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The anti-Tinder: Date With Eight wants to make face-to-face dating cool again

In an online-dominated, swipe-right era, modern day dating has become gamified, making finding ‘the one’ almost more of a difficult task than when the internet didn’t exist. But an Auckland-based dating events business called Date With Eight wants to change that and remove the screens getting in the way of face-to-face interactions. Founder Jess Page has a chat about why people are craving going back to basics.

Online dating apps are a modern-day phenomenon that took the dating world by storm, with more than 50 million people using Tinder worldwide in present day.

But while the app has been a runaway success story, it’s also faced a barrage of criticism for its effects on dating culture.

The gamification of the dating process (swipe right if you like the look of the person, swipe left if you don’t) has been linked to increasing a casual sex and hook up culture over the notion of a long-lasting romance, and in turn, this has led to dating app exhaustion for those looking for something a little more meaningful.

Users have also reported feeling a little bit tricked by apps like Tinder, Bumble and OKCupid, as what was initially sold as an easy and convenient way of meeting new people often is a labour-intensive, time consuming process.

Feedback shows that swiping through endless possibilities for matches is an exciting, titillating experience at first, but in time, it winds up requiring a lot of patience and effort to weed through the masses to find a winner.

As well as this, research is showing that technology’s integration into human experiences that are usually traditionally done face-to-face, such as dating, could be killing the art of the conversation.

MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle and author of the books Alone Together and Reclaiming Conversation argues that an in-person conversation is the most humanising act a person can do, but the prevalent use of phones is impacting on that.

“[Conversations are] where empathy is born, where intimacy is born—because of eye contact, because we can hear the tones of another person’s voice, sense their body movements, sense their presence,” she told the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkley.

“It’s where we learn about other people. But, without meaning to, without having made a plan, we’ve actually moved away from conversation in a way that my research was showing is hurting us.”

It was this kind of thinking that inspired Date With Eight founder Jess Page to found a business that would take it back to basics and solve the problems associated with dating apps and cultivate more real, human connections, without a screen being involved.

Check out our Q&A with Page below.

Idealog: What sparked the idea for DW8?

The idea really stemmed from the lack of opportunities for my single girlfriends to meet men. At the time I had a number of talented, intelligent, attractive women friends in their 30's who hadn't had much luck finding suitable partners. I would also often think about what I would do if I was single - would I be a Tinder user? Would I pay for an agency to match me? Would I scout Mr Right on online dating sites? I'm not sure, but I know that my friends have tried and exhausted a lot of those avenues and grown tired of it all. We love dining out in Auckland, so the idea to provide a service where singles can meet others while doing an interactive activity or dining at places that they'd normally frequent makes dating a lot more worthwhile when you know you're going to get great food, drink or activity. As well as that, there is less pressure on individuals to front up to another individual and the fact that everything is already organised for them makes dating easier. 

Did your own personal experience in the dating scene play a part in creating it?

In a way, my personal experience influenced my decision to go ahead with a blind dating format because I met my now husband on a blind date. I remember the nerves and excitement about meeting him and if I hadn't put myself out there and taken that risk, who knows what my relationship status would be today. 

How does DW8 work for participants?

It’s a really straight-forward model. Single people aged between 22 to 50 sign up on the website to gain access to all the events listed for the month. No information is shared between members: no profile pictures, no member-to-member communication. From there, members can choose events that appeal to them based on their age, what they like to do, want to do, where they like to drink and dine and what they're willing to spend.

Each date includes food and/or beverages or an experience so once they’ve selected a date that interests them, they book a spot by paying online. Before the event, the daters get a little hint of who to expect on the date; a list of first names, their ages and three words that they use to describe themselves. Members are encouraged to exchange details on the date if they’ve made a connection, otherwise after the date they can request someone’s details through me if they didn’t get a chance.

What makes it different to other dating options out there on the market?

Date With Eight is not a match-making service, but a dating events service. It’s been considered ‘the date scene without a screen’ since the focus is on making authentic and immediate human connections, so it works in reverse of dating apps where a text relationship usually develops first.

 One appealing difference is that everything is pre-arranged; the day, time, venue, inclusions and the people. It doesn’t get much simpler to meet a new partner, friend or companion. Although we do have the traditional dinner and drinks dates, I believe interactive dates are the most effective. We’ve have had cooking classes, cocktail making sessions, brewery tours, and next month we are introducing a Giapo Experience date where members will get hands-on in the kitchen making Giapo’s world famous ice-cream.

