Blindly trusting the power of your team

Bas de Ruiter, co-founder Ctaste
As a co-founder of Ctaste, Bas is often in the dark…and so is his staff. In his restaurant, blind waiters serve the dishes, while the kitchen consists of ‘seeing’ staff. Communication is always important, but, at Ctaste, it matters just a little bit more!


Blindly trusting the power of your team
Social entrepreneurship is hot, and there are various chains in the catering industry that revolve around it. The concept of Ctaste isn’t unique, Bas says. “But we (Bas and business partner Sandra Ballij) have managed to make it sustainable.” The restaurant is now entering its 15th year, and the first employees that were hired are still there to celebrate. Though a romantic candlelit dinner is impossible at Ctaste, the passion among its employees is certainly clear to see!

 Working with all senses
When you have dinner at Ctaste, you go from a bright reception area to a dining room that is so dark you need walk in line, led by the person ahead of you. The waiters are used to relying on their other senses to navigate. “So it’s up to them to really put people at easeease. It’s about so much more than serving food,” Bas explains. The kitchen is well lit, as the cooks need to see what they’re doing. “We work with seasonal dishes for the best taste experience, but as a chef you also know that guests can’t see anything you make. That has to suit you,” Bas laughs.

Giving a little extra
As a restaurant, Ctaste is similar to other places: at peak hours, the kitchen is under pressure to put in an elite performance, waiters have to run to keep up with the orders. But, at some points the concept does require a little more from people. “If someone has a nut allergy, you really can’t risk a mix-up. But you can’t use visual cues either. Communication needs to be extremely clear,” Bas stresses. “That also applies toother things, such as moving tables or moving items. That’s not an easy thing for us.”

 “As a chef you also know that guests can’t see anything you make. That has to suit you”

 A close-knit core
It is partly for this reason that Ctaste puts its team first. Bas: “We don’t just want to keep our knowledge within the company. Our team, and company, greatly benefits from continuity.” Senior waiters act as mentors for new blind employees, who often haven’t had specific foodservice training. This way, new staff doesn’t only learn the tricks of the trade, but also learns to be less apologetic, for example. “We want an open dialogue with all our staff, which isn’t only about work, but also about determining the atmosphere, the language and the type of behaviour that we think is desirable,” Bas says. Being the employer, he has role to play as well. For example, he has to be aware that new staff may not be on time, as they may run into obstacles on their way to the restaurant. Others may bring a guide dog, who will have to stay in the office and be taken out for a walk in between shifts. As an employer, you have to be able to compromise and show your loyalty. But that doesn’t mean you can’t set limits: “Just because we want to keep our team intact doesn’t mean we never fire anyone,” Bas clarifies. “Sometimes we need to, to protect our team.”

A future full of confidence
Trust and responsibility are key. “We want our staff to think along because they can teach us how to best approach certain things.” It’s how Ctaste knows they’re putting energy into the right things. “From dishwasher to waiter, we are all responsible for our guests’ overall experience,” says Bas, “on a successful evening, our team spirit is the strongest it can be!” 
Thinking about starting your own social enterprise? Bas shares his most important insight: “Make sure that people can really tap into their strengths. They need to be valued for making a powerful contribution to the company, and not because they benefit the concept, however sincere that may be. In a good team, everyone works independently, as equal colleagues, next to each other.”