There are approximately 7.7m single person households in the UK with many forced to lockdown alone over the past year, according to Mooney, founder and managing director of Sara Eden Introduction agency.
Unsurprisingly, trying not to catch Covid-19 has massively dented their chances of catching feels, with singletons weighing up their options behind closed doors and now more eager than ever to meet someone special, she says – citing a 200% increase in enquiries to dating agencies as proof.
What’s more, one-in-four (23%) Brits have stepped up their online dating game during the pandemic according to Piplsay research, which also found that more than half (53%) of singles think online dating has felt more meaningful in the past year.
“People are more risk averse, unwilling to meet time wasters or take a chance on complete strangers,” Mooney tells The Morning Advertiser (MA).
Though she has seen new and not-so-camera-shy couples share dinner and drinks over a video call to navigate lockdown and potentially romance killing Covid measures – with 28% even identifying it as their preferred first date when restrictions are lifted – Mooney believes “virtual dating” is a fad that will give way to meeting up in person when it is safe to do so.
“Daters welcomed the opportunity to meet again face to face once venues were allowed to open,” she adds “Where the rules were properly followed, they felt safe and could relax.
“Interestingly, meet and greet seemed to assume greater importance than pre-Covid,” Mooney continues. “Everyone needs a warm welcome, but diners and drinkers in the early stages of dating definitely benefit from smiling, confident, front of house.”
‘Relaxed and welcoming’ venues
Mooney adds that while pub and bar dates may have been forced online by Covid measures, she doesn’t believe operators were well and truly ghosted during the pandemic – with some providing takeaway food for virtual dates.
“We were not made aware by our members that rules destroyed the vibe in any venues,” she explains. “It’s true to say that meeting in the park, sitting outside a coffee shop, or virtual dating were more popular, however.
“Travel also became a worry for many,” she added. “Daters who met via virtual platforms were tending to order in for their date dinner and were keen to support venues that could provide a really good service in this regard.”
Pub and bar dates “will definitely bounce back” she adds, “providing of course that the ambience is relaxed and welcoming”.
“Venues that serve food tend to be more popular with daters, because they then have the option to eat if the date is going well, or to leave after a couple of drinks if it is not.”
Yet despite data from Ei Publican Partnerships in 2018 finding that a quarter of Brits met their partner for the first time in a pub, and almost one-in-19 (8%) sharing that it was the place that they told someone they love them for the first time, research by dating app Plenty of Fish found that heading elsewhere for a first date could be the most likely way to someone’s heart.
The app’s survey revealed that a third of Brits think a pub or a bar is the worst place to be taken on a first date despite 89% of respondents having experienced a ‘pub date’ – making it the nation’s least popular romantic backdrop on a first date.
Outdoor dining apparently offers lovebirds the best chance of making a good first impression, with a third of respondents (33%) suggesting an alfresco dinner date was their ideal opener with 30% opting for a rooftop setting.
Almost a third of those surveyed, however, would steer clear of food and drink altogether, with 30% of surveyed singletons preferring to go for a walk – a much more Covid-secure option in the current climate.
But Mooney believes that pubby love can rebound off these supposed pre-pandemic rocks, and offers operators some dating advice.
“Some people are drinking less or not at all these days, so pubs and bars will need to evolve with their clientele,” she says. “Pubs and bars are social spaces, so offering a more comprehensive non-alcoholic drinks selection, good vibes and activities such as music, games and quiz nights should cement loyalty amongst those who are transitioning to drinking less.
“It’s important to have options when dating so that alcohol consumption does not feel compulsory,” she adds. “Alcohol can alleviate early dating nerves but equally, can reveal unhealthy consumption if overdone.”
You booze you lose?
Plumping for Pinot over a pint on a first date is more likely to lead to a second according to Plenty of Fish’s findings, with almost two thirds (60%) of women revealing that they find a date more attractive if they opt for wine over beer.
However, while getting too drunk on a first date was highlighted by more than half (54%) of respondents to the dating app’s survey as being a date-ender, Mooney adds that from her experience at Sara Eden, many daters reported feeling uncomfortable about turning down the offer of a drink in case it was interpreted as a lack of interest on their part.
She adds that many went as far as saying that they would opt for mocktails or non-alcoholic beer on a date if they were available.
“Daters generally want to present the best version of themselves to their dates, so if they drink, will stick to a couple of glasses or a shared bottle,” Mooney explains.
“Alcohol remains an acceptable part of the dating experience for most, but there is a noticeable shift towards drinking less amongst the adult population that is bound to have an impact on businesses that don’t respond to it.”