Date With Eight also promotes safe dating. No personal information is shared and and for those who are reluctant to meet strangers 1-1, they can date alongside other single friends to feel even more supported. Dating in this format is really relaxed, there is no pressure to respond to anyone in particular and often casual conversation within a group setting often shows more of who each person is rather than being under the spotlight with just one other person.

One of Date With Eight's past dates - Main Course cooking classes

Why do you think people are growing tired of the online-dating, swipe right culture that applications like Tinder have created?

Firstly, I know there are many people who have had great success in using online-dating apps and services, but think the majority of users are growing tired for a number of reasons.

For many, the novelty has worn off and for something that seems so immediate and easy, people aren’t benefiting long-term. Making a screen connection is incredibly easy, but just as easy to deceive and leave. Behaviours such as ‘catfishing’, ‘ghosting’ and now ‘haunting’ and ‘breadcrumbing’ are new words in Urban Dictionary all devised from negative online dating experiences.

Unless you follow up your online connection with meeting in person straight away, digital dating can give singles a false sense of who they’re talking to. People build up such an expectation of their potential partners via photographs and text, but are disappointed when they don’t match up in reality. It’s too easy to create an online persona and text talk, but holding an intelligent conversation, having banter and discovering genuine chemistry can only be done in person. There has been some research around how technology is killing our interpersonal and communication skills (particularly in millennials) and in many instances this could be a cause of daters being fed up.

I have a friend who met a girl on the dating app, Bumble. She reached out to him and for the first three weeks they texted each other and became quite involved, flirty and he thought he’d found a pretty good match. When they finally met for dinner he discovered that she couldn’t sustain a conversation or eye contact, she kept checking her phone and there were way too many awkward silences.

What do you think are the biggest drawbacks of this online dating culture, and how does DW8 differ?

Another drawback is relying on technology to be the first point of contact for something that is so personal and as important as finding a special someone.

Date With Eight differs because the focus on making a match is removed. I believe that creating opportunities where individuals can interact and be themselves without the pressure of needing to answer to a particular individual is a pretty natural way to start a relationship. This is just the initial introduction though. After their Date With Eight it’s up to the individuals to exchange numbers and set up their next date.



What’s it been like financially – have you had to make much of an investment to get the ball rolling initially?

In the testing phase, I’ve kept the risks pretty low by not involving any outside parties. Date With Eight is pretty much a one-man-band currently, having invested my own savings, time and sweat into getting the ball rolling. Five months down the track, I know the model works and I'm ready for the next phase of development which is where a larger investment will be needed. 

How does the relationship work with the venues you team up with for dates? Is it like a partnership?

It does work like a partnership and I’ve been so fortunate to have so many brilliant venues that have taken a chance on me. I certainly can’t run my business without them, so it’s important to build positive and trustworthy relationships with those that I choose to work with. Each venue is carefully considered before I book with them. They have to tick a few boxes to be a great group date spot: recognizable, reputable, affordable and have an overall welcoming and comfortable vibe. In promoting Date With Eight events, I also promote the venues and in return they will look after and host the groups when they come in. I don’t attend the events, so the venues must understand the sensitive nature of the booking and be comfortable with the unique concept.

What kind of feedback have you had about it so far?

It’s been so comforting and motivating to receive such positive feedback from the members and venues. A lot of the feedback has been about how it’s a great concept, a nice change from dating apps such as Tinder and how interacting with others while doing an activity or having everything arranged is so easy.

One member mentioned that it was nice to attend the first one with a friend and another said even if nothing eventuates it was a great outing and lots of fun meeting new people. This early in business the constructive feedback has been just as important. Every comment is considered and many have contributed to adjustments to strengthen the quality of service. Not having anything else in New Zealand to compare it to means that there is some trial-and-error, but I always knew that’s what would be required in this evolving business.

What’s the next phase of growth you’re moving into?

I’d love to think that this screen free, authentic, real-world format would overhaul the dating world and become the most prominent way of meeting a new partner, but I’m more realistic than that. The next phase will be to introduce user friendly digital elements to the process without abandoning the human connection focus. Introducing Date With Eight to other parts of the country is another natural progression, especially since I’ve already had requests from other New Zealand cities to start up there.