I come at it from a non-judgemental approach and try and understand what it is that I can do to help others. When her marriage broke up, Jennifer picked herself up, brushed herself down and started socialising again, trying her hand at speed dating and internet dating. She found speed dating — an organised activity where people meet would-be partners through a series of short conversations — a strange experience, while internet dating left her feeling too vulnerable.
Potential clients undergo a telephone assessment first, then a face-to-face interview, which Jennifer is quick to point out is relaxed and informal. If the team feel there is someone on their books that is a suitable match, they will take the new client on. But, as Jennifer stresses, this only happens if she is confident she can make a good match. And the interview process is the best way of separating the wheat from the chaff. In seven years we have never had one incident, not even a hint of anything happening. We are very safe.
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People are investing physically, financially and emotionally in this process. It really does sort out the men from the boys, the women from the girls. They have made a decision to come to us, they are looking for a life partner, a soul-mate. Jennifer based her agency on the model of the now-defunct Dublin one she previously belonged to. She also went over to England to check out dating agencies there. And though she is currently single, she did meet a man whom she went out with for several years. I was meeting people on a one-to-one basis.
There was no juggling around or anything like that. It was all very respectful, secure, honest and transparent. I have to be ultra professional. Nevertheless, she admits that her clientele are still reluctant to go on record and talk publicly about their experiences.
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Our clients come from right across the board and we have memberships to suit all budgets and types. As time goes on that is building and building. For two years the fine dining was just a hobby for me until September last year when I registered as a sole trader. Now this is a full time job. Anyone wishing to take part in the dinner party must first arrange to meet with Liz in person. She takes up residence in the Wellington Park Hotel in Belfast most weekday evenings and asks everyone to bring a passport or driver's license with them.
Small touches like this are for everyone's safety. Next, Liz will spend around half an hour going through a form with the potential diner about their hobbies, likes and dislikes and what they are looking for in a partner.
Getting to know the individual will help Liz to introduce them to like-minded people. I might have met someone else who I think would make a good match and introduce them straight away. The meeting also enables Liz to make sure people are ready to start dating again.
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She has a strict rule that people must be divorced or separated for at least a year before they attend the dining club. I turned him down straight away. Guests are met with a Champagne reception before they sit down to a three-course meal. The gentlemen move two places between each course so most people have the opportunity to meet and chat over the course of the evening.
The next day Liz will phone to find out how many people clicked with each other.
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She will encourage dates, up to three so you can be sure, for those who got on well but didn't necessarily find each other attractive. There are no prerequisites such as educational qualifications or income. There are three people in the club who appear on the Irish Rich List and I didn't even know they were wealthy until I read it. We have all sorts of people, they just need to be single. It's been such a success Liz has also launched the Country Dining Club. Designed specifically for farmers or those living in the country. Diners have been known to come from as far as Donegal and Monaghan.
There are also social events open to non-members. Thanks to the Fine Dining Club there have been three marriages, two babies, more than 50 ongoing relationships and well over 1, dates. Liz modestly says she can't take all the credit. The first came from the very first club and I wasn't expecting it at all. Liz didn't expect the Fine Dining Club to reach that heights it has but she's looking forward to expanding to Dublin and elsewhere.
For her, this is a more honest form of dating. Liz completely agrees with these figures. It's one of the reasons I ask everyone for ID. When I tried internet dating I felt that all the men on it were married. Either that, or in their profiles they would say they were 6ft 2ins and when you'd met them in a coffee shop they would be 5ft 4ins. I'm a tall girl so there's a reason I look for tall men and I could never understand why they thought they wouldn't be found out.
‘I nearly turned the car around on way to dinner’
I heard Liz talking on the radio and phoned her up. You meet her in somewhere like the Wellington Park Hotel and she takes you through a form that will give her a bit of a feel for you. She seems to work her dinner parties around those who are around the same age group with the same interests. You do get a bit nervous before you go to the first one. I nearly turned the car around on my way there but I made myself go and as soon as I got there Liz put me at ease.
She took me by the hand and brought me to a group of people she thought I would get on with. I've been to three or four dinner parties now and I've really enjoyed each of them. I have gone on dates afterwards and Liz really helps you with that too. She makes sure you're wearing the right thing and that you're not too nervous.