First I need to tell you about the Smeeting. Then I’ll tell you about the ‘scandal’. Then I’ll tell you Smeeters’ response. And then I’ll let you make your own decisions.
But all I can say is Thursday night was probably the weirdest night I’ve had in my entire 30 Dates experience so far! ….
Last weekend, as part of my 30 Blind Dates Around the World, I went on a double blind date in Amsterdam. It’s actually my first ever proper double date. Normally double dates are reserved for established couples, as opposed to complete strangers, however the dynamic actually really enhanced the experience.
I was travelling with friend, and fellow blog writer The Coincidental Dater, and so it made perfect sense to turn my Dutch blind date into a double date. Neither of us particularly fancied our dates, and we both acknowledged that had either of us been alone with either of the men, the date wouldn’t have stretched beyond three hours. But instead, as there were four of us together, the date ran late into the evening, and spanned nine and a half hours
Extra people meant extra conversation, and a less serious tone to the evening. We took it in turns to lead conversation, and being in the company of a friend really helped to keep the tone relaxed and fun.
With that in mind, The Coincidental and I headed off to another group date on Thursday night. Accompanied by a friend of mine from primary school, we had decided to try out Smeeters – the European rival to Grouper. Whilst Grouper began in New York, Smeeters started over in Paris. It’s perhaps a bit of a chicken and egg discussion to work out which came first, but essentially both companies do the same thing. They allow you to sign up, whilst at the same time linking up to your Facebook account. You then invite two friends to come and join you on a group date. The company supplies you with location details, and then you go along and meet three guys with whom you’ve been matched.
Regular blog readers will know we’ve had very mixed experiences with Grouper.
Organisation wise, the app was brilliant. It allowed you to either invite friends over Facebook or by phone, and it had lots of handy services, including an interactive map to the date venue, a Concierge message service (which was instantaneous on the night), and ways to give feedback on the night at the touch of a button. Grouper runs a loyalty scheme, where you can earn points for going on group dates, and recommending friends, and then these can be redeemed for extra Grouper services. Unfortunately, despite the link to our Facebook pages, we weren’t overly impressed by the ‘matches’ we were set up with on either date. Particularly on our second Grouper date, which was allegedly bespoke. The bespoke date was even worse than our initial date, to the point where we were left wondering if we had been sent on the wrong date.
After our disastrous second date with Grouper, I decided to try out Smeeters UK – the company’s European rivals. I’d noticed an ad for Smeeters some time ago, and sent the company a speculative Tweet. They got in touch and agreed to send me and two friends on a ‘Smeeting’ for free.
My initial impression of the ‘app’ is that it isn’t actually an ‘app’ – despite being described as such on Facebook and in a number of articles. When I think of an app, I think of a square I can click on my iPhone, which simplifies down a website, and allows me to access the most important parts quickly and easily. As such, Smeeters doesn’t have an app. It is purely a website.
This comes with limitations. My two wingwomen for the evening – The Coincidental and a school friend who regularly reads the blog – both signed up, but apparently neither signed up ‘properly’ to join the Smeeting. All a bit confusing, and ended up with me having an inbox full of emails to say our Smeeting was incomplete. On this aspect, the Grouper app was a lot clearer as it simply showed who hadn’t paid / registered yet.
There were some things I really liked about the Smeeters website. After the ill-matched Grouper, I really appreciated a page on the Smeeters site which asked exactly what you were looking for. The pictures and classifications were funny, and the questions simple, but detailed enough to hopefully guarantee a decent match-up.
Our Smeeting would take place at Drink, Shop, Do at King’s Cross. I’d never been there before, and so was excited to check out a new bar. Both the Grouper locations had been great, and quite upmarket, so I was keen to find another London drinking gem. Drink, Shop, Do has a very ‘Shoreditch’ feel. A rather hip bar, located out the back of a gift shop, I could tell immediately it wasn’t a very ‘me’ type of place (I’m nowhere near that cool!) however I did keep my geeky glasses on, something I rarely do on a date, to feel more in keeping with my surroundings!
Like Grouper, Smeeters normally costs £15 per person. On our first Grouper date, we were given a list of cocktails around the £10-£12 mark which we could have as a free first round. The host at Central and Co (our first Grouper venue) had happily substituted me in a glass of Prosecco when I hadn’t liked any of the options. At our second Grouper Date, at Mr Fogg’s, they’d told us up front that £10 per person would be taken off our bill at the end of the night – simple!
Drink, Shop, Do were far less accommodating. Our ‘first round’ had to consist of either a glass of house white, a glass of house red, or a bottle of Sol. Max price £4. Disappointing, when the Smeeting cost the same as the Grouper, and particularly disappointing, when my school friend was driving, and they refused to give her a free Diet Coke in place of a wine or beer!
