Lawyer Dennis Cohen thought the "Dining in the Dark" adventure billed as a three-course gourmet meal served in a pitch black dining room by blind waiters would make for an intriguing kickoff to romance.
Held in a banquet hall at a Los Angeles hotel, the culinary and sensory event offers utter obscurity, anonymity and gourmet food – but is not recommended for anyone scared of the dark.
"I put an ad on (online networking Web site) Craig's List talking about the place and saying, 'Wouldn't it be fun to meet on a blind date and have it be really a blind date?" Cohen told Reuters.
Diners at the once-a-week restaurant called "Opaque" are led into a pitch black dining room by the blind waiters who act as their guides for the evening.
"Oh my God, it's really dark! They're not kidding, it's really dark!" laughed waiter Michael Headley, mimicking a typical first reaction by customers.
The idea of eating dinner in utter blackness may strike many as odd, if not downright unpleasant.
But the concept has already proven popular among Europeans in cities such as Berlin, Paris, Hamburg and Zurich, and the general reaction has been enthusiastic, said Ben Uphues, the event's Los Angeles producer.
"The idea behind it is to offer the sighted person an experience they will never have in their life," Uphues said.
Darkness overwhelms some diners
The giggles and nervous titters of people unaccustomed to the dark are eventually replaced by boisterousness as diners tackle the challenge of consuming their food in the dark – meals are chosen beforehand in the lighted lobby.
Headley, 42, and other waiters carefully guide plates and glasses into diners' hands.
Every once in a while, Headley said, a patron will escape to the bathroom and refuse to come back to their table.
A former community center director who lost his sight two years ago from glaucoma, Headley said he couldn't find work before Uphues contacted the Braille Institute.
"This is something I could do with the skill level I had," said Headley, who enjoys serenading lucky guests with songs such as "Happy Birthday" or "When I Fall In Love." "It gave me the confidence to begin to do other things."
Besides the dinner rolls that invariably find their way to the floor, sighted guests don't leave as much of a mess at their tables as one would expect, Uphues said.
Cohen, who felt entirely comfortable in the dark, said he managed to pour champagne for his date without spilling on her but some diners found it hard to connect forks and food.
"You learn how much you rely on your eyesight for cutting food and making sure there's something on your fork," said Russ Hemmis, a real estate investor out with his girlfriend. "But at least I can pick my nose without anyone noticing."
Cohen's date, Avril Cunningham, said the darkness encouraged relating to her mysterious companion "on a different level."
Apparently it worked its magic. The couple – who laid eyes on each other for the first time back in the lobby after the meal – have plans for a second date.
"I'm going to make her dinner," said Cohen, adding, "I told her I would blindfold her."
Image: Anton de Beer