Volume 7, Number 3, 1998

Lookin' for love in all the right places

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match, find me a find, catch me a catch.

-Fiddler on the Roof

From the time English majors Jenni Collins, AS '93, and Tracy Nance, AS '94, met at the University of Delaware and became friends, arranging "love connections" was something that came naturally.

"When Jenni and I lived together, we were always plotting to match people up," Nance says. Both had been arranging dates since high school, but they never dreamed bringing people together would become a career choice.

Yet, for the past three years, Collins, 26, and Nance, 25, have been professional matchmakers. They work for It's Just Lunch, one of the hottest dating services in the nation.

They say they wake up every morning happy to be going to work, and when you watch their faces light up with enthusiasm as they talk about their jobs, you know it's true.

"I'm helping people find love," Collins says. Nance nods in agreement. "Can you imagine how it feels to make people happy?" she asks.

Collins' and Nance's enthusiasm for their jobs is matched only by the success of the company.

In six years, this executive dating service has gone from a two-person operation in Chicago with a start-up investment of $6,000 and 70 clients to 20,000-plus clients in 29 offices around the U.S. and Canada, and soon, London and Paris. The company generates $10 million in revenues, and it's been responsible for 1,400 marriages, 900 engagements and 1,100 serious relationships.

What founder Andrea McGinty began, people like Collins and Nance are turning into the largest privately owned business of its kind.

One of the reasons they are so unhesitatingly enthusiastic is that this service is different. These executive matchmakers are more like a contemporary version of Dolly Levi in the musical Hello, Dolly-yentas in designer clothes. They do it all. Clients literally don't do anything but lunch.

There are no videos to screen; no 900 numbers to call; no voice or e-mail to message; no newspaper ads to respond to; no arrangements to make. In fact, clients have no decisions to make until after lunch.

"We do the matching, the asking out, the coordination of the date and the agonizing," Collins says. For busy executives who don't have the time to handle pre-date arrangements, it's a social life with no effort.

When people agree to buy a package-6 months and 8 dates for $750 or 12 months and 16 dates for $1,000-they are paying for painless but decidedly discriminating courtship. If a couple decides to date exclusively before their package is exhausted, each client is put on hold for up to one year. If the relationship goes sour within that year, they are entitled to pick up where they left off.

Collins and Nance concede all that makes their jobs much more demanding, but also much more fun.

Computers are not used to make matches. Each director personally compiles background, income, interest, work, personality, exercise and play schedule information on each client. And, they must be able to sense when two people are right or wrong for each other. "It's instinctive. You just feel it. Not everyone can do that," Nance says.

They also are expected to keep everything they learn about their clients, especially their identities, strictly confidential. So secret are the details that prospective partners don't even know who they're having lunch with. "We can say, for example, you're having lunch with the CEO of a well-known company or a high-profile reporter and give them a general description of their date's personality, interests, looks," Collins explains. But, when dates walk into that restaurant for lunch, they have no idea with whom they'll be splitting the tab.

After a date, the matchmaker calls each person and they talk about how the date went and whether or not to go for a second. If it's "no," they go on to different prospective partners. But, Collins says, 75 percent of the time, there is a second date.

The Washington, D.C., office, which Collins directs, has a client base of 1,700, and Nance's Baltimore office handles 700.

As delighted as they are with their career choices, they're even more delighted that they get to do the same thing and live near each other.

The two women had been inseparable since they met at UD. But, after graduation, their lives moved in different directions.

Collins, who was born in Rehoboth Beach, Del., and attended Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, moved to Philadelphia to sell advertising for a radio station. Nance, who is from the greater Philadelphia area and a Phoenixville High School graduate, took a job with The Hartford as a financial wholesaler and was sent to Nashville. Their friendship continued long distance.

Although both were successful, neither was especially happy with her career choice and, eventually, Collins turned to an executive search company.

The company introduced her to It's Just Lunch, and as it turned out, it was a match made in heaven.

She was interviewed by founder McGinty, who immediately asked her to meet with company president, Daniel Dolan. He flew into Philadelphia and shortly after, Collins was offered a job in the Washington, D.C., office.

The day the call arrived, Collins was on her way to visit Nance, who had recently been transferred to Baltimore. Drawn to the company, Collins would have had to be in D.C. in two weeks and didn't think she could do it. Nance told her she was crazy to hesitate and went on about how much she'd love the same opportunity, convincing Collins to take the job.

A few weeks after Collins began her new career as an executive matchmaker, the company decided to open an office in Baltimore. Collins suggested Nance, who was interviewed and offered the job two days later. The UD twosome was together again.

What about their own love lives?

Collins is dating a man she met through a friend, but Nance is just too busy to look for the perfect partner. What she needs is It's Just Lunch...but, unfortunately, she can't date clients.

-Barbara Garrison