Toronto Star

"Make a date with dinner" October 9, 2020

Make a date with dinner JON FILSON THERE IS nothing quite like saying "I love you," with your mouth full of salmon. But what do I know. I would love to say I have a canon of dinner-date Sam Malone-esque experiences to tell you, but understand I am from Saskatchewan, and wooing there is a simple exercise: all you need is a half-ton truck and the latest plaid and you are a ladykiller. Shelling out for dinner is when you are celebrating something, like the birth of a child, which usually happens while dating anyway. That is how people end up getting married there still, the old-fashioned way. Guys often hand out cigars and exclaim, "I'm getting married!" In Saskatchewan, this is called multi-tasking, because killing two birds with one stone gets taken too literally. Toronto, of course, is far more advanced. So advanced it has got a thing called Dinnerworks, whose slogan is "4 men, 4 women, 4 dinner." It should be "4 dinners," which would be fun because then 8 people would be forced to share plates. I also think it could be "4 men, 4 women, 8 dinners and 1 cheque" - the person deemed least likeable would have to pay for everything. This would play out better on television. I am tired of game shows that only reward people: incompetence should be equally punished. If voted off in Survivor, you should be forced to remain on another desolate island until the winner is crowned, just without being filmed. Speaking of punishing incompetence, let us return to the subject of dating. My whole life, this is what I have learned: * Don't order the same beer as the girl you're out with. Only shame ensues when you grab hers by accident. * Make sure you offer your date gum, if you're having some, after you have dinner. The only thing worse than hearing, "Hey, that's my beer," is "Weren't you going to offer me any?" Especially if it's the first date. * You know you're on to something (and hopefully someone) good when you do both those things, and she keeps going out with you, and eventually moves into your apartment and starts drinking your beer, presumably to get even with you for drinking hers so many months ago. Your girlfriend moving in, incidentally, which mine just did, also signifies the official end of your dating life, because now you are "living together." Although for some I understand it begins again after you get married, and get a secretary. Or according to the movie Unfaithful, if you just get bored and meet someone French. Liisa Vexler, of course, knows all about dating and dinner - "I could write a sociological study" - because she's the one who runs Dinnerworks, which is one of those urban things that brings single people to a place where they can talk to each other, which is desperately needed, as we know, because unless someone specifically condones conversation in this city, it is otherwise not allowed. In a sense, Dinnerworks is the opposite of speed dating - so nine minutes ago. What Dinnerworks does is put a group of eight people together, hands them a drink and lets them mix, and then lets the gang chat over dinner at a swanky restaurant - last month's was Vavoom, on Queen St. Unlike speed-dating, you do not have to get to get up every few minutes, unless you have a bladder problem, although Vexler does suggest that people move once a night so they can chat with everyone. "It's a slower pace," she says. "Some people actually want to get into the meat of a person. People want to see manners. You can tell a lot about a person if they hold a fork with their first, or if they chug their drinks." Vexler advises people should avoid messy foods, like some pastas and foods you eat with your hands (food that you eat with other people's hands is more of a third date thing). Plus, you should order a starter, a main and at least coffee after, "because then it shows you are interested and that you want to stay." You especially don't want to become That Cheap Guy Who Just Ordered The Soup. Vexler calls it a networking service, emphatically not a dating service, although she admits 90 per cent of the people who have joined are single looking to meet "dates or mates." Spanning all ages, more than half, she says, recently moved to the area and the service is most popular with those in the 30 to 45 range. Most also say they are too busy to meet anyone any other way. The cost is $169 up front, and then $15 a dinner, plus you cover your own meal and drinks. When it comes to picking the restaurants, Vexler says she has a checklist - an intimate setting, a round table if possible, eight separate bills have to be provided, and with eight strangers at the table, you don't want a hovering waiter becoming the ninth. Dinnerworks launched here in January, 2001, and now more than 600 people in the GTA are members. Vexler has since opened a Dinnerworks in Ottawa and licensed another in Vancouver, and is offering cooking classes for singles as well. Which is a smart move, because if you are single in this city, everyone tells you to join a cooking class or to take up yoga. A cooking class taught by a yoga instructor would evidently be the biggest meat market in town. Ultimately, Dinnerworks is for people who prefer a crowd to more private conversations. Steven, a 42-year-old accountant, has been to "seven or eight" dinners. He has yet to get a date from any of them, but has made numerous business contacts and made friends. "We're all there for the same purpose," he says, dismissing any awkwardness. "I think a one-on-one drink date is far more intimidating than something like this. It's a very comfortable atmosphere and situation. If worse comes to worst, we can talk about the restaurant." The night is a fun, casual dinner party, says Lesley, who has been twice. "If you join this kind of service, usually you've been on a lot of dates," the 29-year-old says. "So it's generally not an issue. I was pretty surprised - everyone was articulate and easy to talk to. You don't feel any kind of pressure at this. A date (from the night) is a bonus." But not surprisingly, the best reviews come from the Dinnerworks Web site, One testimonial from "Lisa K." says that "Rich, Lesley and I made plans to get in touch the next day" and perhaps go out on the weekend, which makes me think Rich did very well at Dinnerworks indeed. Actually, if this two girls and a guy story is true, Rich is probably giving Dinnerworks enough word of mouth all on his own, so much so that I don't need to write any more. But in case he forgot the phone number, it's 416-483-1312.