Revamping the Blind Cafe

Some years ago, I heard about the trend in “blind cafés,” places where customers pay for the experience of dining in the dark. Usually staffed with only blind employees, this lightless, sightless eating experience is supposed to a) simulate what blindness must be like, and b) generate empathy, understanding, and other feelings of goodwill and generosity toward the blind community. I take issue with this setup, especially since, as many blindies will tell you, the experience of blindness does not consist of a lifelong grope in the dark in search of necessary objects. In fact, blind people have usually developed a way of knowing what’s on their plate, where their water glasses are, and who’s serving them.

However, blind people have yet to acquire the skills to intuit the menu at any given restaurant and I plan to touch on the issue of The Braille Menu (or lack thereof) in a future blog. For now, let’s just talk about the eating experience.

I don’t know how it feels for sighted people to eat “in the dark,” but I would have no problem with it, especially if I’m eating food I’ve prepared for myself (in my fully accessible kitchen where tactile tape and puffy paint decorate all the appliances). If someone has prepared food for me, a dining companion of mine might use what I’ll call “the clock system” to tell me where certain foods are. He might say something like, “The lemon chicken is at twelve-o’clock, the broccoli is at three, the pork lo mein is at seven-o’clock, and the egg roll is at nine.”

Why did I pick Chinese food for this example? Because whenever my family goes to our favorite Chinese restaurant and we order lemon chicken, my kind brother piles unnecessary decorative lemon slices on my plate. This all started the first time we ordered lemon chicken. I humbly asked Sammy, “Hey, could you not put lemon rinds on my plate? They are hard to see and I end up spearing one with my fork and biting into it.” His response?

“You want MORE lemon slices? No problem!” So lemon slices found their way onto the edge of my plate, in the middle of my fried rice, and even into my water glass at the end of the evening. This is how he keeps me on my toes, always challenging me to practice my skills. No resting on my laurels here!

I can’t complain, though, because Sammy is an excellent practitioner of the clock system. Whenever he sits next to me at dinner, he cheerfully takes me through a tour of my plate before I can even ask for assistance.

But this entry is not just about actualities; it’s about fantasies.

So here’s the deal. I propose that we, the ranks of the blind and visually impaired, commandeer all these blind cafés and dine-in-the-dark establishments and replace them with what I would like to call…The Embossed Eatery.

I confess, this is not an original idea of mine. I am expanding on a piece of hearsay from my friend Karen, who told me that she read an article on Braille hamburger buns. Don’t believe me? Click here.

But I think we can braille more than just hamburger buns, although the buns do provide a tempting platform for lots of suggestive messages. Maybe our eatery can have a “mature menu” so that Little Johnny or Little Sally don’t get a basket of sliders with “touch my buns” written in the seeds.

(Maybe we could open an Adults Only franchise and call it the Dirty Dots Diner! Imagine what an interesting first date that would be!)

For now, let’s just stick with the Embossed Eatery, or perhaps Emi’s Embossed Eatery. I bet you never even imagined all the ingredients we could muster in our brailling endeavor! Chocolate chips, blueberries, raisins, nuts, seeds, capers, and so many more—anything small and relatively round will do the trick! We could make cupcakes verbal with sprinkle messages, leave a literary trail in the pecan crust on a halibut, craft a love note with the green olives on a pizza, or stash a secret code in the feta crumbles on a Greek salad. The possibilities are truly endless!

Like the blind café, I would keep the all-blind staff. And since we’re going for an experience of blindness, all braille menus! No print menus in sight, we’ll just have a board with blurry, low-contrast pictures so that our sighted customers will be forced into conversation with our blind cashiers, servers, and cooks.

Perhaps the Eatery can even take curious customers on a tour of the totally accessible kitchen, complete with braille appliances.

Maybe the Eatery could offer a selection of pre-wrapped items: chocolate-dipped Oreos with a sweet sprinkle saying, brailled candy hearts, muffins with a cheery Good Morning in blueberries, or pre-made sandwiches who announce their contents in caraway seeds along the crust. Perhaps takeaway items like these will become the hottest trend among blind sweethearts, eager to give their loved one food that really says something.

If food is an expression of love, then brailled food could be an expression of so much more!

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