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Gay dating in San Francisco goes offline

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Thirty sophisticated gay men, mostly in their 30s and 40s, gathered in person at the private dining den at the Four Seasons' MKT restaurant Sept. 12 to enjoy a five-course meal, including steak tartare paired with Spanish garnacha wine. Most, however, were drawn there by the allure of a rarer delicacy: a reliable man.

"I wanted to meet people who were more sophisticated and grounded, men who enjoy the finer things in life," said Van Dao, owner of Embarcadero bakery Biscuit Bender.

"Not all of us want to meet a partner at Moby Dick's," said Marcia Gagliardi, prefacing the sit-down dinner-party-cum-speed-dating-event she organized as an extension of her popular website, TableHopper.com. Gagliardi has recently begun hosting singles events revolving around food and wine. The event at the Four Seasons was her first catering exclusive to gay men ages 35 to 55.

"It's nice to be out of the house and off Grindr," she said that night, very aware of San Francisco's gay dating black holes and conundrums.

Gagliardi credits snap judgments for making the singles bar scene and online dating uncultivable for individuals looking for a real connection.

"Sharing a meal forces you to spend more than 10 seconds getting to know a person before writing them off," she said. "It can lead to a great conversation and maybe find out that you actually have a lot in common."

According to a recent study conducted by the National Marriage Project, sharing common interests with your partner is a key indicator of a successful lifelong relationship. It may be why Gagliardi's event was so successful at striking 19 matches.

"It's important to meet people who are just as passionate about food and wine as I am," Dao told me at the event. The self-selected foodies and winos then at least had a basic compatibility to start off with, making it easier to kick-start and continue a bond.

Gagliardi, who gleefully boasts about seeing couples leaving her event together at the end of the night, cites another basic compatibility factor: that these men could all afford the event's $95 price tag.

"This wasn't a $35 beer buster," she said. "It was for men who have more sophisticated lifestyle habits."

In the age when our smartphones have become our most intimate life partners, it's refreshing to see a group of strangers eager to find a human connection. For single gay men frustrated with San Francisco's insular dating sphere, going outside the comfort zone, outside your allocated Grindr radar, to meet someone with whom you have zero mutual Facebook friends has its obvious rewards. Half the battle is showing up.

As for whether this in-person approach is more effective in the long run than the digital casting nets of online dating, that's up for debate.

"I did not match with anyone," Dao emailed me a week after the event, "but I am still very happy I attended and would totally do it again, if only for the great food and wine."

Currently, Gagliardi is planning her next singles event for women. "For the lesbian event, I'm thinking it'd be fun to do brunch," she said.

Oscar Raymundo is the head of marketing at a leading LGBT media company. Email him at oraymundo@sfexaminer.com.