“I’m standing on your right and my arm is next to yours. When you feel that, you can guide your hand up my arm and hold onto my elbow almost like you’re shaking a hand. This allows me to be just one step ahead of you at all times,” says Emily Cardwell, co-ordinator of fund development at Candian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB).
That’s what you’ll hear if you go to Dining in the Dark, presented by Browning Harvey Ltd. and the Gypsy Tea Room as a fundraiser for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Diners will wear a blindfold for the entire evening, be led to their tables and guided into their seats by Gypsy Tea Room staff and CNIB volunteers.
People might cheat, but there will be a sizeable prize for whomever takes the exercise most seriously.
The CNIB will train servers how to present meals, pour drinks and generally understand how to accommodate people living with blindness or partial sight.
“I mean this ultimately is a fundraiser for CNIB,” says Debbie Ryan, co-ordinator of vision health promotion at CNIB.
“But part of the reason we like adding the educational component to that is so that we encourage people who want to make their restaurants, or any business, more inclusive, but don’t know how, to come talk to us.
“We can give them the information that they need.”
Grant Fowler is the general manager of the Gypsy Tea Room. He says the staff is really looking forward to the May 29 event.
“Our staff actually sat down to put the menu together, based on what would be good or easier for people to eat when they can’t see.”
The menu is delicious. In the interest of full disclosure, members of the media were invited to a preview of Dining in the Dark Thursday.
The first course is a butternut squash and sweet potato soup, second is a goat cheese canapé. Third is a savoury trio of duck confit, lamb riblets and beef tenderloin with mashed potato and vegetables, plus a frozen Bailey’s and milk chocolate cheese bar for dessert.
As the restaurant will be full with about 200 guests, Fowler says its 70-person staff will do the
30-minute training and be on hand for the event.
Lauren Hunt did the training Thursday, and says the concept really opened her mind because she’s never had a visually impaired customer.
“It was interesting, for sure. The first thoughts that came to my mind were like, wow, I didn’t really think of it, but what would I have done if someone came in one of the restaurants I’ve worked in?”
Opens up employability
Deborah Wearn, provincial director of CNIB, says Dining in the Dark is modelled after restaurants in other cities that offer a completely dark dining experience and have blind or partially sighted servers, which opens the idea of employability as well.
The event began two years ago in St. John’s in a very small dining room. This is the first public event.
“It really gives us the chance for people to experience, in a very small way, what our clients live with every day and the challenges they have to overcome.
“It also gives us a chance to train the Gypsy Tea Room staff, and so now their staff are better equipped and probably more comfortable in feeling that they can assist or aid someone who’s blind or partially sighted,” says Wearn.
“We’re always working with employers and trying to find opportunities to open those doors.”
Everyone involved in Dining in the Dark says the opportunity to get people thinking about what it’s like to be blind or partially sighted, and look at the accessibility issues that go along with that, is exciting. There is a CNIB app that shows how people see with different conditions that affect their vision.
The event starts at 6 p.m. May 29 at the Gypsy Tea Room, 315 Water St., St John’s. Tickets are $125 (with wine pairings) and there are 100 left. Call the CNIB at 754-1180 ext. 5807 for tickets.
Diners, some blindfolded, enjoy lunch at the Gypsy Tea Room in St. John’s during a promotional event for the CNIB’s Dining in the Dark event. (Clockwise from left) are Emily Cardwell, CNIB, Nathan Knight and Mike Belbin of Coast 101.1 FM, Anna Patten of Browning Harvey and Telegram reporter Meghan McCabe. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram