- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2002

It's tough to be hit by Cupid's arrow when you're always on the go.

But Jennifer Reid wants to help. She will find you a nice guy or gal, and she will get you two together for lunch.

Ms. Reid is the owner and director of Washington's It's Just Lunch franchise, a dating service for busy professionals. She helps single, working people who barely can find time to get together with friends, let alone meet people to date, by setting up engagements for lunch or after-work drinks.

"We don't do dinner dates," she says. "That's a high-pressure date, and we don't want to do that. The whole idea here is that you get to meet new people and you get to have fun. We're matchmakers."

It's Just Lunch was founded a decade ago in Chicago, then branched out to about 125 locations worldwide. The D.C. franchise was one of the first to open; Ms. Reid has worked there for a little more than a year, but has been with the organization for about five years.

"I'm just kind of matchmakerish," says Ms. Reid, who has been out of the dating scene since she married nine years ago.

The It's Just Lunch office is painted a deep purple. Along the walls are simple floral arrangements, mirrors and countless news clippings touting the firm's success. Also in evidence are success stories, including wedding and baby photos.

"We've had hundreds and hundreds of marriages from this office alone," Ms. Reid says.

She adds that the service has been "phenomenally successful" in the District, where 12-hour workdays and professional ambition often stifle dating opportunities. The D.C. office now has 1,200 active members, each of whom pay between $1,200 and $1,500 for a 12-month package of 10 to 16 dates.

"I think everybody in Washington works really hard," Ms. Reid says. "This isn't a really friendly, easy-to-meet-people city, because everyone is really focused on what they're doing."

The service is geared toward busy professionals, but attracts people who are seeking all kinds of relationships, from friendship to marriage. Ms. Reid tries to match people by keeping in mind this fact, as well as personality traits and interests.

"All of these things are taken into consideration," Ms. Reid says. "And I think that's what makes it work."

To gather information from clients, Ms. Reid sits down with each of them for a 60- to 90-minute interview inside a cozy conference room at the company's office downtown. The client's answers are charted and filed; no computers or fancy "matchmaking software" is involved.

"We do it the old-fashioned way," she says.

The process of setting up meetings between clients appears logisitically complicated, but ensures the privacy of each one before the date. Ms. Reid will talk to each client on the phone separately and coordinate schedules. The clients usually agree to meet for lunch. At times, they meet for drinks after work.

The paired clients then will meet at a restaurant. Ms. Reid gives each a detailed physical description of the other, and a reservation will be made under their first names only. Details about a person's job or home life are spared until the two meet. Only after the first date are phone numbers or business cards exchanged.

After the date, Ms. Reid asks that clients call her to tell her how the meeting went. She equates this to a report card, on which she can reflect before making another match.

"Feedback is one of the ways we fine-tune this process," she says. "It's not just one time that we're going to have a conversation. We're going to continue to talk, and that's really the key to why it works."

Some dates don't work out, but most do, Ms. Reid says, adding that about 80 percent of first dates from It's Just Lunch lead to second dates.

With Valentine's Day approaching, business has been strong, Ms. Reid says. People often resolve at the beginning of the year to meet new people and try new relationships, she says, and this usually carries over through February. The warm spring months also attract many clients. Additionally, the service gained a lot of new business after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"People kind of took stock of what was missing and what was missing was someone to share their life with," Ms. Reid says. "We all sort of got that wake-up. No one wants to waste time alone."

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