Dining in the Dark

Ever wondered what it’s like to eat a meal without being able to see your food – or your table, or your dining companions? O Noir restaurant in Montreal lets you do just that. Modeled after similar restaurants in Europe, Australia and the United States, O Noir’s owner, Moe Alameddine, has built a booming business around the concept of “dining in the dark.”

In the beginning

The concept of lightless/sightless dining goes back almost a decade. It was pioneered in the late 1990s by Swiss pastor Jorge Spielmann. Spielmann, who is blind, was in the habit of blindfolding dinner guests at his home to introduce them firsthand to his own mealtime experience, and in 1999 he opened “Blindekuh” (which means “blind cow” in German), where restaurant patrons ordered and ate their meals completely in the dark.

The Blindekuh project had a double purpose – to give sighted people a hands-on experience of living and functioning without vision, and to provide employment for people with vision loss.

A popular concept

The idea spread, and similar restaurants opened soon after in Australia, Britain, the United States and Germany. Alameddine, eventual owner of Montreal’s O Noir, had an opportunity to visit Blindekuh while vacationing in Switzerland several years ago and was immediately captivated by the idea.

“I saw the concept in Zurich and really liked it,” he says. “I was in the fast food business and wanted a change, and thought ‘Wow, this is a concept I’d like to try.’” Alameddine returned to Montreal full of ideas, and O Noir opened its doors in September 2006.

Diners at O Noir are first welcomed into a dimly lit foyer by sighted employees. Personal belongings and valuables are stowed in lockers, with each customer keeping their own key. Customers are given a brief introduction to “dining in the dark” as they wait for their table, are shown the menus (available in English and French, in printed format and in braille), and then introduced to their servers, who lead each person individually into the completely dark dining room.

Reversed expectations

All wait staff at O Noir have some degree of vision loss, says Alameddine, who is sighted. The waiters know the layout of the dining area by heart, and are skilled at guiding patrons to their seats. They are also trained to be on the alert for anxious or uneasy diners.

“We have had some claustrophobic cases,” says Alameddine, “but that’s less than one per cent of our customers.”

“It makes people think”

“We’ve had a very good response, and are doing very well,” says Alameddine enthusiastically. “We have lots of regular customers who return after their first experience. We also bring in school kids and some summer camps. The kids get so excited!”

“People like it, because they say it makes them think.”

For more information, including an online menu and restaurant hours, visit O Noir’s website.