Bachir Miloudi / Sputnik Photography
Valentine’s Day is right around the corner
Swipe right, swipe left. How tall are you? How much money do you make? How recently was this photo taken? Swipe, Swipe, Swipe. Today’s dating scene is flooded with the ease and comfortability that online dating offers. From the comfort of the couch, bus or even lecture hall, one has the power to see prospective love interests right then and there. However, is this form of virtual modern dating really the best option for finding the one?
Apps like Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and Grindr promise a meaningful connection with multiple people without the pressure of meeting in person. These apps are impressive in that they provide their users multiple options for dates. A user can modify their search requirements to fit their exact needs and only speak to a very specific type of person.
With a world of options available at their fingertips, are people enjoying the glitz and glam of online dating still? Samantha Bendo, the owner and operator of Happy Hour Speed Dating, disagrees.
“My stats show that people are just sick [of online dating]. People are open to an alternative because online dating sucks,” she said. “It is the simple fact that online, people don’t know how to have conversations.”
Happy Hour Speed Dating is a speed dating service started by Bendo that was her brainchild while she was on maternity leave from where she worked as an insurance agent. During this time, Bendo was working at a friend’s bar and noticed how empty it was on weekdays. As a bartender, Bendo also noted that people do not know how to talk to one another anymore. She heard horror stories from her single friends about online dating and she thought, “Can I try this out?”
From there, Happy Hour was born, and it came at a time when people needed connection the most.
“It was very perfect timing because COVID was slowly ending, and people were willing to go on patios,” said Bendo. “The bar gave me an opportunity to try it out, so I didn’t really have anything to lose.”
During COVID, according to a Statistics Canada survey, one in five adults reported moderate to severe symptoms of depression, anxiety or PTSD. This increased to one in four adults in 2021 and stayed like this for the next two years. Bendo, working at the bar during this time, recognized that “mental health was at an all-time low at that point.”
In addition to wanting to attract people to the bar, Bendo saw this as an opportunity to bring people together and encourage them to meet in real life.
“I create a safe, very relaxed atmosphere where there’s no pressure,” said Bendo.
Since Happy Hour opened in 2020, Bendo has expanded from the City of Hamilton to other surrounding areas like Kitchener and Niagara. In this time, she has seen people at her events share meaningful connections with each other and with her.
“There was a lady who was a widow and she hadn’t dated since her partner had passed away,” she said. “She said to me that she was so grateful for my events because it helped her dip her toe back in and boost her self-esteem, which I thought was really sweet.”
Happy Hour’s speed dating has a simple set-up focused on connecting with new people. Events are posted on Eventbrite and Happy Hour’s Instagram. People sign up and the cost is $38 for each event. Once an event is full, Bendo sends out a form the night before the event, which is a compatibility test of sorts. It asks questions like, “How do you like to spend your Sundays?”, “Do you like to travel?”, “Do you want to have kids?” and of course, the deciding factor, “Do you like pineapple on pizza?”
At the event, guests sit across from one another with cards that have everyone’s names on them. The guests have five minutes to speak with each other before deciding to give the person in front of them a check mark and move on.
“I always joke that if the five minutes feels very short, it means you’re enjoying the conversation, so you should probably say yes to that person,” said Bendo. “If those five minutes felt like an hour, then you should probably say no.”
At the end of the night, all the cards are handed in and Bendo sees who said yes to whom.
The next day, Bendo will email the guests with the names and phone numbers of the people who said yes to them. From there, it is up to the person to reach out.
Even if people do not make it to the altar or even a second date, Bendo believes that speed dating is worth the time.
“I do think that even if they don’t find their perfect match, just the fact of you putting yourself out there and talking to people that you haven’t talked to before builds a sense of confidence and you’re trying something new,” she said.
Bendo’s speed dating services has events for most age groups. She has events for ages as young as 23 and go up to 65. The largest age group is 23 to 35, although she has recently hosted her first 50 to 65 age group events and she was pleasantly surprised.
“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into because these age groups don’t go on the internet, so it’s very hard to advertise to them. But I’ve done two events and they’ve turned out pretty well,” said Bendo and during these events, she learns more about the dating scene. “AI is going to mess things up because there’s a lot more bots, especially for the people that were in my 50 to 65 group. They were telling me that they get scam artists all the time.”
In her experience, Bendo said she thinks speed dating is a more rewarding experience than online dating.
“It’s more enjoyable than swiping. You get human interaction, and I think speed dating makes it easier to have a second date because, one, you’ve already met them. They know what you look like and you know what they look like, so you’re not catfished,” she said. “Two, you have already talked so you’ve already broken ice and then three, I think that because you have to choose each other to get your phone number, this sets a positive tone for a date because you’ve chosen each other.”
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, Bendo encourages people to come to her events with an open mind and heart, without any expectations of finding a husband or wife. The only expectation should be to have a new, fun experience that is not sitting on a couch swiping.