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If you like to be taken out of your comfort zone when you dine out Melbourne's Dans le Noir? will be your kind of place.
Dans le Noir? (which translate to “In the dark?”, in French) is a restaurant where you eat in complete darkness, guided by a team of visually impaired waiters.
“There are three levels to the experience,” explains Edward Lepy, who is part of the restaurant’s managing team. “There’s a sensory experience, because you’re deprived of one of your main senses -- vision. There’s a social experience because customers are seated at a large table with people they can’t see. And there’s a human experience because you’re guided by visually impaired waiters all night.”
How does it work?
You first have to make a booking online and pick a menu. Once you get to Dans le Noir?, a team will explain how the evening will unfold. You’ll be asked to leave your personal effects (like your phone and anything emitting light) in a cloakroom.
When they’re ready, the guests will enter the dark room by forming a queue and holding on to each other. Your assigned waiter will bring you to your table and give you basic tips like where to put your glass when they’re pouring your water.
What about the food?
When you book, you can pick between three options: the "Feed Me Chef", "Fisherman’s Cove" or "Seasoned Vegan". But you won’t know what dishes you’ll get. Part of the fun is trying to figure it out, which can be harder than you expect.
“The principle is to awaken the senses of our customer. Because they are in the dark and can’t see what they’re eating, the chef works with flavours, textures and ingredients in a different way,” says Aurore Lepy, who is also part of the managing team at Dans le Noir?.
The team is extra careful with allergies and intolerances, which you have to mention when you book.
How did it start?
The first Dans le Noir? restaurant which opened in Paris in 2004 was a collaboration with a French foundation for the visually impaired.
It has since grown into a popular chain with locations all over the world, including London, New York and Auckland. “One of our goals is to show that employing people with a [disability] can generate value for a company,” explains Aurore Lepy.
Visually impaired waiters are hired to guide the customers because they’re the most qualified for the job. “It’s a role reversal; the visually impaired guides become the eyes of the guests for one evening,” says Edward Lepy.
Guests are encouraged to have a chat among themselves and with their waiters.
“It’s a restaurant where you remember the name of your waiter, which is not the case everywhere you go. It’s a very strong human experience. When they get out of the dark room, some people hug, exchange phone numbers or go for a drink at the hotel bar,” says Edward Lepy.
Dans le Noir? and Vision Australia are hosting an auction in the dark on May 16 to raise funds for the visually impaired community. More info here.
Dans le Noir? is also hosting its first brunch in the dark, for Mother’s Day, on 13 May. More info here.
Have a look inside the London outpost of Dans le Noir?: