Stephen Sachs had a busy night ahead of him last Sunday. He was going to be dating 16 women, all in about two hours.
The Reston resident had first heard about speed-dating on the radio, and the idea intrigued him. So there he was at McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant at Reston Town Center, one of 15 men about to meet 16 women through Brief Encounters USA, a six-minute dating service.
"You really can't tell if someone is your soul mate in six or seven minutes, but you can tell if someone is right for you," Sachs said. "You get to meet a lot of people, and you're thrown out of your comfort zone."
This was Sachs' first time at a Brief Encounters event, but he had tried similar services before and has met people he continued to see outside of the speed-dating environment. "But I haven't found 'the one,'" he said.
FINDING THE ONE is not necessarily the point. Renee Fisher, co-owner of Brief Encounters with Susan Cohen, both of Arlington, said people attend their events for different reasons. Some are looking for a person they can begin a relationship with, while others are just looking for a fun evening and the opportunity to meet people in a casual setting.
Each event has an equal number of women and men. Everyone is assigned a table number, with just one couple at each table. When the "dating" begins, the couples sit at the tables they are assigned and chat for six minutes. After five minutes, either Fisher or Cohen rings a bell once to let the couples know it’s time to wrap up their conversations. After the sixth minute, the bell rings twice, and men rotate to the next table.
Each person receives a folder containing the first names of the participants on two sheets of paper. One is for the person's own notes about the people he or she meets. The other is turned in with his or her "selections," representing the men or women, as the case may be, the person connected with and with whom he or she would like to have "further contact." Fisher and Cohen then e-mail, within 48 hours, contact information to couples that had a mutual match. At no time are the participants supposed to exchange last names or phone numbers during the event.
"I like the idea of being able to meet a number of people face-to-face. I've tried match.com and found out the photos aren't always up-to-date," said Gay Ashley of Fairfax, a first-timer. "Tonight I'm here for the experience. I think everybody here wants to meet somebody. I'm not sure that's the same in bars."
IT WAS THE INABILITY to find suitable places to meet people that led to Fisher and Cohen’s creating Brief Encounters in 2000.
"We are both in our 50s and divorced and were appalled at our choices to get out and meet people," Fisher said. "I had heard about Jewish groups speed-dating."
Fisher and Cohen open their events to everyone and typically have them take place in a casual restaurant setting. At first, they targeted people over 40 but soon expanded and now have events for various age groups beginning with the early 20s, with each event targeting a specific range. The most popular events are for age ranges 30-45, said Fisher. Sunday's event was aimed at the 40-53 crowd.
Even though the idea for the service sprang from the desire to meet people, neither Fisher or Cohen uses her own events to meet potential mates.
"Susan tried it once, and women asked her why she was doing it," Fisher said. "I haven't done this because I'm in charge, and I don't want people thinking I'm competing with them."
Fisher said she has tried other speed-dating services, and on occasion, a man at her own event will approach her afterward. "I've met people and been on some dates."
She said there have been "several marriages, engagements, committed relationships and people moving in together" as a result of a Brief Encounter event.
"YOU REALLY CAN tell if there is that spark or interest in the first few minutes," said Chip Justis of Leesburg. "Like with match.com, you have to go to dinner, and you know in the first few minutes if you get along. And if you don't, you're stuck there for a couple hours with nothing in common."
Fisher and Cohen hold dating events in the Washington, D.C.- and Baltimore-metropolitan areas. Fisher said they will be expanding into New York and Annapolis, Md., later this year. There is a $35 fee for dating events, and $40 for special events such as wine tastings.
For more information about Brief Encounters, visit the Web site at www.briefencountersusa.com.