Review: Toronto’s Sense-less Restaurants

Able-bodied people go through life without thinking about accessibility issues. There are many ways that this world is experienced differently for anyone living with a disability. The following two restaurants offer a dining experience that help the abled understand the perspective of the deaf and blind.

O’Noir

620 Church St., Toronto

O’Noir provides a dine-in-the-dark experience. When entering the restaurant, diners order in the lit lobby. Once diners review the menu, a sighted bartender takes their order and communicates it to a blind server. There are two options: either a three course meal (appetizer, main, dessert) or a two course meal (appetizer and main, or main and dessert). Drinks are also ordered before entering the dark room. After ordering, diners are brought into the dark dining room. Though I couldn’t see how big the room actually was, it seemed as though there were about six groups dining at once. The server guides diners to their table and explains the room’s surroundings. Then, the meal is eaten completely in the dark (this also means no phones for the duration). There are two doors to get into the room to ensure that no light gets in, as this would ruin the experience of the dinner. The room creates an environment where patrons experience eating without sight. Without being able to see the food, diners must trust the server and the chefs to create the meal properly. It gets one thinking about how much people rely on their eyes when going out for dinner, how confusing things can be if a table is overcrowded (the tables at O’Noir are not, thankfully), and not knowing exactly where the plate and cutlery are. (Also, how hard it is to find your cutlery if you drop it… which I did). Beyond the experience, O’Noir also has an amazing menu and the option to try surprise meal items for any of the courses.

Signs

558 Yonge St., Toronto

Signs provides a unique ordering experience. At this restaurant, the servers are deaf. Diners must order their meal in sign language. Never fear, the server teaches patrons some basic sign language,  and cheat sheets are at every table for the alphabet, numbers, food modifiers, and common restaurant phrases (“Can I have more water?”, “My meal is good,” “Split the bill.”) The menu shows how to sign what you would like to eat. To avoid confusion, the server also displays the order on a tablet, so that diners know they have ordered what they actually wanted. One may think it’s too stressful to quickly try to communicate your order when you don’t know sign language, but this is the same struggle a deaf person has when they need to order at a restaurant without someone who can understand them. The menu is also incredibly creative, offering a watermelon salad, taro chips with guacamole, and sesame sticky rice cakes, making the restaurant a good spot to try something new to eat. Although it’s fun to be in Signs and learn sign language, it doesn’t create a completely immersive experience since you only really need to sign when your server comes. But, if you go and decide to challenge yourself, you and your friends can try to go the whole meal using only sign language to communicate with each other.

Photo courtesy of O’Noir.

Monika is the Marketing Director/Social Media for On the Danforth, summer issue. When she isn’t buried in a book, she spends most her time checking out various events in Toronto and turning her life into article pitches. You can check out her Twitter here

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