Metro Today - March 7, 2020

It may be a group date to cherish

Four men. Four women. All of them strangers brought together for an evening of dinner and drinks. In the fast-paced city of Toronto, many singles are trading in impersonal dating services, such as online matchmaking or newspaper personal ads, for the intimacy of face-to-face interaction. Entrepreneur Liisa Vexler first took note of a dinner-dating trend while she was living in the U.S. where companies offering the service were in abundance. When she returned to Toronto, the idea of starting a similar business was brewing in her head. She was confident it would flourish and decided to take the plunge. Vexler was right. Within weeks of opening Dinnerworks, which she describes as a "casual and stress- free" way to meet people. she was already coordinating her first dinner. Now, one year later, Vexler's home-based business boasts about 500 regular clients. Prior to sending out invitations to dinner guests, Vexler scopes out various restaurants looking for places with good ambience that also serve tasty food and offer quality service. Her roost recent dinner was held at lrie Food Joint, an intimate, low-lit eatery located on Queen St. W. Planning dates are quite simple. Singles fill out questionnaires and, based on the information that they give, Vexler attempts to bring together groups of about eight who are all in the same age range and who share similar interests. At lrie, the men and women start trickling in. For first-timers, they are surprisingly at ease with one another, casually introducing themselves and falling effortlessly into conversations. They meet and greet, have a drink and then it's time to dine. On this particular night, the conversation is flowing well, but it's too early to tell if any sparks are flying. "It's an interesting idea," said one man who asked not to be identified. He said his hectic schedule and owning and operating his own business makes meeting people difficult. One woman standing nearby overhears and quickly agrees. "I was so busy all the time," she said, adding that between raising a child, working and going to school, there was little time for a social life. "The reason I am here is because, well, I certainly have hopes of meeting someone, even if we just become friends," she said. "Tonight is an average night," she concedes, admitting she's developed a keen sense that tells her how a night is going. "I can usually tell if there's a connection. "My philosophy is the more people you meet, the more people you can meet," she said, explaining that even when romance doesn't bud, friendship circles are often expanded. And she should know. Vexler has held at least 50 dinners, and she's heard some interesting stories of friendship and love. Although one group didn't make any love matches, the women became instant friends. Tanya Enberg/MetroToday