SoBeWFF: Dining In The Dark Staff Rehearses With Night Vision Goggles

One of the hottest tickets at the 2012 South Beach Wine and Food Festival is Thursday evening's Dining in the Dark at the Perry South Beach Hotel, part of The New York Times Dinner Series. The sold-out event, hosted by David Burke with Market 17, allows diners to experience food in a unique way.  By turning out the lights, a meal becomes an exploratory adventure in touch, taste, and even sound.

The Dining in the Dark experience poses unique challenges to the coordinators of the dinner. Everything needs to be mapped out with military-like precision from the exact location of wine glasses (directly in line with butter knives) to plans for escorting diners to the bathroom in complete darkness.

Miami New Times was asked to sit in on the rehearsal, where wait staff from The Perry South Beach Hotel are training. Though the staff is highly skilled, everything changes when the lights go out.

Science fiction film or server training?
Science fiction film or server training?
Laine Doss

The scene is more science fiction movie than dining experience. Two

dozen people dressed all in black stand in a row, each with a night

vision monocle strapped onto their heads. Instead of going into battle

with Terminators, these men and women are training to serve a four

course gourmet dinner. After some time acclimating with the night vision

scopes, it's time to try out a dinner service.

Staff from the

South Beach Wine and Food Festival and others recruited to serve as patrons are walked into

the dimly lit ballroom and seated. Kirsta Grauberger, managing

partner at Market 17 restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, which holds nightly dining in

the dark experiences, lays the groundwork (and a few rules) for the


"This is a completely dark dining experience. At first you may

feel disoriented, but go with it. Once the food and wine starts

flowing, you'll be more comfortable. If you have to get up, raise your

hand and someone will come and escort you out".

Then the lights

go out. It's dark. There's some nervous giggling and quips ("get your hand off my leg"). Anticipation is in the

air as the wait staff serve for the first time.

Servers practice pouring water ("don't fill up the glass the whole way") and

placing empty dishes down in front of the diners. Working slowly at first,

the staff start to get the hang of it. What's so difficult when the

staff can see in the dark? I'm about to find out as I take my turn with

the night vision goggles.

With the night vision goggles on, the

room is turned into monochrome green. Water, white wine, and even red

wine look alike. The only way to tell the difference is by identifying

the different glasses. Then there's the difference in depth perception.

Because you're looking through one lens, everything is out of whack. I

try to touch the back of a chair that I think is right in front of me

and it's about two feet further away than I think it is. This is not


But it is old hat to Chester Alvarez and Diego Rivera, who

work the dark dinners at Market 17. They're training the Perry staff

and will serve as captains the night of the event. They've done this

thousands of times already and tell me that the main challenge for

servers is getting used to those changes in depth perception, especially

when it comes to pouring wine and water.

A few more dry runs,

and it's time for the staff to actually serve food. This is a complete

run-through, so we leave the ballroom and are led back in as if this

were the actual dinner. After the introduction, the lights go off and

we're served our first course. Though we have silverware, all the

dishes are designed to be eaten with your hands. I'm not going to give

away any part of the menu (the fun is in the discovery), but other senses do

come into play - texture and taste, especially.


Grauberger tells me that the key to a successful dining in the dark

event is allowing the chefs to play with unexpected textures, spices, and flavor profiles

in the foods. 

And for diners? Grauberger says to bring a sense of

adventure, relax and enjoy the moment. And don't wear the white silk

Prada number -- just in case.

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