Speed Dating Cuts First Impressions Down to 3 Minutes
Three-minute dates don't leave a lot of time for lingering looks or holding hands, but Andy Miller of Alexandria has his own tactics as he chats with Aline Presley of Springfield. Later, attendees find out whether anyone they fancied expressed a mutual interest.
Once upon a time, the gold standard of efficiency on the singles scene was the speed dating party, where, for a fee, a roomful of hopefuls worked the room, spending seven minutes with each prospect before moving on to the next.
The problem: Busy singles in Washington and other cities said those seven minutes could feel like an eternity, particularly if they'd had the bad luck to show up on the same night as a platoon of nerds and losers.
The answer, according to a group of entrepreneurs, is 3 Minute Dating, a new, even speedier version of the dating party that can make those old seven-minute parties look languid and romantic. And what better place to try the new concept -- call it Warp Speed Dating -- than in the target-rich environment of Washington, D.C., an area full of workaholic singles, and, more specifically, in Arlington, where more than 40 percent of the residents live alone? That's one of the highest percentages of singles in the country.
On a recent night in an upstairs room at the Crystal City Sports Pub in Arlington, a group of women sat at little numbered bar tables in the dimly lighted room, while the men swapped seats, musical-chairs style. Party host John Phillips would eye his Timex Marathon stopwatch, yelling, "Switch!" precisely every three minutes, occasionally adding a "No lingering, please!"
At Table 4, things don't seem to be going well.
Brent Sykes, an Alexandria Realtor sporting a goatee and a gold chain the size of a garter snake is trying to chat up Amy Knowles, 36, petite brunette.
With Phillips's watch ticking, Sykes leans forward in his chair. He's flashing his dimples. He's saying, "I'm a sun worshiper! I'm like a plant! Last Wednesday and Thursday I had to get the Harley out of the garage! My bike, it's a hog."
Knowles eyes him skeptically.
Phillips, 42, a former Internet salesman, had been looking for something fun to do after the dot-com bubble burst. Recently, he acquired his 3 Minute Dating franchise for $5,000 from its Chicago area founder. He threw his first event in February for 50 singles in their thirties and forties.
Groups such as FastDater Inc. and HurryDate are also hosting three-minute dating parties around town.
"The truth is that there are single people everywhere, and the key is getting to them and marketing to them," Phillips said. "Arlington and Alexandria are obviously pretty hot places. We're probably not focused on the 21-year-olds of the world. We're more focused on the 31- to 45-year-old crowd."
Jeff Voigt, 43, a stockbroker from Annapolis, said he liked the fact that he spent $40 and met 15 professional women in about two hours, because his demanding job leaves him with little free time for socializing.
"I'm an 'efficiency weirdo,' " he said.
Others found three minutes a bit short. Participants were given a piece of paper to keep track of who was who during the whirlwind.
"So what they'll do is take a second and write their little notes -- 'Like him,' 'Didn't like her,' 'Bad breath,' " Phillips confided, breezing by with a microphone in hand. Sykes, the real estate agent, wrote down "Cute blond" about one woman he had met. Knowles dismissed a man who might have been wearing a toupee with the single word, "Hair."
Another man was hunky, tall and broad shouldered, wearing a blue suit and soft baby blue T-shirt underneath. But . . .
"He was dull, " Knowles confided, while in the bathroom during a break.
"Boring!" agreed her friend, Aline Presley, 36, a diversity coordinator for ExxonMobil in Fairfax County.
"He wouldn't wear his name tag," Knowles said. "I'm like, 'Don't you want to be here?' "
"Oh, you know you want him, Amy," Presley said, checking her teeth for lipstick marks.
At the end of the evening, participants listed the first names and numbers of those they'd like to see again. If there's a "match," Phillips notifies the couple within a few days and provides contact information so the matched pair can set up a future -- and longer -- meeting.
Afterwards, Knowles and Presley lingered at a corner table, beers gone warm, going over their notes, deciding whom to put on their match list.
"Are you going to put Number 3 or not?" Presley asked.
Mr. Sun Worshiper gets the ax. Curiously, Mr. Dull and Boring makes the list of both Presley and Knowles, so in a few days they'll learn whether he wants to meet them. Each wants to give him a chance to prove he has a personality in the "real world," as Presley put it.
And he is a hunk, after all.
"We're showing our shallow side," Knowles said, smiling. "It's just a big game."