A perfect match
Scotland on Sunday
"We began with dinner for six and immediately others signed up"
We knew each other for along time from when we studied law together and we both wanted a change at the same time.
We’d heard of the supper club concept but there didn’t seem to be anything like that in Scotland so we were in an ideal position to start the Raeburn Supper Club in 1997. It really appealed to people – we began with a dinner party for six and immediately others started signing up.
Much of that appeal is that we meet and interview everyone before they join the club, so we don’t suffer from the anonymity problems of the internet. It’s a very natural setting in a restaurant or other venue, where we introduce people to each other just as you would if you were hosting a dinner party or any other event at home. It’s one of the friendliest environments imaginable, helping people widen their social circles, which they can need for all sorts of reasons. Perhaps all their friends are couples or they’ve just moved to the area and don’t know how to meet people. We have seven or eight events a month across Central Scotland, with members travelling from St Andrews and Aberdeen as well as Glasgow and Edinburgh. There are walking events and other types of entertainment and the latest event is cycling, which is proving very popular.
Our age range is usually from 30 upwards, with retired people as well as much younger ones. Some people renew their membership every year. However, some people expand their circle of friends at the club and therefore find that they no longer have time to attend our events. Also, as everyone joining is single, many members meet a new partner at the club which is often results in them no longer attending. We’ve had many weddings and long-term successful relationships over the years which is a happy outcome of the club.
Over 18 years the one thing that has remained the same is the desire to widen social circles and doing it like this is relaxed and safe. We run it in a highly professional and totally confidential manner but it’s lovely to hear people happily revealing that they met their partner at the Raeburn Supper Club.
Single? Supper club it
Are you single, sociable, have lots of friends and little space in your social calendar? Suzanne Martin finds out what The Raeburn Supper Club could offer you.
I’m at the Theatre Royal watching an outstanding production of “The Cone Gatherers” with my book group chum, Lesley Dunbar, when she starts telling me about another club she’s joined. She’s a bit of a ‘joiner’ is our Lesley with many friends and multiple activities going on in her busy life. I’m wondering how she’s going to fit this group in when she explains.
‘It’s great for weekend,’ says Lesley. ‘While everyone else is paired up with their partner and kids on a Friday and Saturday night (here she nods to our row where every member of our group falls into this 2.2 category) I can see what’s arranged through the club and go along if it’s something I fancy. It means rather than be at the mercy of married friends’ busy schedules I have other options.’
The club Lesley has joined over the summer is The Raeburn Supper Club. I’m intrigued and arrange to meet up with the two directors for a coffee and a chat at Beanscene in Woodlands, just round from their office. Diane and Yvonne began the Raeburn Supper Club over ten years ago when, eager to set up their own business, they noticed a gap in the market.
‘First of all, we are not a singles dating club,’ says Diane. ‘People have met their partner through the club but that’s a happy by-product, not what the club is set up to do.’ Yvonne joins in, ‘We started the Raeburn Supper Club because as you get older your friends pair off, or you may have been married and are now single again and realise your social group has shrunk to couples only. Sometimes people join the club simply because they’ve moved city with their job and want to meet a group of like-minded people to settle in properly and see what Glasgow really has to offer. Whatever the reason, the club is for outgoing, professional, sociable people who want to mix with other interesting people.’
‘It can be awkward sometimes for people who want to dine out in fine restaurants to go along on their own,’ says Diane. ‘Over the past year we have had wine tasting parties, Easter Lunch at the Ubiquitous Chip, a barbeque at Bistro Du Vin, and lunch at Cameron House.
‘Our club is unique in that we offer a range of activities. We organise walks around the West End and up to Mugdock, as well as weekends away to Crieff Hydro – where we’re heading this coming March. Members are sent a regular list of events in advance and can book as much or as little as they want. We charge for each event and there is a reasonable joining fee, so most people do try to come along if they can – though we are talking about busy people here.’
This all rings true, because after speaking to Lesley further I see her predicament. ‘During the week I have book group, my choir practice, friends to visit and a busy full-time job. But at the weekend, when everyone else is settling down with their partner, then I can find myself at a loose end. This way I’m taking charge and not relying on anyone else for my social life.
It seems The Raeburn Supper Club also do longer holidays. Not long before this interview Lesley had just returned from a city break in Budapest with them – and had a ball. Oh, and she only just manages to fit me in for a few hours as friends from out of town are staying and Lesley wants to get the beds ready before they descend. Oh, and this only isn’t done because she as been packing to go off on her next jaunt, to Cuba, with a singles’ holiday company, just days after this again.
I ask when I’ll see her next? It turns out she’s singing with her choir, ACE Chorus, at the Clyde Auditorium when she’s back in November, so time might be quite tight. So next book group night then? Yes, probably. So what are you up to this weekend Lesley asks. Oh, you know, the kids, the usual, I say. I’m glad, dear reader, you can’t see my face, it may just have turned an unattractive shade of green.
