Adventurous diners can enjoy a unique experience Thursday, March 14 as the local branch of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind brings its Dining in the Dark fundraiser to the city in partnership with Dalhousie University's first year Bachelor of Pharmacy students. While similar fundraising events have been hosted by CNIB in Charlottetown, Truro and elsewhere in Canada, this is the first in Halifax.
Inspired by restaurants like O.NOIR (Montreal, Toronto) and unsicht bar (Berlin) where patrons enjoy food and drinks in total darkness, the CNIB experience employs a logistical twist providing attendees with black-out eye masks to skirt some prohibitive insurance costs.
Diners enjoy a multi-course meal relying solely on touch, smell, hearing and taste, creating an opportunity for sighted guests to get a sense of what it's like for those who not only eat, but live, with blindness and vision loss every day.
"We hope diners will gain a better understanding of vision loss and some of the challenges faced by Nova Scotians who are blind or partially sighted," says Cheri Cole, CNIB Atlantic's manager of fund development. "However, this unique event will also illustrate that vision loss doesn't have to mean a loss of independence or quality of life, and will introduce diners to several exceptional individuals who are living their lives to the fullest."
The event takes place in Dalhousie's McInnes Ballroom and up to 150 diners are expected, both sighted and visually impaired. Donning their special eyewear, guests will be served a three-course meal prepared by Dalhousie's food services staff. On the menu: roasted parsnip and Nova Scotia apple bisque with maple, herb-infused chicken breast stuffed with spinach and feta, roasted red pepper coulis, garlic whipped potatoes, butter poached asparagus and dessert. The event will also feature a silent auction, guest speakers and offer a brief how-to, to help diners find and enjoy their food.
In the traditional dining in the dark experience the dining room can be challenging for patrons to navigate, but it offers something that lit restaurants don't---an advantage to blind servers. Restaurants like O.NOIR employ blind and partially sighted wait staff whose ability to get around without their sight demonstrates a unique skill that in this case can actually help them enter mainstream employment, albeit with the help of some unconventional thinking.
According to O.NOIR's website "this socially conscious concept sprang from Jorge Spielmann, a blind pastor in Zurich who used to blindfold his dinner guests at his home so they could share his eating experience. In 1999, Spielmann opened Blindekuh (German for Blind Cow), a project aimed at teaching the sighted about the sightless world, and provide jobs for blind people."
While servers at the event are fully sighted Dal food services staff, they will receive some training from accredited CNIB orientation and mobility instructors. The few simple tips will help servers serve and give participants a taste of the skills that help people who are blind live independently.
"The specialized training they receive will help servers better accommodate diners with vision loss in the future," says Cole. "Whether it's announcing when they're placing a drink or meal in front of the individual, or using the clock method to describe how to locate items on the table or contents on the plate."
This Dining in the Dark is the first of two Halifax events CNIB is hosting to raise funds and awareness for the programs and services they provide to clients in the region. A second, fine dining event is set to take place April 25th at daMaurizio. Learn more, or get tickets, at at cnib.ca/en/ns-pei.