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Restaurant - too dark

What is the philosophy behind a restaurant being so dark it is hard to read the menu (and the check) Been to one place where they attached a pen light to the menu, but not the check.

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  1. Funny question--espeically the part about the check.

    The philsophy? I would posit that the thinking is based on the assumption that dimly lit = romantic, therefore VERY dimly lit = VERY romantic. I'm sure there's a logical fallacy at play here, but I flunked out of college, so I cannot pinpoint it.

    1. Perhaps so you can't see your waiter's thumbprint in your mashed potatoes??

      1. How about that skaggy rug with things nesting in it?

        1. I think it shows lack of brains by the owner. Just about everyone over 40 has a decline of vision, both for reading and the ability to see in low light. Considering what a huge demographic it is and that they are also big spenders when they eat out, this would seem to be shortsighted. I have attached a small micro-light to my keyring (as have many chowhounds I know). We use it to read the menu and see the check. At times we loan our lights to the table next to us. It is amazing that the restaurant managers don't get in.

          1. I usually think they are trying to hide something, like very dirty floors, upholstery, walls, etc. Not conducive to good dining in my opinion; I then spend way too much time sniffing the air, trying to find out what the restaurant is trying to keep secret.

            I enjoy seeing my food and people-watching so very dark restaurants aren't my cup of tea.

            1. In addition to presuming it's supposed to be romantic and/or elegant, I have wondered if it dates back to speakeasy days.

              1. Too dark can definitely be a problem, but still not as bad as too bright.

                3 Replies
                1. re: phoebek

                  Outside of cafeterias, I have never experienced too bright. Perhaps I need to point out I'm 24 and have no vision problems. I still don't get dark restaurants. Anyone on this page who thinks this is an issue only because they are older is wrong. A whole lot of people I know and who are my age also find dark restaurants foolish.

                  1. re: Atahualpa

                    You're lucky - I have occasionally been to good restaurants that are just a little too bright. Although I haven't done this more than a handful of times, I've never been turned down when I've requested that the lights be dimmed a bit. I agree, though, that too dark is just silly.

                    1. re: phoebek

                      Too bright is the dining out aggravation that we encounter most often. Typically someome adjusts it if we mention it, but not always.

                2. There's one restaurant in LA where they actually serve completely in the dark. The host guides you to your table and helps you locate what's on the table. There's no menu to read, the waitstaff tell you what's on offer. The idea is to take the "visual" out and make it completely based on taste.

                  It's a cute idea and I hated it, because I'm > 50% deaf and thus rely hugely on visual cues to make the world make sense to me.

                  That said, when "regular" restaurants are too dark I don't eat there. I got into it one time with a manager at a place in New York who didn't like the fact that I was walking after being seated (but not ordering anything yet). I told him I didn't want to have the menu read to me like I was a 2-year-old child, I wanted to be able to talk to my wife without having to make her shout, and I wanted to be able to see my food so I could see if something was wrong with it.

                  What a crock. Dim is fine, but have some kind of illumination at the table (and no, that one candle that's hot around the edges is not acceptable).

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                    Well, that would solve the "what to wear" issue. You could just wear a coat and be naked; who'd know?

                    1. re: SweetPea

                      But if they spill the soup in your lap it could be MUCH more painful!

                    2. re: Das Ubergeek

                      I read about that CA restaurant. I understand that the wait staff are all visually impaired as well.

                      1. re: HillJ

                        That answers my question. I was going to ask if it was based on a steak house in Switzerland where the staff is mostly visually impaired/blind and the idea is to give customers a sense of what it's like to be blind for an entire meal.

                        What is the name of the version in LA? My friends enjoyed the one in Switzerland; I'd like to tell them there's a place in the states as well.

                        There's one at the Hyatt on the sunset strip, but only Saturdays. http://www.opaque-events.com/ And all the servers are blind.

                      2. re: Das Ubergeek

                        That manager was a putz.

                        One of the thing that turns me on to a dish is the visuals of it. I imagine the chefs at that LA restaurant are lamenting the months they spent perfecting the presentation/staging of a plate.

                        1. re: thegolferbitch

                          The manager was indeed (where did a nice person like you learn a horrible word like that?? :-P )

                          The waiters are blind and it's the "idea" of the restaurant so I imagine the visual aspect was never a big part of it -- but a lot of line cooks I've known automatically clean up the presentation after having it hammered into them.

                        2. re: Das Ubergeek

                          OMG, You gotta be kidding. This has to rank up there as one of the stupiest ideas I have heard. How dangerous is that brain dump. Just one good accident and lawyer and the place shuts down. "So Mr Resto Owner you thought it was a good idea to have your waiters walk around with hot food in a dark resto and they spilled it on Mr X?"

                          Like you DU i am deaf in one ear and hearing the specials is close to worthless. So now I cant hear, I can;t see, I take my fork and start acting like Chris Columbus in search of food, I drop on my clothes and do not know til I leave, I knock over the glass of water and the only way i know I'm finished is to take my hand and feel around. This sounds like so much fun I could only wish I was not taller than Foghorn Leghorns' hand and could not go on the ride.

                          I gotta believe a trip (no pun intended) to the restroom is an adventure of a lifetime. Excuse me ma'am did not realize you were in her. :-))

                        3. Haha - I like your question, because I was recently pondering the same thing as my friend and I perused a menu. We were leaning back to catch the rays from the dim lamps behind us.

