Somewhere in her classic 1964 guide to cosmopolitan life, Sex and the Single Girl, Helen Gurley Brown advises single women on how to host the ideal dinner party and she suggests, in addition to the hostess, the perfect line-up: Two listeners, two talkers, a celebrity, and a charity case. With a similar stress on creating just the right chemistry but with one additional dinner guest a year-old dating service has decided to attempt to organize the ideal dinner. Yet another effort to capitalize on a widespread exhaustion with Internet dating is 8 Guys Out, which brings eight men together for drinks and dinner. The brainchild of two women, Jocelyn Fenyn and Robin Koocher, the club boasts that people, not computers, plan our dinner partiesand, indeed, 8 Guys Out depends on a personal, in depth, over-the-phone initial interview as well as a detailed application form in order to ensure that dinners are comprised of compatible gents.
Initially geared to men over 40 years old and with incomes upwards of $50,000, 8 Guys Out has evolved over the last year as it seeks to bring together what it calls mature and sophisticated gay guys. Although their Web site notes that the dating service is targeted toward over-40 guys, recent New Yorkarea radio advertisements do not mention those parameters. And whereas a year ago their application form did not really seem to allow for people with under-$50,000 income levels to join, that restriction seems to have been lifted, doubtless in the interest of expanding clientele. So long as you can fork over the fee (membership plans range from $245 to $695), you can find yourself in at what 8 Guys Out calls an A-list restaurant with other guys who want to meet in a civilized, relaxed environment.
I went undercover to see how 8 Guys Out worked and attended two dinners (both Fenyn and Koocher as well as their staff were aware of my investigative reporting but the other seven guys on my outings did not). The first meal involved meeting at a seafood restaurant in midtown New York City, and the range of guys was impressively variedin an upscale sort of way. After drinks hosted by a representative of 8 Guys Out, who cheerily greeted us at the restaurant, our groupa dermatologist, a Web designer, an administrator at an auction house, a Wall Street broker, a photographer, an artists agent, and a computer executiveretired to an intimacy-enhancing oblong table in a cozy corner of the restaurant.
We had all been chosen because of our shared interest in the arts. The food was terrific and the conversation was better than livelyand, this being the close-knit village known as New York Cityit turned out that the agent was currently a patient of the dermatologist. (No matter, they took the opportunity to arrange a future appointment.) Our waiter seemed terribly bemused by his tableful of dating gay guys. The conversation was spirited, a mix of arts-talk and entertainment-world chat, and the atmosphere seemed ideal for low-pressure schmoozing, flirting, andfor somecourting.
The chemistry was so good, it occurred to me that a stranger might have mistaken our group for a table of old pals. The agent, fine-featured and talkative, with a fetching Sir Lancelot haircut, seemed to get most of the tables attention. At the end of the meal, individual checks were distributed and business cards exchanged.
After each dinner, a representative from 8 Guys Out phones each attendee and tries to find out how the meal went and whether there were any love connections to help negotiate.
At the second dinner I attendedat another somewhat pricey mid-town restaurantthe food was just OK and the chemistry between the assembled guys rather less successful. It turned out that one of the risks of catering to upscale guysand only a few weeks before a divisive presidential electionis that a random gay Republican might turn up and ruffle some feathers. Our token conservative affably tried to defend the president, the table chat got a little tense, and a forced conviviality permeated the rest of the meal.
A noticeable chill seemed to end our dinner. Something about our physical location in the restaurantisolated from other diners in a corner as if we were a group of impossible-to-integrate hyperactive childrenadded to the awkwardness of the atmosphere. I began to yearn for the artsier crowd at the first dinner. It might have been my imagination, but the card-exchange at the conclusion of this second meal felt a tad perfunctory. But who knows? One of the strangest aspects of this kind of dating is that, for all one knows, the Republican might have later made a match with the diehard liberal who served as his antagonist at the table.
8 Guys Out now has branches in several citiesLos Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Ft. Lauderdale. Fenyn, a former executive at a major network, and Koocher, a veteran of Internet marketing, decided to form Dinner Introductions after attending a business trip to Wimbledon. Eight of the travelers were single and throughout the trip they would meet for dinner at a different restaurant each evening. According to Fenyn and Koocher, the process of getting to know each other seemed effortless and so, back in New York, Dinner Introductions, designed for straight folks over 40, was born. Shortly afterward, Fenyn and Koocher decided to expand into the gay community, where they have stood out in what is emerging as a somewhat crowded field of gay dating services. (In fact, one of their former associates recently jumped ship to start his own dating service.) But getting the word out for 8 Guys Out has not always been easy. Fenyn and Koocher told me that a number of radio stations have refused to accept their advertisements.
Perhaps because my two experiences as an undercover dater were so different, I decided that the best way to get to know more about 8 Guys Out was to talk to one of its long-time members. The agent from my first dinnerIll call him Lancewas happy to oblige over drinks at the Meridien Hotel, where, after a few cosmos, I outed myself as a reporter doing a story on 8 Guys Out.
Lance took it like the cool dude I could tell he was. He then told me that, given how busy his schedule was, he didnt have time to go to bars and wanted a friendly but serious way of meeting other gay guys. I think theyve definitely gotten better at matching people, Lance claimed. It seemed that last year it was less clear that the service was, oh, I dont know, more than an opportunity for meeting people with whom you could play cards. But after the age of 40 I think a lot of guys want to meet a soulmateand thats definitely what most of the guys Ive met are looking for. Lance still had a few dinners left on his membership and he was excited about them. Its a great concept, even if they havent worked out all of the kinks quite yet.
And its an upbeat approach to urban dating that Helen Gurley Brown surely would have saluted.
For more information on 8 Guys Out, go to www.8guysout.com