The 9th annual Dining In The Dark charity fundraiser event held at Chances R Restaurant on May 29 was another sold out success, and raised $5,000 in support of Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind. Each year, ticket holders have the opportunity to indulge in a delicious 4-course dinner completely in the dark. In nine years, this annual event has quickly gone from a 50-person, one-seating event, to a 300-person, two-seating dining experience (5:00pm/7:30pm). Owner Mike Bouris talks about this truly one-of-a-kind culinary adventure:
“In the beginning, I was hoping to convince 50 people to come and do this, because it is a little weird. But I sold every ticket, and it went extremely well. The next year we did 150 seats, which is the seating capacity of the restaurant, and was also a success. Since then, it’s been 300 tickets every year. This year was a record – we sold out our 7:30pm seating in a week. Our staff volunteer their time, and we always throw them a party afterwards.”
Guests gathered on the patio for pre-dinner drinks while local guitar sensation Lucas Haneman provided the entertainment. Lucas, who himself is blind, has performed at this event for the past 4 years. Once the first seating dispersed, the restaurant was quickly reset for the second seating. Each party was rounded up, provided with blindfolds, and led into the restaurant in single file by a staff member. Colour coded blindfolds were given to those with allergies/aversions to certain foods. The disorientation I felt was immediate: needing to place my trust in being guided to my table, all while the noise inside the full room encircled me.
Once seated, my sense of touch was the first to react. I felt my surroundings, where things were on the table, and how far away my dining companion Susan was from me. My ears quickly kicked in, but I soon began to realize I was actually shouting, rather than talking…along with 299 other guests who were also doing the same thing. Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind Events and Guide Co-ordinator, Steve Doucette explains what he calls O&M (orientation and mobility):
“It’s being able to map your way around your environment through the use of your other senses – you need those skills to really be an independent person. This entire experience is designed to create empathy for those that are visually impaired, but in a really fun way. It’s all the things you take for granted. Perceptions are thrown off – things like how loud you’re talking, or not knowing what’s being put down in front of you until somebody tells you. You have to feel around to find your cutlery, your glass, etc…there’s always spilled drinks throughout the evening, which makes for a bit of entertainment value. Even getting around – one of the common hesitations is finding the washroom. Although someone will guide you there, you’re encouraged to leave the blindfold on to get there.”
This year, each course represented a different country, with only a musical clue to go by. Determining whether or not I’d need a fork and knife, then later whether I had anything left on my plate, had me relying on my sense of touch constantly. My senses of smell and taste were not always 100% accurate in identifying what I was eating, while my perception of how much I had on my fork presented its challenges, sometimes with hilarious consequences. The staff, who were circulating through the restaurant constantly, were by my side in an instant after putting my hand up to order or to be escorted to the washroom. After 9 years, it was evident they had this thing down to a science.
When the hour and a half adventure was over, the lights were turned up and the blindfolds came off. I could now visually take in all the little details inside the large room, like the food-littered carpet that laid in the wake of this unique experience. It left me humbly appreciating my gift of sight, and realizing how heightened my other senses became in such a short time. Next year will mark Dining In The Dark’s 10th year, and Mike Bouris has ideas brewing to make it something on a grander scale. This is definitely a must-try event for everyone!