The Restaurant Where People Eat In Total Darkness

You may have heard that people eat with their eyes. While that sounds like a recipe for synesthesia - or maybe tastes like synesthesia depending on what type it is – scientific evidence suggests that your eyes do indeed feast on meals. At a 2013 meeting of the American Chemical Society – described by Science Daily as the biggest scientific society on the planet – Ph.D. Terry Acree explained that your eyes can sometimes beat your tongue to the punch, "seeing" flavors of food and drinks you haven't yet tasted. A 2016 review published in Brain and Cognition depicts vision as intertwined with hunger and says it enhances the enjoyment of food.

Such findings raise interesting questions. If your eyes help tell your tongue how tasty a meal is, does being unable to see your food mute its deliciousness? If you dined on a ribeye in a pitch-black room, would every steak knife cut become a stab in the dark as your tongue fumbles about for an apt description of the flavor? Well, it turns out there are restaurants where you can feed that curiosity while remaining in the dark. One such establishment is Dans le Noir? which translates to "in the black." Founded in Paris in 2004 (via ABC), Dans le Noir? turned the "City of Light" into a scene of lightless dining. Its entire waitstaff is blind, and diners eat in utter darkness.

Eye before eat, except in this seat

Dans le Noir?'s Paris location marked the first privately owned restaurant where people eat in the dark. It followed in the footsteps of such establishments as Blinde Kuh, which a foundation for the blind launched in Zurich, Switzerland in 2000. Similarly, as the BBC details, the Paul Guinot Foundation for Blind People worked in concert with entrepreneurs Edouard de Broglie and Etienne Boisrond to co-found Dans le Noir?. The founders had a three-pronged objective: to allow diners to experience the world through a blind person's eyes, to shed light on how darkness impacts the experience of eating, and to give gainful employment to blind people in a food service industry that seldom catered to their needs.

The French restaurant planted the first of several culinary seeds that bore fruit in Moscow, London, Barcelona, and the Big Apple. Living up to the question mark in its moniker, Dans le Noir? doesn't even allow patrons to pick from a menu. Instead, they alert the staff of any allergies and express their preference for meat, meatless options, fish, or surprise plates of food. If you need to use the restroom, the staff will lead the way. Unfortunately, some customers may have wanted to take their plates with them so they could flush the food.

From taste buds to taste enemies

The million-dollar question is: how does the food taste when you can't tell whether it looks like a million bucks? That question is more complicated than it sounds. Obviously, you don't only eat with your eyes or else you'd starve to death at Dans le Noir. But as co-founder Edouard de Broglie observed, "People realize they are a bit handicapped with their nose and tongue." That may also impair their ability to enjoy the food. Per Atlas Obscura, patrons have complained about the quality of the food. Eater described Dans le Noir?'s New York location as a "nightmare factory." Apparently, enough New Yorkers agreed that the place went belly-up in 2013.

It's unclear whether such issues stem from customers' eyes getting nipped in the taste buds or the quality of the cooking itself. Even that distinction begs the question of whether food appearance and quality be disentangled for sighted diners. As Mental Floss notes, a 2009 study found that simply changing the color of a room's lighting from red to blue, green, or yellow can alter how people perceive the taste of wine and how much they would be willing to pay for it. So if you're not fond of the dark, would fillet mignon taste like a mistake? Perhaps the lack of light turns your taste buds into taste enemies.