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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 September, 2003, 11:11 GMT 12:11 UK
Dating in the dark
By Kate Newman
BBC News Online, London

Why would 25 men and 25 women eat a five course meal in the dark? A BBC News Online reporter went along to find out.

Waiter Michael Jackson wearing night vision goggles
Michael Jackson wears night vision goggles in order to serve the food
Three of us are sitting at a table in total darkness waving our arms madly in the air trying to catch the waiters attention.

Well the others say they are waving.

At Dinner in the Dark that is the etiquette if you need assistance.

Billed as the new dating experience, the event by Yahoo! Personals is aimed at young, single professionals who are too busy working to have time to go out and meet people.

By depriving diners of one of their senses, the organisers say people do not have to worry about what they look like or are wearing.

Instead they can relax and concentrate on showing off their personality.

Anna Strong, 27, from south-west London, who has been single for a year, is at the event at the Ascots Restaurant in Oxford Street to "see what it is all about".

Anna Strong
Miss Strong came away from the evening with one phone number
"The evening is so different that meeting a partner is the least of your worries.

"You can have a bit of a laugh and it will make a great story to tell."

Before heading into the darkness Miss Strong, who runs a singles website, says she is excited and nervous about what it is going to be like.

"You can try to imagine it but you just don't know."

'People more relaxed'

Also waiting in the bar is Rob Smith, 31, from Shoreditch, east London, who has been "dragged" along by a friend and is a little nervous.

"Being able to talk to people without seeing who they really are will be interesting.

"Instead of directing your energies into making someone fancy you they will go into making sure you sound OK.

"I hope to walk out with my pride still intact."

The advice from Mo Lishomwa, from Yahoo! Personals, is to have an open mind as the evening is about having fun.

"I think the main thing we see is that when you take away one sense everything else becomes more heightened."

Dining Table
Everyone speaks loudly in the dark as they are not sure who is listening
A waiter wearing night-vision goggles leads you by the hand to a table where you are seated with strangers.

It is so dark that you cannot see your hand in front of your face and, strangely, it appears to get darker as the night goes on.

Diners dissect the food with their fingers and have to tune their hearing to the closest voice.

Everyone speaks loudly as they are not sure how close the person they are talking to is or who is listening.

After the five-course meal, Mr Smith says: "It was really hard to concentrate on the person I was talking to.

"I was sat next to this girl who got freaked out because we both thought the other was talking to different people, but we weren't, so we had been sat there in silence."

Rob Smith
Mr Smith says it was a "real eye opener"
Candles are brought in after the fourth course, something Mr Smith says filled him with relief as he thought he could be "normal now".

And Miss Strong says she was "pleasantly surprised" by one man she had been sitting next to.

"You try and work things out and imagine what people looked like so it was kind of fun when the lights came on. I was pleasantly surprised."

During the evening Miss Strong says she was more conscious of her body language "even though you are not seen".

At the beginning she politely waited to be told to start her first course until the people next to her said they had already eaten theirs.

So did anyone find romance? Well Miss Strong got one phone number but Mr Smith just enjoyed meeting people.

He says: "I think it is something everyone should experience as it is a real eye opener."

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