Blackout dining restaurant to launch in San Diego in May
Dining in the Dark will offer weekly seatings in an as-yet unnamed Gaslamp Quarter location
San Diego diners are more than ready to get back inside local restaurants for an indoor meal. But are they ready to eat that meal entirely in the dark? A Spanish events company hopes so.
Dining in the Dark, which will launch May 26 in an as-yet unannounced Gaslamp Quarter restaurant, is being produced by Fever, a global events producer in Madrid. Since last July, Fever has introduced Dining in the Dark at locations in 48 cities worldwide. The first U.S. locations were introduced a few weeks ago, beginning in Chicago. San Diego, Los Angeles and 16 other cities will be rolling out the experiential dinners this spring. Organizers say this will be a permanent San Diego attraction, though the venue will change every three months, and a spooky theme will be introduced during Halloween season.
Dining in the Dark is a three-course, 90-minute meal served to diners wearing black velvet blindfolds in a darkened restaurant. The cost is $90, not including alcoholic beverages. Diners can choose between a meat, seafood or vegan menu theme, but everything else will be a surprise to the taste buds. So far, the price tag hasn’t been an obstacle for pandemic-weary diners eager for a memorable meal away from home.
Scott Forrest, project manager for Fever, said in a phone interview from Manchester, England, on Monday that eating with the lights out really turns the tables on diners, since studies have found that how we taste and perceive food is heavily influenced by what we see.
“I think it chucks a lot of surprises at you,” Forrest said. “It’s really difficult to work out what’s in your mouth. You may have eaten that piece of meat a hundred times before but being blindfolded really throws you off. People thought they were eating a mushroom and it was sweet potato or they thought they were eating pork when it was chicken. It can be super difficult.”
Forrest said the menus are at the chef’s discretion, but nothing too exotic is ever on the plate.
“The main aspect for the bespoke menu is focusing on different textures, a bit of crunch, a bit of softness — different textures to throw you off,” he said.
While dining in the dark may sound like chaos, Forrest said blindfolded diners are usually very cautious to avoid knocking over a wine glass or cutting their finger with a dinner knife. The meal begins with blindfolded diners getting an orientation lesson on where their silverware, napkin and wine glass are to avoid mishaps. It ends with blindfolds off and a detailed description of what they ate.
“It sounds really scary, like people will have food all over the tables, but this is one of the cleanest dining experiences I’ve ever witnessed because people are being very careful,” Forrest said. “After a few minutes, surprisingly, people feel very comfortable knowing where things are.”
Dining in the dark is not a new concept. It was pioneered in 2004 in Paris as Dans le Noir? (which is French for “in the dark”), where diners eat French cuisine wearing blackout goggles. It has locations worldwide. A similar concept, Black Restaurant, is offered in Japan. Dark dining pop-ups under various names have also been presented at restaurants throughout the U.S., including a few years ago in San Diego, but most of these offerings were shuttered by the pandemic.
Forrest said Fever came up with the idea to add Dining in the Dark to its list of events last summer as part of an effort to create more COVID-safe experiences. Social distancing measures vary from city to city, but Forrest said the rule is to only allow diners in the same social “pod” to dine at the same table. In San Diego, unrelated parties will not be seated together and hopefully by the end of May, at least partial indoor dining will be allowed.
Fever was launched six years ago and is now in 89 cities worldwide, Forrest said. Initially it was launched as an online hub that hosted events from private producers and offered ticketing services. Over time, the company began producing its own events, called Fever Originals. The most popular of its originals is Candlelight — which features concerts presented by candlelight in historic or architecturally interesting buildings like cathedrals.
Forrest said the pandemic killed the concert market, so instead he and his team began developing online events with an interactive element, like wine tastings and cocktail classes, where customers at home were shipped wine and cocktail ingredients and they sipped or mixed along with an online sommelier or mixologist.
In each market Fever enters, it sets up its own local marketing team and website. Locally, it’s secretsandiego.com. The website is now promoting Candlelight outdoor concerts in May and June as well as Dining in the Dark, which will initially be offered on Wednesday nights only with seatings at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. beginning May 26. Details at feverup.com/san-diego.
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