People drink outside a bar.

Caitlin Ochs | Reuters

A handful of twenty-somethings stand outside The Gin Mill, a bar in New York City, trying to get past the bouncer. But instead of just creating IDs, anyone who wants to get in has to show they had a dating app on their phone.

The singles event, hosted by the dating company on Thursday, is a fixture across the city. The company runs its eponymous app, which has all the features of a normal dating app, but with a twist: it’s only available once a week, on Thursdays.

The company unlocks the option to match every Thursday at midnight and people have until the end of the day to connect with and message other users. It creates a sense of urgency. In an effort to actually get people out of the house, Thursday that same evening is organizing face-to-face meetings in New York and London, where the company is based.

At the end of the day, the slate is wiped clean and all matches and conversations disappear. And next week it all starts again.

The company’s app is part of a new wave of dating experiences that encourages people to meet in person rather than just messaging other users. And it’s an example of how new apps and legacy apps are embracing the end of pandemic restrictions and a desire to connect, hoping to forge deeper relationships.

Breaking up with pen pals

For several years now, dating apps have been just a platform to connect people with each other. In most cases, a user swipes left to pass someone or right to show interest. A matched pair can send messages. It is up to the couple whether they want to meet. But often users complain about a “penpal” situation, where they message for several days or weeks and a personal date never materializes. The conversation gets out of hand.

“It’s hard to get chemistry through text, sometimes it’s better to see someone face to face,” said Ron, a 32-year-old who refused to share his last name because he didn’t want to make his dating life public. at Thursday’s event.

Or, as Matthew Bunch, 22, put it bluntly, “Those apps can suck a–.”

But with the Covid-19 pandemic came a new look at the apps. As meeting in person became a risky or impossible option for many, dating apps focused on video, audio, and gaming experiences. With people starting to re-enter the dating scene and several health restrictions have been lifted, the latest focus seems to be on getting people back together.

The features can help attract a group of users who may be getting burned out from constant swiping or want to ignore the apps completely and choose to attend events to meet people in person. Some Thursday users said they are ignoring matching on the app, instead using it to get into the events.

While more people are using dating apps than ever, analysts believe there is still room for growth. In the coming years, the global online dating market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 13%, reaching nearly $10 billion by 2025, Piper Sandler wrote in a January note.

By hosting these in-person events, companies hope that consumers will interact in a way that hasn’t been done with online dating yet. The events could attract more people to the apps and convince them to spend more on premium features, such as improving their profile or getting unlimited swipes, and telling success stories to friends.

Match, part of Match Group’s portfolio, has been working on developing Meet, a feature it hopes will take people from online to face-to-face dating “without necessarily going through the traditional loop of sending likes and waiting for matches and spending time in conversation.”

“I think the next phase in dating apps, and what we’re exploring, is really about rethinking that dating experience, especially how to bridge the gap and connect people in a more natural and organic way,” says Match’s lead product and tax official Dushyant Saraph said in an interview. Match Group also owns Tinder and Hinge, which have focused more on in-app social developments.

Bumble, for its part, has focused on providing a safe space where people can meet. The company opened Bumble Brew, a cafe and wine bar, in New York last year. It has since been temporarily closed due to pipe freezing.

Fourplay, which is raising its pre-seed fund, has 12,000 users in New York.

four game

Dating becomes social

Dating apps take what could be an awkward, awkward first date experience and turn it into a social experience.

“People go on first dates and often, anecdotally in our experience at least, it’s often a waste of time because it leads to nothing afterward,” Danielle Dietzek, co-founder of social dating company Fourplay Social, told CNBC.

Users sign up for the Fourplay app themselves, but are prompted to send an invite link to a friend so they can create a “team.” The two people then create a shared profile. Teams then swipe through other teams and once two teams like each other, the four users can send messages.

Raising its pre-seed fund, Fourplay has 12,000 users in New York and plans to expand to other cities, co-founder Julie Griggs said in an interview. The company is planning its first singles event for next month in New York.

Even if a person finds that they don’t have chemistry with a person they previously matched with in an app, the advantage of a singles event is that they can go to one of the other participants with little stress. People are also discovering that the apps offer a new way to make friends.

A handful of women gathered at Thursday’s event said that while they may not have found dates yet, they at least bond.

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