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Dinner in the dark at Kasteel van Hoen: a modern fairytale

I've never served at a dinner in the dark before. I've always wanted to, but I never had the chance: it seemed like I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time! It was almost like a curse: every time I decided to serve, the dinner was either cancelled or moved to the only day I wasn't available.

I had almost resigned to my fate, thinking that dinners in the dark and me were simply not meant to be, when I got asked by some friends from ICC Belgium if I wanted to serve at their dinner, on 10th and 11th March. "Oh, it's in a castle by the way". In a castle ???! With my luck? Something is bound to go wrong!".

However, nothing went wrong. The dinner wasn't cancelled, and it was a great success. I was lucky enough to arrive early on Friday afternoon, which gave me the opportunity to see the place without all the guests, and enjoy the preparations: people dressing tables, showing blind waiters how to get to their assigned tables... I couldn't help thinking of "Game of Thrones" every time I set foot on those majestic stone floors, and the atmosphere in the garden surrounding the castle was just magical: no cars (except for the people working or eating at the castle!), ducks in a small pand, and many, many birds. It was also the first real sunny day of the season, which added to the magic of it all.

The dining hall was amazingly big (it could have easily accommodated 200 people), and I initially thought I would get hopelessly lost, with cart and all. Fortunately, a specially designed guiding carpet had been laid on the entirety of the floor, which made it very easy to count and find tables. When the organizers told me my table would be the closest to the entrance, I almost wanted to hug them: I could already see myself smashing the cart against an ancient pillar while trying to find my table in the back of the hall!

We had special walkie-talkies to communicate with the kitchen and the other waiters, but somehow I always forgot to check it! That's why I kept waiting for starters and almost starved all my 14 guests (yes, I had a very big table!), because I didn't know that they were ready to be collected!

My table was a very cheerful one. They kept shouting for more wine, and got so engrossed in drinking that they even stopped asking me which one was the red and which one the white: they just smelled the content of bottles and remembered where they were on the table. It was great to see how they gradually started to rely on their other senses, in a very natural way. It was funny to accompany one of my guests to the toilet, and to find out that she was actually the former owner of the castle! No one was really scared of the dark, and they didn't seem to mind my clumsiness (the table was so big, and my head was so all over the place, that sometimes I'd forget who I had already served!). I admit that I probably made them wait way too long between courses, because I often forgot to collect the next one: I was constantly sent to the bar to get more drinks, and then I would stop there for a moment and talk to the bar tenders, who were also my friends. Not a very dutiful waitress, I know... but be forgiving: it was my first time!

It was very funny (though slightly embarrassing) to find out, at the end of the dinner, that I'd been serving the father of a very close friend of mine, whom I had never met before. "Oh gosh... I was so clumsy! Did I spill wine on his white shirt? Did I serve him as last every time?". He seemed quite content though, so I must've done a pretty decent job after all!

Saturday evening was way calmer: the guests were fewer, and we were more familiar with the place. This time, I decided to work at the bar rather than serve, because I wanted to know what it felt like: I find it very unlikely I'll ever be able to be a real bar tender, but it's an experience that everybody should have at least once in his life!

Well, what can I say? It was amazing! One of the funniest things I've ever done. There was two of us behind the bar, and it was great to learn how everything worked just on the fly, while guests were already entering! We had four fridges, lined up like very dutiful soldiers, and we had to remember which bottles were in which fridge. It was kind of hectic, because waiters would constantly ask us for more drinks. I had learned it already on Friday: apparently, when they are in the dark, people like to indulge in alcohol! It was great fun though, working with my friend and trying to meet requests as fast as we could! We were so busy, that it was only when the lights went back on that we noticed a carpet of glass under our feet: someone must've broken a goblet the day before... or was it us?!

The after-party was amazing, too. Guests were enthusiastic and kept thanking us for the great experience we gave them. And a blind deejay, who's also member of ICC Belgium, played music for the whole evening, getting everybody to dance on the majestic stone floors of the castle.

I was exhausted at the end of the two evenings, but I also felt very accomplished. And, cherry on the cake, I was allowed to sleep in the castle with the other organizers, so that we could wake up early and clean everything up the day after. Marble desks... decorated toilet paper holders... huge shower... my fairy-tale experience couldn't have ended more magically!