Love & Marriage....
Scotland on Sunday
Written by Ruth Walker, Spectrum Magazine, Scotland on Sunday
'DAYS before my 55th birthday, I found myself a single man again,' says Jim Paterson, now 61, and two months into grandfatherhood. 'My first marriage had broken down in 1989 and a long-term relationship had come to an end in March 2002.'
The managing director of a steel stockholding company already had a grown-up family - 28 year old son Graeme and 31 year old daughter Leanne - and enjoyed the freedom of being single again, but it did have its drawbacks. 'Loneliness was a major factor,' he says. 'I also found it incredibly difficult to visit a restaurant or bar by myself. I felt self-conscious and gave this up. I didn't relish the idea of remaining on my own for the rest of my life, but I had no clue how to meet other people.'
A relative mentioned the Raeburn Supper Club, and although initially reluctant - 'I was put off by the name; isn't Rayburn a cooker?' - he eventually agreed to be interviewed to join in September 2002.
The Glasgow-based club works on the principle of bringing single people together once a month in a no-pressure environment, which suited Paterson. 'You turn up and there are maybe 20 or 30 of you. You have a meal in a restaurant and you get to meet people you don't know. Then, if you wish, you just say, 'See you guys later' and off you go. There is none of this face-to-face pressure where you always have to have a conversation going.'
Then, one night in November, he met up with the group, as usual. 'I was more or less the last person in the restaurant,' he says. 'There was only one spare seat, and it was right across from Cindy.'
Cindy was a widow and the two hit it off immediately. 'We got on really well,' he says. 'She was beautiful with long, blond, wavy hair and had a great personality. It has been a fairy tale for us.'
The couple married in May 2006, to the delight of their children (Cindy has a 27 year old daughter, Caroline). The family - including his granddaughter Isla and Cindy's mother and father - are going on holiday to Spain next summer. 'Cindy's parents have been great with me,' says Paterson.
He continues, 'I've said to a few folk that I wish I'd met Cindy when I was younger, but that wasn't possible. I'm just very lucky that I've met her now.'
Visit www.raeburnsupperclub.com for more details on Raeburn Supper Club.
Written by Ruth Walker, Spectrum Magazine, Scotland on Sunday - October 26, 2008.
Dominic Ryan on Dating...
by Dominic Ryan "I put a toe in the water of organised dating and emerged singularly impressed"
The Herald's resident twentysomething singleton Dominic Ryan puts a toe in the water of organised dating - and emerges singularly impressed.
You can't buy the moonlight, but everything else is prepaid: the candles, the mood musak, the melt in the mouth asparagus spears, the chilled Chablis.....and nine dinner partners, sifted and selected for your delectation and perfect social intercourse.
Ideal for anyone with absolutely no acquaintances. Ideal then, you might say, for any passing astronaut. You know, the shy Martian, who's in town for one night only - attending The Spice Girls Interplanetary Peace Conference perhaps? He'd love to get out and about, but zing drango squoobly, if he just don't know any earthlings. No, Mr Alien, put down that cosmic transporter! Here are nine brand new friends who share an interest in the X-Files; just try to ignore the fact that they've got eyes in the front of their heads. And you never know.......there could be that special soft-centre among the unknowns a female of the species with a secret hankering for sucker pads and anti-gravity trousers.
Okay, I confess; thus was always my preconception of the organised social outing. But the truth is out there. And the reality is that clubs for single people are fast establishing themselves not as last chance saloons for the planetary or socially disadvantaged, but as respectable and attractive options for many earthlings, of both gender, of all ages, and from all walks of human life.
Solely in the name of professional curiosity, I went along to one of these gatherings, a dinner party organised by The Raeburn Supper Club. The Raeburn was only recently established in Glasgow by Yvonne Carvel and Diane Goudie. Both are attractive thirtysomethings who carry to their new-found vocation a quiet authority and organisational savvy from previous careers in law and marketing.
When I arrived at the Cafe Serghei in Glasgow's Bridge Street - unfashionably late, it seemed - the party was already seated at a long table and swivelled expectantly, as one, towards one mightily embarrassed journalist. Inwardly, I thanked the stars I'd decided the bunch of geraniums and foil-wrapped Terry's All Gold would be a bad idea. Now I know how the Milky Bar Kid felt the first time he swung in to Mary-Lou's Whisky Parlour and asked for cremola foam.
My blushes soon faded, though. Shy of bashfulness, Yvonne and Diane are perfectly adept at making everyone feel at ease. The first thing Yvonne stressed was that The Raeburn is not a dating agency - they never organise one to one introductions. Suddenly my witty opening - "Hi, I'm Dominic! So which one's mine?" - had lost it's sparkle.