Our dates arrived, and I could tell from my friends’ reactions that none of us fancied any of them, though on first impressions they all seemed fun and up for an entertaining evening. There were a few awkward moments, because the table we were on was so big, that it was really hard to hear from one end to the other, and on a couple of occasions, we said things, only for the guys to say something a few minutes later which made it clear they hadn’t heard us. As a result, the table often split into two conversations, which wouldn’t have been a problem, had me and my school friend not been frequently stuck chatting to the ‘Ringleader’.
One of the rather awkward things about a Grouper or a Smeeting, is that by the very nature of having one ringleader, who ends up leading his or her group of 3, people assume you two are the only ones who have matched. Having now been on 3 of these style dates, I can categorically say that isn’t the case! However it can be really frustrating (and school-kid like), when as an automatic conversation topic, the other guys suggest that you two have been a match for each other and want to know why.
If I was in any way matched to the Ringleader, there are serious issues with the algorithms!
Now, I’ve always said I’d never be rude about a date on 30 Dates, unless he was rude to me or other people on the date. But in over 100 first dates and dating events, I have never met someone like the Ringleader.
First I need to tell you about him. Then I’ll tell you about the ‘scandal’. Then I’ll tell you Smeeters’ response. And then I’ll let you make your own decisions.
But all I can say is Thursday night was probably the weirdest night I’ve had in my entire 30 Dates experience so far!
The Ringleader quite clearly had issues when it came to women and dating. Early on, when the boys were explaining how they know one another, they explained they’d recently been on a ‘Divorce Stag Weekend’ to celebrate the Ringleader’s divorce (hmm….) . And as the night progressed, it became increasingly clear that he was in a pretty dark place still when it came to women. To be honest, I found it odd he’d been the one who had engineered the Smeeting. He had really extreme views when it came to online dating, and ‘not meeting people the real life way’, and if I didn’t know better, I’d have expected his friends to have dragged him along to the Smeeting, not the other way around.
After a very weird, aggressive argument about why Tinder is rubbish, and why we should all be meeting partners out in the real world (wouldn’t that be great!), I decided to come clean about the blog. They had asked me what I do for work, and so I explained that I work in banking during the day, but that I’d also just got a job editing the Guardian’s dating blog, off the back of the dating blog I’d been writing since last July – the 30 Dates Blog. The two other guys seemed really interested, and one even followed me on Twitter right there and then. Meanwhile, the Ringleader shrugged, and said, ‘I didn’t think you were gonna tell them. I knew already. My cousin is Kate from Smeeters – she asked me to come along and show you guys a good time!’
To be honest, it kind of made sense. I’d been surprised early on when the boys had said none of them had been on a Smeeting before. I’d had a lot of email conversations before the date with Smeeters, about our previous Grouper dates, and over email I’d been told our dates wouldn’t be our ideal of ‘preppy rugby boys’, but that they were guaranteed to be a lot of fun – which I’d taken to mean they were an experienced Smeeters crowd. The other two boys had also mentioned that the Ringleader had paid for them to come on the Smeeting. He then explained that he’d been given it free by his cousin, to come along and impress the journalist, because the company had received a lot of bad press recently.
At this point, rather tipsy, and pretty peeved that it was all a set-up, I tweeted, including Smeeters in my tweet, and expressing my surprise that the evening was a set-up. Surely in order to write a proper review, we should be on a group date with 3 genuine Smeeters customers? And whilst I always tell people I’m writing for the blog, it’s very different to have someone acting a certain way to give you false impressions of a company, or its success?
From then onwards, the night went downhill. When he found out about my tweet, the Ringleader got increasingly angry with me. ‘Take it down! You’re going to cause so many issues with my family.’
I explained that I write an honest blog, with honest reviews of what happens at any of the events I go on (remember when Simplicity3 tried to bribe me with a vibrator??!!) but he carried on getting more angry and aggressive.
The other two guys (who to their credit seemed really nice and normal) tried to change conversation. They had been called the Ringleader ‘Fritzl’ all night, and then tried to explain where the nickname came from – essentially him disappearing with a girl one time when they were on holiday. Unfortunately the story only lowered the tone further, and led to the Ringleader making really creepy jokes about locking us in his basement, and the women he keeps in cages, for the best part of an hour.
By this point, all three of us girls had stopped talking to him. He’d been aggressive and argumentative throughout the evening, and unfortunately completely undermined any good work done by the other two guys. Interestingly, the flip side of the Group Dating Dynamic was truly that one bad apple can spoil a bunch.
