Writer Joseph J. Airdo
Photography Courtesy of Fever
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]magine arriving at a restaurant, hotel venue or catering space with a family member, friend or significant other and being invited into a candle-lit dining room. After being seated, you and your guest are provided with blindfolds, which you wrap around your heads to completely seal off your sight.
You converse with your guest, both of you able to hear a tinge of nervous excitement in each other’s voices. Then your meal arrives. You have not been told what to expect, having instead only selected it from a general category — meat, seafood or vegan.
The absolutely delectable aroma slowly rises to your nose. The possibilities of what it might be swirl around in your mind. You and your guest share guesses but both are very different from one another. You take your first bite. It is divine. You fight euphoria for just long enough to again ponder what might be on the plate before you. You and your guest agree that neither of you can put your finger on it.
Nor does it matter, because your senses of smell and taste are in a state of sheer ecstasy.
“When one of our senses is inhibited, our other senses are naturally enhanced to compensate for it,” says Sumner Rogers, project manager for Dining in the Dark Phoenix. “That is just what our brain does. We do not quite go into Daredevil mode, where we can see with sonar, but our senses of smell and taste are naturally enhanced. And because we are not looking directly at what we are eating, our brain does not know exactly what it is. It just knows that the food is good.”
An offering from European experiences company Fever, Dining in the Dark debuted July 2020 in Manchester, England out a need to develop ideas on how people could continue to enjoy social activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had to think of something that would be fun for people to do but where they would not mingle with other people that they did not come with and that they would also stay within a single assigned area,” Rogers explains.
The experience was a hit, prompting Fever to quickly launch it in six other cities within the United Kingdom. By September, it was being enjoyed by people all over Europe. Fever decided to bring it to America earlier this year where it has been delighting diners throughout the spring and summer months.
Sumner says that Dining in the Dark has proven to be most popular among millennials, who love to go out and are drawn to Fever’s app-based approach, which he describes as the “Netflix of experiences.”
“Our app offers a similar interface as Netflix,” he explains. “But instead of clicking on TV shows, it displays a bunch of different experiences, activities and things to do in your city. We host others’ experiences on our app, for which we operate as a ticketing platform. But then we also have the opportunity to connect previously unconnected dots and create our own experiences. Dining in the Dark is one of those.”
He adds that, nationally, Dining in the Dark has been very beneficial for local businesses because Fever not only gets customers through the door but also does most of the legwork.
“We sell tickets, do all of the marketing and get everyone’s information ahead of time — including their order, their allergies and their party size,” Rogers says. “Even some of our larger venues have had issues just getting people through the door lately. Plus, staffing is tough. We are able to help with all of that. At our Cleveland location, it was the first night that they were open since the COVID-19 pandemic and we were able to give them a full house.”
Locations are typically kept secret but, in Phoenix, Dining in the Dark has most recently been partnering with Romano’s Macaroni Grill.
“There is some influence from the current offering of the restaurant but we work specifically with its local chef to get creative and put together a distinct menu for this experience,” Rogers says. “We have made sure that it meets our parameters and is easy to eat while blindfolded.”
Ultimately, the thing that guests like most about the entire Dining in the Dark experience is the mystery involved with the food.
“We have been successfully eating for decades now,” Rogers says. “However when you are looking at your food, you know exactly what you are about to eat. Your brain eats first and you have an expectation of what it is going to taste like. The unique food experience that Dining in the Dark offers is one in which you are eating something that you know tastes good, but you do not know exactly what it is. That little bit of a dance that your brain does in between each bite is what makes this fun.”
Dining in the Dark
6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
See website for location and ticketing information