It’s Not Online Dating. It’s Social Pairing.
Socialize with your social network? What a concept.
Social pairing takes all those profiles and all that location-based data and creates real-world connections. KLM lets you choose your airplane seatmate from LinkedIn or Facebook, and Ticketmaster does the same for concert tickets. But nothing pairs like social networks and food. Food is the original social media juggernaut. Our dining history is documented in OpenTable and Foursquare, our likes and dislikes are recorded in reviews on Yelp, we tweet about our favorite dishes, and post pictures to our Facebook profiles.
Despite all of our online communities—or maybe because of them—we yearn for offline connectedness, and food is the natural place to find it. Great or humble, the best meals are the ones we share with others. New social pairing applications are leveraging existing networks and creating new ones to add genuine social engagement to our social media connections.
Group dining sites like GrubWithUs and BlendAbout facilitate something like a smörgåsbord of blind dates. More low-key, with fewer strings attached than traditional dating sites, the dinners are held after work on non-date nights, and typically bring together a table of eight. Dinners can be strictly social or tagged for specific hobbies or industries, and diners link their RSVPs to photos and profiles.
GetLunched is on its way to the U.S. on the heels of its UK success. It integrates LinkedIn profiles into old-fashioned business networking. Job hunters, advice-seekers, brainstormers, and collaborators can extend a lunchtime invitation that specifies ‘I’m Buying,’ ‘You’re Buying’ or ’50/50,’ depending on the value exchange of the meeting.
Personally, I enjoy a table for one; just me and my meal—no extraneous conversation, no one asking me to switch to the tuna because they’re already ordering the lamb, no presumptive fork sticking into my dessert. But it would appear that many women don’t. It makes them feel awkward or lonely, dredges up painful memories of the middle school cafeteria, or they could be traveling in a country where it’s frowned upon or even dangerous. Men are strictly banned from the women-only social pairings of Invite for a Bite, Maiden Voyage, and Global Dinner Network.
Zokos calls itself a ‘collaborative party platform’. It takes the group beyond restaurants with DIY potluck dinners, picnics, tailgate parties, and cooking classes. You can designate yourself as host or guest, and zokos brokers the invitations, collects the ‘chip-in’ costs, and oversees menu contributions so you don’t end up with 8 pasta salads.
If the hours-long commitment to a meal with unknown companions is too much for you, how about a cup of coffee? Over Coffee pairs up compatible coffee drinkers, and plans to open their own bricks-and-mortar café to bring together strangers for caffeine and conversation.
For another take on not dining solo, check out Gigabiting’s Shoulder to Shoulder with Strangers: Dining at the communal table.
Gigabiting: where food meets culture and technology.