One in a Crowd

Why do singles groups meet at restaurants?

You've heard this one before: There are two kinds of people in this world...

Of course, the second half of that statement differs depending on the situation. For example, John Adams divided people into "those with the commitment and those requiring the commitment of others," whatever that means. Hell, we're not even sure he actually said it. We didn't want to spend time researching the matter, so we quoted from the musical 1776. Then there's the rich and the poor, the daring and the French, priests and pedophi...no, that doesn't work.

There's also the married and the single.

Personally, we see nothing wrong with a Tuesday night spent lounging on the couch munching Triscuits from a box, swigging whatever liquor we can reach without stretching. It's the sort of behavior that defines the independent, self-actualized male.

OK, so we picked up the fancy language in grad school and applied it out of context. It's just easy for singles to slip into a pathetic routine--or so we're told--and difficult for them to manage dinner for one without a "want fries with that?" query somewhere in the process. Perhaps that's why so many singles groups use food as a catalyst for social interaction.

"That's really what it's meant for," confirms Ed Bamberger, executive director of The Single Gourmet. "Why dine alone when you can be with friends?"

Hmm...We're guessing because your friends wouldn't be too impressed by a slovenly meal of crackers and vodka.

His point, however, is valid. Groups such as Single Gourmet, It's Just Lunch and Eight at Eight reintroduce singles to table manners. They also force singles to intermingle with people outside narrow professional circles. "It's a desire to meet new friends and expand your network with people that have a common interest in good food, good wine," says Michelle, a member of Bamberger's organization.

We sat next to her during a dinner event at Ferre in the West Village and noticed immediately one of the flaws inherent in a dinner engagement: She's cute, and we had spinach protruding from our front teeth.

While It's Just Lunch sets up a date between two people clearly interested in a relationship--after all, they're paying for the service, which means...never mind--participants of Eight at Eight, a pairing up of four men and four women for dinner at various restaurants, and the larger Single Gourmet gatherings downplay the dating aspect. "Everybody's different," explains Heather Robertson, membership director for Eight at Eight. "Some want friends, some want to meet a soul mate and some are looking to try new restaurants." A person living in, say, Plano may never venture down to Knox-Henderson or Deep Ellum on his or her own. Join a group, however...

"If I don't get to meet people, I get to know places," says Alfonso, trying out an Eight at Eight event at Deep Sushi.

The two organizations vary in other respects. Single Gourmet never revisits an establishment during the year. They also plan excursions to Tuscany, Provence and other distant attractions associated with food and wine. Eight at Eight targets mid-range restaurants for the most part: Samba Room, Maguire's, Il Sole or, on occasion, a comfortable upscale place. "We're not here to break the bank for dinner," Robertson explains.

They also appeal to different demographics.

Single Gourmet draws an older crowd, mid-30s to mid-60s. Not a sedate crowd, mind you, just older. In fact, the last table to clear out of Ferre was the most "experienced" (their word; we just about blurted "elderly," but they threatened to unstrap their L.L. Bean cotton web belts and whip us).

The elders--hah--were involved in an age-old discussion: why men never call.

Which brings us back to the point of this week's Burning Question. Members may seek friendship, new restaurants and networking contacts, but they are still singles events.

"When you're doing Match.com, you don't get a second look," says Kristen, sipping a drink before Eight at Eight's assembly at Deep Sushi. "Here, these guys are trapped and required to give you a second chance, learn your personality." So pay heed to manners, Bamberger advises. Don't dominate the conversation, don't appear needy, don't order the limburger and garlic appetizer.

Oh, and don't order that sixth martininini. Martini. Gives Michelle the impression you're just a lowlife drunk with a gob of spinach etched permanently to your molars.

Besides, it's not really about the food, the wine, the vodka. Hooking up with a group of singles over dinner "is just a good social way to do things," Bamberger says.

"This is friends, networking," agrees Mark, new member of the Single Gourmet crowd. "The food, it's an added benefit."

And for the Burning Question crew it beats evenings spent slouched in a pile of shredded crackers and empty Monopolowa bottles, dozing off to a comforting, monotonous drone of white noise.

Those nights just remind us of editorial meetings.

 
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