Eating blind at Dark Table

Unpacking a familiar dining experience, but without sight

Art by Rachel De Freitas

Art by Rachel De Freitas

No matter how hungry I am or how long I’ve been waiting since ordering, one of my favourite parts about going out to eat is seeing my food arrive at the table and knowing I get to eat it.

This familiar experience was one I was expecting to have when my boyfriend took me out for a surprise birthday dinner. I had no idea where we were going, but I thought I knew exactly what I was in for. You get seated, browse through the menu, place your order, enjoy the ambience, eat, pay, and leave — your typical dining experience.

My dining experience that evening was anything but typical — I couldn’t see any of it. Not the table I sat at, the food I ate, the cutlery I held, or even the people around me.

Dark Table on West 4th Ave in Vancouver is a pitch-black dining experience that allows visitors to explore the familiarity of going to a restaurant in an unfamiliar way. Without the sense of sight, the sense of touch, taste, hearing, and smell are heightened, changing the way you observe and perceive dining.

The servers at Dark Table are all visually impaired, and the dining experience originated in Switzerland in the home of a blind man who blindfolded his guests to show them what eating is like for a blind person.  

Upon arrival, we were seated outside the restaurant and handed a menu — the only part of this experience we would be able to see. After placing my order — a sangria, a surprise appetizer, mushroom risotto, and a surprise desert, we met our guide who would be bringing us our food and walking us through the experience.    

As we headed into the darkness via the train method — holding onto the shoulders of the person in front of us with our guide leading the way — I felt out of my comfort zone. I’d never done anything like this before, and while I’m not scared of the dark, being in an unfamiliar place I couldn’t see or even orient myself in was scary.

However, these feelings subsided once we were brought to our table. Our guide took my hands and placed them on the back and seat of my chair, and I felt my way into sitting down. Once we were both seated, our guide took our hands and held them together, saying this was her favourite part of the experience.

If we needed to use the restroom, we had to yell out our guide’s name and she would come to take us there.

I naively assumed that after a couple of minutes my eyes would adjust to the darkness, and I’d be able to see objects and shadows in the room — this never happened. I couldn’t see anything the entire time, so much so that shutting and opening my eyes looked no different.

The first thing I observed was the ambience around me. Since I couldn’t see where others were seated, I tried making judgements on their whereabouts based on the distance of their voice. Between this, overhearing other conversations, and chatting with my boyfriend, I surprisingly felt entertained while waiting for our food. I also noticed how good it smelt there which, thinking back to eating at other restaurants, isn’t something I consciously pay attention to.

Our surprise appetizer came, which we had to locate by sliding our hands across the table, and we were told it was bruschetta. The crispy bread crunched between my teeth with each bite, and I found it very easy to eat since I could use my fingers.

The entrée, however, was a different story. I used my fork to eat the risotto, but I had no idea how much I was scooping up. After a couple of attempts, I realized I could judge the bite size based on the weight of my fork. I also couldn’t tell how much food I had eaten, and as a result, I paid more attention to how full I felt and not what was left to eat.  

Once our guide took the plates away, I felt risotto on the table. Eating in the dark can be messy.

To finish off the night, they arrived with the surprise desert. I really had to pay attention to the flavours so I could figure out what it was. As I spooned a scoop of it into my mouth, I tasted sweet cream and coffee, and texturally it felt like a cake. I guessed it was tiramisu. I still have no idea whether I was right.

When we were done eating, our guide helped us up from the table, and after making a train again, brought us to a dimly lit room where we paid and then left the restaurant.

This experience wasn’t short of being unique. From using hearing to orientate yourself to discovering techniques to eat your food, eating blindly makes you tap into your creative side. I also realized how I take being able to see for granted. You don’t realize what you have until it’s gone, and this inspired me to find gratitude in what is often overlooked.

While I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re scared of the dark, make a reservation at Dark Table to do something out of your comfort zone, support visually impaired people, and find gratitude from within.