By Sutton Eaves
A lawyer. A plumber. A market analyst, and two junior auditors. A massage therapist. A broker. And a journalist. We stand in a semi-circle around the bar, sipping pre-dinner pints and glasses of house red, waiting for the last to arrive. Angie, the host, tells us to talk amongst ourselves, but her suggestion is met with silence.
The group exchanges expectant glances, waiting for someone to break the ice, which grows thicker with every passing, quiet minute. Finally, Kevin, the market analyst, speaks.
“So, is everyone from Toronto?” he asks everybody and nobody in particular.
“Sioux Sault Marie.”
We each take turns going around the circle, like timid adolescents in our first game of Spin the Bottle, saying where we’re from, where we live now and what we do. The lawyer, tall and blonde and looking quite fit under his collared dress shirt, is cautiously running his eyes up and down my skirted figure.
Angie rescues us from the awkward charade and directs the group to a table. Relieved at not having to recite any more inane details about ourselves, the group wanders over to our table where we are confronted with our biggest obstacle yet: the seating arrangement.
For most of us, this is our first time out with Dinnerworks. An idea cooked up by 28-year-old owner Liisa Vexler, Dinnerworks is a singles dating service for people aged 22 to 72.
For $149 a year, plus the cost of dinner and a nominal service fee per meal, single men and women in the Greater Toronto Area can dine with seven strangers iin an attempt to find love, make new friends or even develop business contacts. The first of its kind in Canada, according to Vexler, Dinnerworks attracts more women than men (a 60/40 split) and each passing month doubles the number of new members.
Ottawa-born Vexler prefers to call it a “personal networking service” because the 500-odd active members of Dinnerworks have many motives for joining, not all of which are romantic.
“Many people are new to Toronto and just want to meet people. The underlying reason is usually dating but there are others too.”
Sarah, the massage therapist, says that meeting people at work isn’t always “appropriate.” Jennifer and Selina, recent business graduates from the University of Toronto who came to the dinner together, “are tired of knowing the same people.” Phil, the chiselled lawyer for the Bank of Nova Scotia, just wants to “make new friends.” But his roaming blue eyes betray his real intentions.
As wine glasses are drained and plates scraped clean, conversation flows more easily. We talk about traveling and British Columbia (two of the attendees are natives of the latter), Prisoners of War and the Oak Ridgers Morraine, federal taxation and the demise of the mortgage business. At 11 p.m., more than an hour after the final dishes were cleared from the table, the remaining seven (Dave, the plumber, left early)of us yawn pointedly and look at our watches, Sarah noting that the second-hand was ticking dangerously close to 12.
“Jeeze, if I don’t go home now I’ll never get up for work tomorrow.”
Bundled up in wool and goretex, we such on complimentary mints outside the restaurant, stomping our feet against the cold. Phil propositions me bravely.
“Why don’t you take a cab with us to Avenue Road?” He, the auditors and Kevin, the market analyst, all live in the same area. And while we discussed the frustration of rollerblading on the boardwalk over supper, he seems to have forgotten that I live in the Beaches. I decline politely and wave as I head towards the streetcar stop, foiling his final attempt at romance.