Lining up with other guests inside Auckland’s Rydges Hotel, I was about to enter a world unfamiliar to the vast majority of people: total darkness.
With my hands on the shoulders of a stranger, our guide for the evening, Mel, led my group into the dining room. Like an uneasy conga line, we trailed this way and that, with Mel coaching us around the room, cautioning us about tables, before finally stopping us at ours.
At first, I panicked about seeing absolutely nothing. My eyes tried to adjust to the darkness and discern the outlines of the room and my table companions. Mel placed my hands on the back of my chair and slowly, I felt my way into it, also feeling the plate, silverware, and glass that sat invisible in front of me. I held up my hands and looked to my friend beside me, but both were impossible to see. Eight people were seated at our table. A man’s voice took the lead, suggesting we introduce ourselves right to left (somehow we went diagonal!) around the table, sharing our name, occupation, and most embarrassing moment in the dark. This led to hilarious stories that I doubt would have been shared so quickly if we had been able to see each other’s faces!
Throughout the conversations, I caught myself gesturing with my hands and looking in the direction of the voice speaking. However, as time went on (and I had no concept of time) I found myself slouching or resting my chin on my hand, subconsciously aware that no one could judge me based on appearance or composure. Although I had no idea (and still don’t) what the room looked like, I was able to ground myself at the table solely based on the voices around me. What I lacked in vision, I made up for with my touch and hearing senses.
The other guests and I selected from three meal options: Trust the Chef, Seafood, or Vegan. When each course was served, the other guests and I who chose Trust the Chef guessed what we were eating. Because much of taste is influenced by vision, this was especially interesting. Most of the time I could taste whether something was a meat, vegetable, or sweet, but it was difficult to name the specific type of food.
While some people admitted to immediately eating with their hands, I gave my silverware a shot, finding it difficult to cut meat and placing an empty fork into my mouth on several occasions (my most embarrassing moment in the dark!). Like the others, I quickly ditched the lady-like skills and enjoyed my food with no regard for style.
Throughout the dinner, open conversations continued. Although I was constantly aware that it was dark, it became much more comfortable the longer we talked and ate. Eating in the dark brought out the most authentic version of myself, and talking to people was both easy and entertaining. When the meal concluded nearly two-and-a-half hours later, we were led again into the light. It was overwhelming how bright the world was around me and my eyes took several minutes to fully readjust. It was even more startling to see how each of the dinner guests really looked, as I had built up a separate image of them based on their voice and conversation. We all hugged and laughed as if we had known each other for years.
The most surprising reveal came when the staff showed us the plates of food we had eaten. While some of the guests were spot on in their guesses, what I thought I ate and what I actually ate were two different things (delicious nonetheless!). Dining in the dark was unlike any experience I’ve ever had. It was amusing, educational, and deeply humbling, reminding me to appreciate what I have. The servers working at the restaurant are low vision or blind, all of whom were so kind and able to make me feel comfortable stepping into their world.
For a dining experience like no other, I recommend Dans le Noir?, and I challenge you to pour your water without spilling it across the table!
Words: Kelsey Parrotte