Never in my life have I stopped looking at a man, making eye contact, or speaking to him midway through a date. I was literally ignoring him, because it had become the safest thing to do! And the other girls were doing the exact same thing.
When we called for the bill, the other boys tried to split it, but the Ringleader took stubborn, aggressive charge, not letting any of the boys contribute to the service charge. He paid for three drinks, and nothing more, leaving The Coincidental to argue with the waiters about a free soft drink, and then grudgingly paying the service charge on behalf of the entire group.
Before we left, the Ringleader looked me creepily dead in the eyes, and said ‘She’s not my cousin, right. I told you that. If they ask you, I told you that.’ (This came after several attempts to get me to keep what he had said earlier a secret.)
I shrugged it off, and we left without saying goodbye. What an awful night!
My school friend and I headed off to meet The Rebound Gal at Love & Lust’s Playboy event (which she’ll be writing up soon). It was half past ten, and we’d lasted more than 2 hours at Drink, Shop, Do, in spite of the company.
The next morning, I received a rather weird email from Smeeters asking 1) What my Tweet had meant, and 2) Telling me how disappointed the Ringleader had been that we had another event planned that evening.
I restrained my rage at the tone of the email (what I do after 10pm on a Thursday night is no one’s business! As a friend later pointed out, it wasn’t like we were being paid to be there!). I replied, explaining what the Ringleader’s comments and behaviour, and that we’d stayed for 2 rounds and over 2 hours, which is more than a lot of dates last.
I then received an email from Smeeters declaring that The Ringleader hadn’t known about the blog, and that he’d been genuinely shocked to hear about it, and had emailed them to ask if they’d known I was a journalist. The email didn’t state that he wasn’t Kate’s cousin, and interestingly the first email hadn’t mentioned his issues with me being a journalist. I didn’t reply, and about an hour later a member of the Smeeters PR team phoned me.
To her credit she sounded far more normal than the Ringleader, and perfectly reasonable. She explained that the Ringleader wasn’t related to any member of the Smeeters UK team, that they would never set up a Smeeting for the press, and that they couldn’t work out why he would lie like that. He hadn’t known I was a blogger, and had emailed them that morning to complain about me being a journalist and the fact we’d gone on to another event afterwards. Apparently his Smeeting hadn’t been free, so again she couldn’t work out why he/ his friends would say that.
And so …. I’m left trying to work out who was lying and who was telling the truth.
Maybe we just got dealt a very weird date, and the guy lied about his links to Smeeters. The Smeeters PR lady suggested perhaps this was his reaction to realising he would be written about on the blog (which interestingly, he would never have been, had he not 1) told me about his link to Smeeters, or 2) been so incredibly aggressive and creepy on the date).
Or maybe it really was a set-up and the PR team are doing their best to cover it up. The Ringleader had been pretty damned upset when he found out about my Tweet.
I have to admit to trying to do a bit of Facebook research before writing this post! I tried to see if I could find any links between the Smeeters staff and the Ringleader, but without his second name, my research couldn’t stretch very far – so your guess is as good as mine.
What a highly bizarre night!
I did try to see if the ‘bad press’ about Smeeters he talked about came up with anything, and to be honest most of the write-ups I read were pretty mediocre.
It is a good idea, though I do think Smeeters need an app, and that at the moment Grouper pull it off better because their app is so sophisticated. I didn’t like the date venue, and thought the ‘first round free’ was misrepresentation, as we were forced to have one of three drinks, and they were a LOT cheaper than the ones included in our Grouper.
I’ll let you make your mind up about whether The Ringleader was just a very weird lier, or whether there was more to the story. But either way, I think Smeeters may want to review some of their marketing …. Check out these pics I noticed on their French and English Twitter accounts, and spot the difference!
Doesn’t inspire me with great confidence!!!!
Miss Twenty-Nine xxx
Developments After The Smeeting
1) Smeeters clearly listened … a day after I posted this blog post, they changed the names of the people on their UK Twitter account!!!! 🙂
2) 3 weeks later a group of girls contact the blog to say they’d just come back from a Smeeting with The Ringleader, and had a similarly awful night with him and his friends, and agreed with everything from the blog. The confirmed the boys had said The Ringleader had lied about being related to someone at Smeeters.
3) I posted a follow up post, which I removed after ‘The Ringleader’s girlfriend’ (we think it’s him) sent me an extremely aggressive rude email, offering me a threesome with them, among other things.
4) The next day another girl emailed me, asking if The Ringleader’s name was Keith, saying she thinks she has been dating him, and wanted to check if it was him or not.
So loads more twists and lies ….!