UPPER WEST SIDE — Nancy Slotnick has been setting people up in New York City for decades.
Slotnick has spent the last year building a database of single people, now 3,000 members strong, who can browse each other's Facebook profiles before requesting a meeting that Slotnick and her team help orchestrate.
Matchmaker Cafe fights the inertia that Slotnick said usually accompanies online dating, where two people end up talking online for a while but never meet. Her service "cuts to the quick," she said.
"People have more of a tendency to put [a meeting] off or to stand each other up without the matchmaker," she said.
Slotnick picks what she calls "hot spots" that lend themselves to easy transitions from coffee to drinks or to a longer meal, or to meeting other singles if the date doesn't go well. She then meets both parties at the arranged spot and introduces them. The meeting serves to reduce the anxiety and awkwardness of a blind date, she said.
"It adds the hand-holding through the process," she said.
Matchmaker Cafe has been in beta mode since 2011, but this month Slotnick launched the paid model, in which clients pay $39.99 a month for the ability to request meetings with other members.
Women tend to be more passive on the site, creating a membership for free and then waiting for others to ask about them, Slotnick explained. However, she said that anyone serious about finding love should devote 15 hours a week to the search, which means going out to traditional dating spots like bars, but also becoming open to interactions at places like gyms, grocery stores or even the subway.
"With careers, people don't have qualms about strategy, but with dating it's supposed to magically happen," she said. "You do have to have [finding love] on your radar screen as a goal."
Behind the scenes, Slotnick makes herself available to customers with advice about how to make it work, an added service that she said distinguishes her model from existing online dating companies.
But, "I don't believe you can outsource [the work of creating a relationship]," she said.
Slotnick spends part of her time moving around the city scouting new locations for dates. She said she hopes to eventually create partnerships with these dating hubs.
Slotnick once owned one of these hubs herself, when she started Drip Cafe on West 83rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue in 1996 as a place devoted to helping people find relationships. In the pre-internet, pre-online dating era, cafe customers could spend time flipping through binders of hand-written dating profiles, and then Slotnick would help them schedule a date at the cafe. She said that at any one time, 20 to 25 dates were happening at Drip.
During the cafe's eight-year run, "we made hundreds of marriages," Slotnick said.
Drip had a liquor license and offered counter service, which Slotnick believes are essential elements for creating the kind of freedom of movement that promotes interaction among guests.
Though Slotnick believes the Upper West Side went through a period when many of the neighborhood's residents, and Drip's customers, settled down and started having children, there has been a resurgence of singles in the area lately, she said.
"The Upper West Side is getting single again," she said, noting the many singles moving to the Lincoln Center area.
And while New York City may have plenty of restaurants, Slotnick said she thinks there's a dearth of places "set up to meet people." She describes the club scene as "extremely young, loud and drunken," leaving Manhattanites in particular scrambling for places to meet people. Brooklyn, she said, seems to do a better job of creating cozy, comfortable places where people can position themselves to meet others.
Slotnick said she makes no promises about the success of a date, and she also believes one cannot force a match.
"New Yorkers are a bit jaded," she said, "and I try to inspire people that there is a special someone out there."