Gooce: The anti-Tinder supper club dedicated to dating IRL

Low-pressure setting: a Gooce event at Little Door Clapham  (Gooce)
Low-pressure setting: a Gooce event at Little Door Clapham (Gooce)

In September this year, as summer began to fade into autumn, Tinder turned 10. If not the original dating app — might claim that, or maybe the long-forgotten — Tinder’s launch marked the moment online dating went from a last resort to first port of call. And so as its first decade drew to a close, the expected response might have been a sense of celebration, admiration, cheerful gratitude from singletons with super-strength thumbs. Not so.

As it was, the opposite occurred: countless think-pieces appeared with heavy sighs, each wearily denouncing Tinder and its ilk. Dating app fatigue is in this season. But for childhood friends and one-time housemates Lucy McCallum and Gabi Adams, that fatigue set in way before it was du jour.

“We were both living together and super into food, cooking, and hosting dinner parties,” explain McCallum (the “Luce” in the phonetic portmanteau). “And at the same time we were both single and absolutely sick of dating apps. I’d been stood up, we’d both been ghosted all the time and we were bored with the games. And we were bored of being catfished.”

This was 2018. Frustrated by endless run-arounds, and the flimsiness of meaningless dates, the pair began looking for other options. “We thought: how nice would it be to meet someone at a dinner party? And why isn’t there a set-up where you can meet someone at a really lovely dinner and get to know them and what they’re about, so you can see if you actually get on and have chemistry?” says McCallum. The aim, then, was to recreate that feeling of meeting a stranger at a mate’s place, only without having to wait for that mate to host, or for that stranger to show. And so the pair started a supper club. “Gooce is like coming over to a mate’s for a dinner party, just with better food and everyone happens to be single,” reads their website.

Catfished no more: Lucy McCallum, left, with Gabi Adams (Lucille Flood)
Catfished no more: Lucy McCallum, left, with Gabi Adams (Lucille Flood)

“It wasn’t for us!” laughs Adams. With her a trained chef and WSET-certified McCallum then working in restaurant PR, the pair had enough of an idea of supper clubs to give their own a go. “At first it was just 12 people at ours,” remembers McCallum. “And people would bring a couple of bottles of wine, and stay till one or two in the morning, till we had to kick them out.”

“After the first one, we shut the door and sat on the foot of the stairs,” says Adams. “And we just went: crikey, that was full on… but great.”

And so it went on, with the duo refining their hosting (partly with the help of a rom-com or two: “What’s that line in Bridget Jones? ‘Introduce people with thoughtful details’ — it actually helps!” says Adams) and figuring out the shape of their evenings: drinks for mingling, three courses with a change of seating twice, time to linger and swap numbers afterwards. The Gooce approach is softly-softly: no matchmaking, no one-on-one seating. It’s communal, relaxed, low-pressure. Awkward ice-breakers don’t get a look in; instead, the pair say they angle the food, drink and music to provoke conversation if there’s a lull. Their gently-gently approach was working — and then the world shut down for a couple of years.

When reality returned, or at least 2022’s incarnation of it, Gooce was good to go. But the pair found they had a happy problem: after so long spent isolating, Londoners had a pent-up desire to do things IRL. “We suddenly found there was so much demand for what we were offering, we just didn’t have the capacity to cook for that many people,” says McCallum, sounding happily baffled. “So we thought we’d partner with a restaurant. Plus — and even though we really know how to cook — we figured people were more likely to trust a meal from Brother Marcus than, er, Gabi and Luce.” She laughs.

We want Gooce to be there for everyone who wants to date outside of apps, not necessarily any single demographic or age

“One of the biggest moments for me was the Valentine’s special [this year], when we had two separate people come up to me and say: ‘you’ll never guess what, my friends came to the Valentine’s day one before Covid and now they’ve moved in together.’ I just thought it was amazing that two different people both had friends that both had had such a good time…” says Adams.

Since then, besides Brother Marcus, the pair have found partners in Marsha and have expanded beyond the basic supper club model to run workshops with Pasta Evangelists. Last week, they headed to Clapham’s Little Orange Door for a night. “We like to match venues to the specific demographic” says McCallum. “As they’ve a bar and DJ available after the dinner, we aimed for 25 to 35-year-olds and most of the guests stayed chatting till the wee small hours.”

With more venues set to be announced before the year is out, Gooce are hoping to match more broadly. “It’s interesting to diversify our offering, whether that’s a small, local-style restaurant in a market versus a shiny restaurant on the Southbank. We want Gooce to be there for everyone who wants to date outside of apps, not necessarily any single demographic or age. That’s what we’re looking to build with it,” says Adams.

Accordingly, while the events thus far have, says Adams, “had boy-girl, boy-girl seating plans”, both hope to expand.

“We want to make sure we put on the best events, and that’s about understanding the different audiences,” says McCallum. “Personally, I really hope that by a year’s time we’ll be doing events for a wider demographic. That’s important to me.” She says that they’re looking for the right partners for LGBTQ+ friendly events. “We don’t want to be presumptuous and think we can just put on an event for a demographic we’re not in,” adds Adams. “But we’re looking to learn.”

They’re also looking to do more for more ages, and rove further beyond meals out. There’s a date upcoming with Brother Marcus once again, and they’ll share their other plans shortly. Valentine’s Day details are following soon. They are, then, busy.

“We’re in a place of momentum at the moment, which is exciting,” says Adams. “The thing is, people seem so happy, because they’ve needed an alternate way to date for so long.” And it looks like Gooce might be offering just the thing.

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