No Valentine This Year? Try Vegan Speed Dating

What began as a small vegan matchmaking event is now taking over North America.

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Speed dating is a series of miniature chats in which participants sit face-to-face with their “dates” for a few minutes. After meeting everyone, speed daters use a match form and check off with whom they’re interested. If two people check each other’s names, it’s a match. Although we had been familiar with this idea for years, it wasn’t until years of hearing our friends tell us how hard it was to find other vegan singles that we decided to enter the speed-dating game by creating Veg Speed Dating, a place where vegans could meet each other in fun and engaging ways. The first Veg Speed Dating event took place August 3, 2011, at Berkeley’s Saturn Café. Forty single vegans turned out, with guys slightly outnumbering gals! The idea was so unique that local press showed up, with one reporter even going undercover to try it out. Since then, we’ve hosted events all around the country, but it wasn’t until a year ago that Veg Speed Dating went viral. All of a sudden, a little-known San Francisco-area event we started for fun became a fresh alternative for veg singles across North America to meet. During five days leading up to Valentine’s Day 2017, American vegans from San Diego to Detroit and Canadian vegans from Vancouver to Ottawa met and matched by the hundreds. So how did this happen, where did it go from there, and what’s in store for Valentine’s week this year? We’re here to explain what it took to make Veg Speed Dating a success—and what we’ve learned about vegan dating in the process.

The early days
What began as a fun experiment became a local institution. Karine began hosting events every three months at a romantic spot in San Francisco called Pause Wine Bar. One night, Andy helped run it and had so much fun that he started coming every time. Watching people discover how many vegan singles were in the area was refreshing, and seeing strangers make connections in person felt like a breakthrough. Eventually, we started learning that people who had met at the event were moving in together and getting married. This information got us thinking: could these events work in other cities? We decided to find out.

From coast to coast
Bringing Veg Speed Dating elsewhere raised questions: how would we select the cities? Who would host the events, since we couldn’t realistically travel the continent? How would we tabulate match results? We decided that paper forms and spreadsheets wouldn’t cut it. Andy worked on custom web software, while Karine built a network of hosts to emcee the events, as well as teaming with vegan-friendly venues. There were obvious contenders for the top vegan cities, but we also wanted lesser-known towns, so we asked people on social media to vote for their regions. Eventually, we settled on 12 locations for the Valentine’s 2017 launch, and it was a smash hit: there were more than 240 matches, and people said the experience was “revolutionary.”

Lessons learned
We learned a great deal during the course of the past year—some of it surprising. For instance, there are places where vegan guys outnumber women. In other cities, women will sign up early, while guys need a bit of encouragement. We’ve also learned that people enjoy meeting other local vegans so much that they value friendship connections as well as dating matches, so by popular request, we reprogrammed the match forms to support friendship connections too. Another lesson learned is that high match rates don’t require age ranges. In the early years, Veg Speed Date was open to everyone 21 and over, and the crowds were always diverse. When we started tracking statistics last year, we discovered three out of every four participants were matching at these all-ages events. We’ve learned that it’s best to speed date with an open mind, and to go in without particular expectations other than to have a great time and meet some really interesting vegans. The matching part flows naturally from there.

2018 anniversary celebrations and beyond
Because of last year’s success, we’re celebrating Veg Speed Date’s anniversary with Valentine’s events in 20 North American cities. The goal is to match more vegans in one week than ever before, including in new places such as the American South.

Karine and Andy Brighten are the co-founders of Find Veg Love and creators of Veg Speed Date and have been working on vegan business and advocacy projects for 12 years.

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