                          Well, red supposedly makes us hungry for more. Perhaps dim lighting inhibits our sensory capacity to feel full. :)

                          1. We went to the Brotherhood in Nantucket a couple of months ago. Ended up getting seated on the second floor, in the dark, and I couldn't read the menu (can't imagine how you'd see to eat.) When I complained, they offered to get me a flashlight. We walked.

                            I'm in my sixties, and wear trifocals. There was a time when I'd hold still for such nonsense, but it's long past....

                            1. Personally I prefer too dim to too bright, which is more annoying to me.

                              1. I'm not fond of spotlights; one neon light above you..dark all around you. Feels like a tanning lamp!

                                Those magnifying/light cards must be selling off the shelves with all the low lit establishments saving on electric!

                                1. Well, I like a dim "romantic" atmosphere, not dark... but as my husband would say....I want to see my food before I eat it! Maybe they should advertise "BYOL" (bring your own light)

                                  1. I love this thread. I may just print it out and give it to my manager. We have a three+ year battle going on regarding the lighting of the restaurant. He insists on putting the lights on super-low, so that nobody can read their menus. I like the lights low, but not so low that people cannot see. I think we may have come to a compromise, but at some tables, people still cannot read their menus, so I bought some mini flashlights to help them out.

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: hilltowner

                                      Just let him know that super-low lighting signals to customers that a manager is trying to disguise how filthy a place is. It's a warning flag for filthiness.

                                      1. re: Karl S

                                        It does make me look it up on the LA Public Health, for sure.

                                        There aren't TOO many places like that in LA, but the few that I can think of, it's a problem of not enough lighting on the patio.

                                        1. re: Karl S

                                          That's interesting. I had no idea that people associated super-dim lighting with filth. I always associate it with pretension. As our restaurant is neither pretentious or filthy, I hate the dim lighting.

                                            1. re: ThatGuyAgain

                                              interesting- of course we may all be operating on different opinions of dark/light, or it could be that Toronto has a different vibe going on- but i HATE bright restos. not being able to see tables or read menus- yes that's too far......I think it's a fine line.

                                              1. re: nummanumma

                                                Ok, I live in Toronto. Can you give a few example of restaurants that are too bright? I dine out fairly frequently and I have yet to encounter this problem and want to know if it is a difference in opinion or whether I've just not encountered this.

                                        2. It used to be worse. Back in the late '60s I worked in Silicon Valley, and we all used to got to lunch at places so dim that we'd sometimes walk right into people's tables when we were just trying to follow a hostess to ours. Then our eyes would gradually adjust, and by the end of the meal everything would look normal...and then we'd go out the door into the glare of El Camino Real at midday, and AAAARRRRGGGHHHH....!!

                                          1. And here I thought dark restaurants were a thing of the fifties and sixties. So - there are still some throwbacks to the era of the flickering candle and the waiter with the little flashlight.

                                            1. Huh. I am just not one of those who equate dim lighting with supposed filth. That assumption sounds a bit suspicious-natured to me. While I do enjoy being able to read my menu, put me down for the dimly-lit place anytime. And, urgh...I, too, can't stand restaurants that "spotlight" the diners.

                                              1. I once used the candle to read my menu and accidently set my menu on fire. Fortunately, it was so dark noone noticed.

                                                I thought the darkness gave the illusion you were alone. And that there really isnt another table 18 inches away.
                                                Well, at least they are saving on electricity and reducing greenhouse gases.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: RAF CHEF

                                                  Better still, if you carry a bag and have a feeling the restaurant you're going to will be dark, bring the biggest Mag-Lite flashlight that will fit in said bag. I'll bet the restuarant will be just a wee bit brighter next time.

                                                2. So, judging by the consensus of opinions on this thread, the potential restaurant owner should realize that they should

                                                  a) Have some sort of lighting
                                                  b) The lighting not be too bright
                                                  c) The lighting not be too dim (although most people prefer too dim to too bright)
                                                  d) Some people like bright lighting
                                                  e) Some people like dim lighting
                                                  f) There should be lights that are adjustable so one can set their own preferred ambient light level
                                                  g) Spot lights are bad
                                                  h) Don't put candles on the tables or people will burn up their menus.

                                                  I think I'll take these under consideration...

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: Blueicus

                                                    Ha! I'm having a good time laughing and reading this thread.
                                                    I actually had a "real" experience once, in Solvang, when there was a big thunderstorm, and my sister and I were determined to eat out. The restaurant went totally dark, and all the light there was, was a couple of candles. I have to say, it wasn't a very good experience - like someone else here posted, I actually lost my appetite because I love to see my food as I eat it. It was kind of fun and different, though-- just for once --
                                                    p.s. You should have seen us feel our way up the stairs to our hotel room, as the elevator wasn't working!!! LOL

                                                    1. re: aurora50

                                                      I think it's a lifetime of eating at Chinese restaurants that acclimatized me to favour slightly brighter lighting to dimmer places (like those in an old fashioned steak house). As you mentiooned, I like to see the food, and secondly I want to be able to read the menu without squinting (and I'm young!).

                                                      1. re: Blueicus

                                                        No one has mentioned the restaurants that not only lower the lights so low you need a guide dog to get to your seat but they also have the background music and/or wide screen tvs so loud you think you have taken a wrong turn to the local bar... I like to hear the people at my table talk while I can SEE the FOOD on my plate...