.

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  2. That's just what Stefan Zappa had in mind! Thanks for your comment.

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