Juggling a career and a social life can be difficult to master. By the time you commute, make dinner and catch up on your favourite Netflix series; there’s limited time for singles to mingle. Belfast-native Liz Doyle has the perfect solution.
Having spent 20 years in London, she came home to find, “all my mates were married, all my mates had small children, and I was very much at a loose end socially. I was invited to things, but come 9:30 pm, the hostess would look at her watch; wondering about children and babysitters. I found myself going home at quarter past 10 on a Friday night, thinking, ‘I’ve put my makeup on, I’ve got my high heels… I’m all done up and nowhere to go.” It was time for her to meet someone new, and in her efforts to find ‘the one’, Liz managed to help others find love too.
She launched the Fine Dining Club in 2008; a bespoke dating service for professionals who are too busy for online dating. It’s been a huge success, with seven weddings, six babies, two engagements and six couples in long-term partnerships. "We have another wedding coming up in July," she says. Unlike dating websites and apps where the people you’re chatting to could be lying about themselves, Liz meets all potential clients in person. She makes sure they’re lovely people; finds out their interests; before introducing them to potential dates at a dinner party.
"We make sure people are who they say they are, that they’re not odd, or strange..."
“I’m seeing you, you’re sitting in front of me. This is not a photograph of you from 10 years ago, at your best angle in soft lighting with your make-up on. We make sure people are who they say they are, that they’re not odd, or strange, and they’re not going to turn up in a tinfoil hat and antenna. I always ask for I.D. and if you can’t show me I.D., you can’t join us under any circumstances. It’s important for everyone else’s safety as well as my own.”
Photo: Liz Doyle
Liz receives applications every day and interviews people about their background; where they went to college, where they’re from; whether they have brothers and sisters; and more. She figures out which people have things in common, and then she arranges a dinner party. “The dinners are in groups of 12 to 16. I do name places at the table because I might want you to meet James, John and Joe. After the first course, I move the men around the table because I’ll also have Paddy, Jim and Sean. So you’ll meet six different guys in the one night.” The next day, Liz will give you a call to see if there was anyone you clicked with; if so, she'll encourage you to go on a date.
"You can’t sit in a dark corner surrounded by your girlfriends. That isn’t going to work."
You need to be prepared to put yourself out there, Liz explains, whether you join the Fine Dining Club or not. "People say to me, ‘I go out on a Saturday night and I don’t meet anybody.’ First of all, you can’t go out in a big group of girls, and secondly, you have to stand at the bar. You can’t sit in a dark corner surrounded by your girlfriends. That isn’t going to work," she says.
"But also, you need to go about your daily life. When you’re in the supermarket, or the garage, or in Centra for a paper; smile and look around you. I think people forget you are having interactions with people every day. It doesn’t have to be on a Saturday night in the bar when you’re all dressed up. The most flirting I get is when I’m out walking my dog. Get a dog! People will come up and talk to you all the time. They’re great conversation starters. That’s how you meet people. It’s in situations like that, not in a bar."
"Sometimes when you’re single, divorced or widowed; everyone in the world seems to be married."
If chatting with people when out and about seems daunting; joining Liz for a dinner party seems worth it. She makes a genuine effort to ensure her clients are comfortable and relaxed. "I’ve had to pick people up at home; I’ve had to go down to a bar, pour a brandy down a gentleman’s throat and say ‘come on, let’s go’. It’s a very personal service. If they’re very nervous I sit them beside me. I’d say, “Grace, this is Jonathan. He’s been here before; he’s a very nice, easy-going man. I’ll introduce you to him because he’ll make you feel at home'. We always have a mix of people who’ve been before and people who haven’t, so not everyone is new and not everyone is terrified," she explains.
“It’s lovely to walk into a room and know that everyone there is single," Liz says. "Sometimes when you’re single, divorced or widowed; everyone in the world seems to be married. Or you think everyone in the world is married. It can be a bit lonely. But there are lots of us; here’s a room full of us.”
Photo: Brooke Winters, Unsplash