Outta Site

By Patricia B. Dwyer

What if he's charming in chats but a repulsive, misogynistic pig in person? What if she weighs 50 pounds more in real life than she does in her profile photo? In-person first dates among people who've met through Internet dating services can be disappointing...or a whole lot worse.

In an effort to help daters improve their chances of success (while also driving business to local restaurants), Robert Earl created DinnerDate.com, a new dating site that uses personality profiles to link six to 12 likeminded singles together for group dates.

"From the ladies' perspective, it's safe, low-risk," says Earl. "From the guy's side, you get to see six women at one dinner."

Earl is the former owner of the Hard Rock Café chain and current owner of Planet Hollywood and Buca di Beppo. He knows a thing or two about themed dining and saw DinnerDate.com as an opportunity to capitalize on his success in the hospitality industry and make some real money.

"I was jealous of all these young billionaires," he says. "I'm an old marketer and I thought that I have a lot of knowledge to bring to the Internet world, so I hired some great people and I'm doing a bunch of incubating."

Earl's dating dream team includes president Andrew Connell, former leader of Nokia's global e-commerce division; V.P. of marketing Grant Hosford, the previous senior director of marketing and general manager of eHarmony's new dating site, Jazzed.com; and Rolf Gehrung, once the Western U.S. sales manager for Fishbowl.com.

After unveiling the site in Orlando, Florida, about six months ago, Earl and company decided to use San Diego as the company's official launch city. The goal: to secure 10,000 local registrants within the first 30 days and ultimately take the concept global.

On April 9, the day the site went live locally, Earl appeared on San Diego radio and TV stations to promote his baby.

Typically, DinnerDate.com users create online profiles for free, and then pay for meals (plus a $5 booking fee) in advance to avoid the awkward wallet dance that can accompany first dates. Hoping to accelerate his sprint to 10,000, Earl is offering free meals to the first 3,000 users who sign-up.

Meeting for impromptu appetizers and drinks at former Top Chef contestant Rich Sweeney's R Gang Eatery in Hillcrest, the fearless souls pictured here agreed to be DinnerDate.com's Finest City guinea pigs-on the evening of the day the site went live.

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