These days, I have a lot of companies approaching 30 Dates. It’s really nice that the blog has built up a reputation for giving fair, impartial reviews of Dating Events, Websites and Apps, and I try to get around to reviewing as many as I can.
However I was slightly confused when a company called Society Dining contacted me. I couldn’t work out whether it was actually a dating event or not? The website describes the service as connecting ‘great people for dinner at the best restaurants’ for ‘effortless social encounters.’ To be honest I was still none the wiser.
On the evening itself, I asked a fellow diner what it was. He said it wasn’t a singles event, or a networking event – in fact tables were specifically arranged so that people from different industries got mixed up.
So I guess an introduction company? A way for people to make friends over dinner?
The premise reminded me of Table8, a dating company I trialled back in February, and have revisited several times. However Table8 is very clearly a singles company – only single guests are allowed, and the tables are split proportionately between men and women. Intrigued by the Blacks Private Members club event advertised on the website, I paid my £25 deposit, still not all that sure what I was signing up for.
A few things niggled me in the run up to the event. I was immediately signed up to a mailing list, and spammed with rather odd emails from Society Dining, including one inviting me to the event I’d already paid a deposit for.
I also noticed that when I bought a ticket for the 6 person event (and one for a friend), it said 3 tickets were available. After we’d bought our 2 tickets, 3 spaces were still being advertised.
Despite being keen not to make it a networking event, Society Dining are keen to showcase peoples’ professions on their website. Without asking what I wanted to be advertised as, I appeared on the event description as a ‘Writer’ (not actually my current day job). Obviously the organizer had already spoken to me in advance and knew about the blog, but I found it strange not to be asked what I wanted to be described as. Even stranger, my friend The Entrepreneur, who attended the event, noticed the organizer, Johnny, going onto her LinkedIn to find out about her. A few hours later she appeared on the website described as an ‘Entrepreneur & Personal Trainer’. The strange invasion of privacy was unsettling. And yes, whilst I appreciate it is information which is out in the public domain, I find it odd that Society Dining used these methods to find out what clients do. Why not just ask when people sign up for a space on the table?
To be honest, I’ve never used LinkedIn (other than to check people online dating are who they say they are!). The idea of mixing business with social media confuses me a bit. Whilst I appreciate it might make head-hunting easier, it’s always held an element of social bragging for me. Like Facebook for your CV. And whilst I get that LinkedIn profiles are open to anyone to view, I still find the idea of social creeping your customers so blatantly (LinkedIn tells you who has viewed your profile) a bit strange.
As for matching up people on the table according to their LinkedIn profiles … I don’t really understand how that works? Tables are open to anyone to buy tickets, and we can all package our CVs in tens of different ways to give various impressions of ourselves. I don’t think I could work out from a person’s CV whether I’d get on with him in person or not?
The company’s website explains that ‘Every table is verified by our customer care team for quality, diversity, chemistry and intrigue.’ Is that how they explain the LinkedIn stalking? And does that mean people get turned away from events?
On the day of the event we were sent an email to remind us of the details. It included a map to the venue. It was only on closer inspection that I realised the email required me to reply to say I was coming, and a phone number for me to text with my name. I’ve never had to confirm my attendance for something I’ve paid a ticket for before. I also didn’t really see the need to give the organiser my number, and again wondered why he needed so much information about us If I was running late, I had his number. More unsettling, the email hadn’t been sent BCC, so I had access to the email addresses of all that evenings attendees, and they had my email.
A quick glance of the names told me at most we would be 4 girls, 2 guys, and possibly 5 girls, depending whether ‘Michele’ was a girl or a boy.
Having only paid the deposit, I have to admit, had I been a genuine customer thinking it was a dating event, I would probably have forfeited the £25 and not bothered going out for dinner.
I didn’t forfeit. I jumped on a train into London, and met up with the Entrepreneur at Picadilly Circus, a short walk from Blacks. The private members club isn’t far from the West End, tucked in a dark corner on a busy street. We were met by an quirky maître-de who bustled us in, and introduced us to the Society Dining table.
Johnny, the company’s founder, had done his research (unsurprisingly!). He knew everyone’s name, face and occupation and admitted to being thrown by the fact that one of the girls had dyed her hair. Again I found it a bit too awkwardly intimate – I don’t want the organiser to have researched me! Yes, sometimes in a large group, it can be nice to have someone do a brief round-robin of names, but with just five other diners, I’m perfectly happy to introduce myself before I sit down.
Keen to showcase his knowledge, Johnny introduced me and The Entrepreneur to the table, complete with details of our jobs (or rather, what he knew about my writing). It was slightly weird, because no one else was introduced to us, so I had no idea who half the table were, or what they did. However I was more caught up in the fact I was introduced to the table as a blogger. Personally it’s something I find really unsettling. Whilst I’m completely honest about what I do, I like to set the tone of the conversation, and explain what I do properly, not have it be the opening fact to define me. In fact it later transpired that Johnny had given one of the guys at the table my blog details before the meal too.
