Tracey Ricci meets her customers in a spacious lounge, then leads them by the hand into the dining room.
Inside, darkness reigns.
Ricci is a server at O.Noir, an unusual restaurant. Diners enjoy their meal in the dark as blind wait staff guide them in a world with no light.
Once in, people open up, she said.
“I find in today’s society people don’t listen to each other because they’re so busy. They are not paying attention,” Ricci said. “When they are here, they [give] undivided attention to each other.”
I feel like I’m in control. The rest of my life I have to depend on people for help, but in here they have to depend on me.
In the lounge, Ricci picks up dishes that have been delivered from the kitchen. From there, she carries her tray to the table, taps the diner on the shoulder and carefully puts the plate in their hand.
She is used to feeling the world through touch, not sight, she said.
“I feel like I’m in control,” Ricci said. “The rest of my life I have to depend on people for help, but in here they have to depend on me.”
Diners at O.Noir don’t see what they’re eating. They don’t see each other. Inside the restaurant, cellphones, electronic watches or any other devices that shine in the dark are not allowed.
“It was so different,” said Nicole Sandford, an O.Noir diner. “I was eating with my bare hands. I don’t know how people with no sight manage to do it all the time.”
Like Sandford, fellow diner James Hobson experienced what total darkness is like for two hours.
“It is so strange when you blink in the dark and see that nothing has changed,” he said.
Customers react in different ways to the darkness in the dining room, said Jian Yong Feng, an owner of O.Noir.
“It is a truly unique experience, but we understand that it’s not for everybody,” he said.
For those who have a harder time dealing with the dark, Ricci said she tries to help them let go of their fears and simply enjoy.
“I had to go in and out of the dining room with one of my customers,” Ricci recalled. “She couldn’t get used to the dark, but she was determined. And I was determined to help her.
“After three or four times she finally settled down and wanted to stay there for a long time.”