Hungry singles gather at one of Toronto's many hot spots for a multiple course meal that comes with accompanying dates. Once a dish is consumed, the gents move to the next tantalizing table.
"It's good because if you are not immediately interested in the person you are dating you have a conversation starter with the food," says Meredith Hopper, events and public relations coordinator for FastLife.ca.
Singles who seek out the food-infused events usually complain about the same thing: speed dating is too quick and there are too many people to remember. With Tasting Dating participants get 12 minutes with no more than 20 dates, which means more time to establish a love connection.
Justin Parfitt, CEO and founder of FastLife International, which covers 43 cities in Canada, Australia, the U.S. and the UK, has organized his fair share of speed dating events, and in one particular case time was not an issue. "We call it the eight minute club. It happened at one of our events in Australia where a couple had gone to the toilet to shag within eight minutes of meeting."
Ever since that incident, the dating events in Australia no longer offer open bar service. But Torontonians' legendary reserve prevents participants from getting too carried away, so the spirits flow freely.
"It's a little like a high school dance," says Nick Iozzo, 32, a retail real estate manager who has attended a couple of FastLife events. "The guys are all on one side and the girls on the other, until they get some drinks in them and start to mingle," he says of the 30-minute cocktail warm-up that precedes the dinner. "But the food and wine is definitely a catalyst for more stimulating conversation."
At Toronto's Aphrodite Cooks, co-owners Stephenie Summerhill and Vanessa Yeung bring singles together through cooking classes. "Our concept works because we bring people into an environment that's very relaxed and after about 15 minutes, they forget they're even at a singles event," Ms. Summerhill says.
Want to get cooking? Find out where to cook and date on the next page ...
The classes at Aphrodite are broken down by age group and are categorized for straight, gay and lesbian singles. (They are the first ones to offer this service to the gay and lesbian communities.) Classes range from preparing gourmet hors d'oeuvres to full family-style dinners, and participants are put into groups of six, each with their own recipe to follow. The one constant: once the stoves are off everyone mingles over food and wine, and chats up the hottie of their choice.
At the end of any given evening, whether it's a class at Aphrodite or a sit-down meal organized through Dinnerworks, a service that arranges dinners for groups of 8, 10, 12 or 24 singles, the organizer is always available afterwards to play Cupid.
"If anybody wants to speak to someone and they didn't get the opportunity to do so at the dinner, they come to us and we help facilitate that connection," says Susan Kates, president of Dinnerworks, which operates in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver. "They can send us an e-mail and we will help get the message to the other party. This way there's no awkwardness at the end of the night."
Organizers may try to minimize bruised egos, but social circles run deep, and wide. "Six degrees of separation seems to happen quite a bit at Dinnerworks dinners," Ms. Kates offers. In her case, this has resulted in people reconnecting with old high school chums or learning that they live within a few blocks of one another.
For others, it hasn't been quite so charming. "Once we had a woman come in late for an event," Mr. Parfitt recalls. "When she looked around she turned completely white. It turned out that her ex, who she had literally just finished divorcing, was there."
Mr. Iozzo had a similar experience. "At the first event I attended two of the ten women there knew me. And one of them had recently traveled to Miami with my ex." Perhaps some dirty secrets had been leaked.
"The reality is, most of the 20-to-35 age group lives in a certain neighbourhood of Toronto, and the bulk of it is within a two-and-a-half kilometer radius of King and Spadina."
Address notwithstanding, many people welcome the opportunity to make new friends, even if there isn't a love connection on the horizon. "It's a great way to be social, whether you meet a guy or not," says Ashley Lauren, 26, a hairstylist and regular Aphrodite attendee. "I'm hooked." She may even be in love.
Aphrodite Cooks: Cooking classes for straight, gay and lesbian singles
Dinnerworks: Brings together groups of like-minded singles for sit-down dinners.
FastLife.ca: Offers a range of speed dating events, including the new Brunch Club and Supper Club.
It's Just Lunch: Dating service that organizes lunch, brunch or after work drinks for busy professionals in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver
Meet Market Adventures: A wide range of singles events including Sushi Making, Thai Cooking and Gourmet Chef Cooking & Wine Night in major cities across Canada
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