New online services are putting the thrill of the chase back into bars.
I recently agreed to a group blind date with three straight, single, ready-to-mingle women. I knew nothing about them, except that they were BFFs. My only task was to bring two single male friends to round out our reservation, made under the name “Kristen,” a pseudonym. This was the work of Grouper, an online match-making service that pairs two groups of friends together with the mission “to end loneliness.”
By the time I reached legal drinking age, it was no longer necessary to leave the house if you wanted to hunt for someone. The idea behind services like Grouper is to take the convenience of meeting people on the Internet and move that connection to the real world. The company’s mantra: “Offline is better than online.” It brings the fun, and the possibility, of meeting new people back into bars, where expectations are low, spirits are high, and conversations aren’t a series of Emojis.
With its popularity growing in the U.S., Grouper landed in Toronto in late 2012. You sign up using your Facebook account, and fill out your basic info. You’ll be asked about your tastes using a sliding scale: Do you prefer someone older or younger, dive bars or fancy clubs, Jersey Shore or philosophy? More pertinent is your endgame: Do you want to hook up, meet fun people, or find “the one?”
Once in the database, you await invitations to hang at a Grouper-selected “cool lounge or bar” downtown, including the Firkins, Hair of the Dog, and Habits Gastropub. If you accept, you’re responsible for recruiting two “wingmen” to triple the possibility of a connection. After you’ve confirmed, each person lays down $22, which gets you a drink, and the location and time are revealed. My date was set for a Thursday night at Riverside Public House on Queen East. And that’s all you know until you show up for 3-D face time.
But some daters would rather avoid that in-person interaction, at least straight away. Enter Introdooce, a Toronto-born, location-based app. Launched last month and available for free in the iTunes or Android stores, Introdooce allows users to pull up menus from a list of establishments—like Bloke & 4th, House of Moments, Kultura, and Dirty Martini Oakville—so you can “send a gift” (say, an actual drink or calamari) if someone strikes your fancy. This can happen not only from the other side of a bar, but also from the other side of the city. (Users can save the gift for later or redeem it on the spot; to do so they just show their server the screen.) “I’ve been witness to the challenges of dating online versus actually meeting in person,” says creator Ashkan Kouchak, who believes that gifting accelerates courtship. “A lot of these guys are good-looking and established, but in person they don’t have the character to meet girls or introduce themselves.”
Photo: courtesy of Grouper
It might sound like a failed Facebook experiment, but Introdooce is quite brilliant in that users can opt out of the dating pool altogether. If you can’t attend a BFF’s birthday, you can still send a drink from another country. If you’re missing your significant other, you can send his table a round of beers. More exciting to me is that Kouchak is expanding to include floral deliveries and e-books, all without compromising user privacy. There are even same-sex efforts, with budding partnerships on Church Street. After its first weeks, the app has almost 2,000 users, mostly in Toronto.
And my Grouper date? Total hit. Yes, participation required some capacity for extroversion (even if it’s feigned), but that awkwardness created a bonding moment. There was another sextet a few tables down that joined, making for a diverse dozen of chatty singles, aged 22 to 33, that included an equity-derivatives banker and a record-label exec. One threesome in our assemblage was on its second successful Grouper, and a recently transplanted Irish lass told me the “strength in numbers” aspect made it easier to meet friends outside of Toronto’s “silly, segregated bar scene.”
“If you want love, you gotta pay,” said one of my Grouper gals as she downloaded Introdooce. I know others who’ve had misfires, though—perhaps the girls I met felt cheated because they were hoping for a raging heterosexual, not me. (After two months in Grouper’s queue, I switched my preferences to “seeking women” and was matched the next day.)
You’ll see a lot more blurring between online and offline dating in the future. Already, singles mixer #CrushTO uses a numbering system and Twitter to connect guests at its monthly parties, and Match.com is introducing The Stir, offering members “large-scale happy hours” and wine and tequila tastings. Although my attempts at offline love were flawed at best, I walked away from my Grouper date with two Facebook adds and a phone number. At least friendship never ends, right?