Johnny makes a point of staying around until the starters are served.
Again it made me feel awkward.
I was beginning to wonder if it was just me – had he rubbed me up the wrong way in the run up to the event? I know I’d already been ruffled by the odd invasions of privacy and the tone of one of the promotional emails I’d received (‘Smile, it’s stickly ;P’ ???!!!). But as he sat, trying to help make conversation flow, perched awkwardly at the table as a seventh wheel, it felt as if the conversation was more stilted because the ‘staff’ was still there. It reminded me of the Cable Car dating, when the dating coach hovered over me in the confined space, listening to every word I said.
I would normally describe myself as confident and bubbly. I’m more extroverted than introverted, and am comfortable in most social situations. And yet the odd introduction, and having the event organiser perched opposite me as I spoke to the other guests just made me feel so awkward, that I withdrew. It’s like a switch flicked, triggered by one of the few situations, which makes me become quiet, and withdrawn and awkward.
I fixed a smile, and waited with bated breath for Johnny to leave, and the table to relax.
And sure enough, as soon as he left, the atmosphere changed completely!
Everyone was suddenly a lot more vocal and honest about stuff. Both the guys had been to Society Dining before, and admitted to not having great experiences. Whilst everyone around our table was single (something I had expected, as I can’t imagine many people in relationships going out to dinner with a group of random strangers), one guy described a particularly weird table where a married couple had attended.
Both the Entrepreneur and I had assumed that at least one of the guys was a friend of Johnny’s, however both men described how Johnny had approached them over LinkedIn and asked them to join a dinner.
Interestingly, a few days later I actually noticed Johnny directly targeting a dating coach I know over Twitter too.
It was at that point that it dawned on me that maybe he hadn’t actually been approaching me to review the event. Maybe he had approached me on Twitter in the exact same way he approached all his potential clients …
Does he try to invite people from different circles, in the hope they will share their experiences with different online circles? A weird company structure based on the word of mouth surrounding the event, rather than the actual event.
If he hadn’t been actually looking for a review, it would explain why he didn’t offer me a complimentary place at the event (something quite standard when you’re asked to write a review). I guess I’m so used to companies contacting me for a review, that maybe I’d been confused by his advances. Maybe it wasn’t a dating event, and I was just another punter? After all, if the events are neither dating events, nor networking events, literally EVERYONE is eligible to be a customer.
What an odd way to market!
Both the boys explained that after their first Dining event Johnny had added them as Facebook friends, and frequently messaged them asking them to attend dinners.
As with all singles events (not that it’s apparently a singles event …) getting men to sign up is a struggle, so he apparently had asked them on several occasions to bring male friends.
It was all rather odd!
I still hadn’t worked out what it was … other than an excuse to try a different venue, which we wouldn’t normally have access to. And a way for the organiser to broaden his personal social media network.
The venue was really different. I’m always intrigued by private members’ clubs, and Blacks had a lot of character. The food was nice enough, and not overly expensive for that area of London – I paid £45 for three courses and two glasses of Prosecco.
Johnny had suggested we take a tour of the upstairs of the club, however this was refused due to Health & Safety issues.
However other than that, I really liked the venue. The table was fun enough – the fact we were all single gave us common ground for discussion, and we each shared Tinder horror stories and profile photos. Whilst it’s true, the other probably weren’t people I’d have met or socialised with under other circumstances – I *guess* the idea behind the event (?!) – we did have a fun evening.
I have to say I found 6 quite an awkward number at the table of strangers. With 8, a table breaks more naturally into 2 conversations, and with 4 everyone can be involved, but with 6 we only really began talking as one table towards the end of the night when everyone had drunk a bit and got a bit more confident, so it was easier to find yourself left out of conversations at the start of the night, because threes can be a more awkward number to conduct a conversation in.
I had a nice meal, and a relatively interesting evening, but I wouldn’t do it again – the stories the boys told from previous events (and the fact they described our evening as the best one they had been to) didn’t inspire me with confidence, and I was still left with a rather uncomfortable feeling about the organiser, and his approach to social media and the company idea itself.
Both myself and the Entrepreneur left describing the evening as ‘all rather odd’ – even after 3 hours, we still didn’t really understand what we had attended.
And sure enough, the next day the organiser added the Entrepreneur on Facebook! (but not me – probably because I’d already sent an email complaining that he hadn’t hidden our email addresses! And because I don’t have the world’s best poker face when someone makes me feel awkward!)
The one plus side of it all – the evening inspired me to write a post for the Huffington Post about the correct way to approach bloggers if you want them to write a review for you! A must read for any entrepreneurs and start up companies out there, thinking of getting free PR and Marketing via bloggers.
Miss Twenty-Nine xxx