Explore a New Way of Thinking About Dinner

A group of blindfolded people sitting at a table eating a meal

Deb Annen didn’t know what to expect when she attended her first Dining in the Dark event in Fitchburg two years ago. Dining in the Dark is a popular Council happening that invites participants to enjoy a multicourse restaurant meal while blindfolded. It encourages diners to focus on senses other than sight during the meal and to reflect on vision loss in a new way. The meal is followed by a discussion led by Council staff. The next Dining in the Dark event takes place Monday, May 13 at Brix Cider in Mount Horeb.

Deb first heard about Dining in the Dark through her son, and she was intrigued enough by the idea to sign up along with her daughter and her granddaughter, Marin, who is blind. Eating a meal while wearing a blindfold is obviously very different from living with vision loss every day, and the point of Dining in the Dark is not to replicate the experience of blindness. Nevertheless, Deb found the process of sharing a meal with family in a different sensory way to be a profound experience, and she immediately wanted more people to try it. “When last year’s Dining in the Dark was announced for Brix Cider in Mount Horeb, I called everybody right away, and we took our neighbor with us, too.”

One big takeaway for Deb had to do with how sighted people typically communicate during a meal. “We have eye contact and facial expressions that tell us somebody wants to talk to you,” she says. “But with the blindfold on, you can’t rely on that.”

Kristy James of Cambridge, another repeat participant, had a similarly moving experience when she dined in the dark last fall at Brix. She was impressed with the forethought provided by Council Executive Director Denise Jess at the start of the evening, as well as the in-advance training the serving staff received. For example, they were coached to provide verbal cues to let diners know where they were placing the items they were delivering. That’s one of the bonuses for restaurants who host Dining in the Dark—their servers gain a new awareness of how to work confidently with visually impaired customers, avoiding common pitfalls like communicating with their dining companions instead of directly with the individual who is blind. “I hope other restaurants are training their staff in those ways because it made such a difference,” Kristy says.

Kristy has become somewhat of an ambassador for Dining in the Dark. “After the first one, I went to work and told everyone about it,” she says.

Some first-time participants come in with fears and preconceptions about what it will be like to eat in public while blindfolded. Sure, there are certain logistical considerations to deal with, like how to keep your food on the plate when you can’t see how close to the edge you have shoved it with your fork. But Denise is quick to emphasize that Dining in the Dark is about bigger issues than that. Above all, it’s a meditation on our relationship with our senses. And the best part is that this meditation takes place in the context of an excellent culinary experience rich with smells, sounds and textures.

“Everyone who attends Dining in the Dark comes away with a different set of thoughts and reactions,” Denise says. “If you enter with an open mind and heart, there’s a good chance you will leave with a new way of thinking about dinner.”

We are currently taking reservations for the May 13 Dining in the Dark at Brix Cider. You can learn more about the event and reserve your seat on the Council website, or by calling Lori Werbeckes at 608-237-8114. Diners will gather at Brix at 6 p.m., with dinner served at 6:30. The cost is $60.00 per person.

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