In fact, The Raeburn's aim is to expand the general social lives of its members. The opportunity to meet a potential partner is a bonus to meeting many new friends. Certainly, none of the Serghei crowd seemed overly anxious at the mating game. The hormone-driven panic conversation - "Isn't it great how they get these breadsticks exactly the same length?" - was entirely absent. Without the pressure of "being on a date", everyone seemed to relax and focus instead on simply enjoying the food and the genial banter.
So what kind of person did I encounter? Politeness prevents me from gossiping about my dinner partners. Suffice to say no-one ordered Deep Fried Soup Dragon and the only Men In Black making sudden appearances were the waiters.
The girl on my right, in the lucrative business of teeth and how to keep them, was perfectly charming. And no, that doesn't mean she had a face like cold semolina. She was ambrosia, a delightful match for any "potential partner". The chap on my left, from foreign climes and eager to widen his circle in Glasgow after the wilderness that goes by the name Dundee, was softly spoken and in his thirties.
He confided he hadn't had a date for three years. I couldn't help but admire his honesty and wondered, silently of course, if he'd be moving closer to the dentist when I vacated my position as impartial observer and dinner table buffer zone.
Yvonne and Diane admirably controlled the organisation of the table service, while ensuring no-one was ever left staring forlornly at their croutons. This latter skill was enhanced by an unassuming diplomacy and tact, thus avoiding such familiar but unwelcome interjections as: "So, Nigel, you're very quiet. Are things slow at the Toilet Duck factory?" with its attendant pause, blush and manic-grinned squirm.
Time prevented me from joining in the after-dinner highlight - the chance to improve on my Greek dancing skills, but I can't think of a better way to remove remaining barriers to a worry-free, fun night than a spot of knees-up Mama Stavros with optional crockery-smashing.
Jerry Ross on Dating...
"A refreshing change to chill out with some humorous, thinking similars"
'Single in Glasgow' doesn't have quite the same cachet as 'Sleepless in Seattle' but, as GO! discovers, there's no need to be alone on a Saturday night in Scotland's biggest metropolis. Jerry Ross takes a temporary membership of the Raeburn Supper Club and joins some members at Cha Restaurant for fine food, fraternity and fun.
There's arguably nothing so depressing for a single person than to be alone, at home on a Saturday night. There's only so much that a bottle of wine and a stretch on the settee can do for the spirit, and what can be done is usually undone by the realisation that you haven't won the lottery (again!) and that TV's 'Casualty' is about to begin, bringing even more doom and gloom in the name of entertainment.
Once you've hit this stage there's nothing (save, perhaps another bottle of vino) that's going to save you from yourself. But it didn't have to be this way; it could all have been so different! The Raeburn Supper Club was started in 1997 by Yvonne and Diane, who saw a need to get Glasgow's singles off their couches and out for some company. Their formula is simple, but effective; for a reasonable fee, prospective Supper Club members apply for membership, are interviewed and given membership of the group, numbering some 200. Then a bewildering array of activities ranging from the sociable to the pseudo-sporty (hey, ten-pin bowling isn't exactly freefall sky-diving is it?) are opened up to the new member.
However, as the club's name suggests, its organisers have a weakness for fine food and the mainstays of the organisation are their supper nights at Glasgow's more noteworthy restaurants. And you can see why: there's nothing quite so relaxing and enjoyable as fine food and wine in good company, and nothing so conducive to friendly, good conversation as throwing a bunch of people from all walks of life together (in 50:50 men : women proportions, naturally) around a table and inviting them to get on with it.
Mind you, the Supper Club's members already know this, and warm friendships seem to already be the order of the day between many of the regulars, who go out of their way to make newcomers feel welcome. As we approach the Millennium, singles are becoming more confident about taking control of their lives and there's a greater move towards getting off the great couch of singledom and doing something positive to make new friends and broaden one's horizons. A quick look at the 'Two's Company' sections of Scotland's broadsheet newspapers attests to this, though there's much about one-on-one dating that must put many people off it.
Firstly such arrangements involve, in essence, dealing with strangers which can be daunting, particularly in the full-on environment of what amounts to a telephone-led blind date. No matter what that interesting bloke or lass tells you about him or herself on the phone, you've no guarantee that their assessment of their social skills, genuineness and hair-cover are going to match your own, and there's the ever-present issue (particularly for women) of personal safety.
The Raeburn Supper Club offers a way around these potential man (and woman) traps. New clients can arrive for their first meal (or night at the opera, or whatever) secure in the knowledge that Diane and Yvonne have already interviewed your companions, found them to be reasonable, nice, normal specimens and have granted them membership. And there's no full-on exposure, either. Supper Club outings are likely to have about a dozen (and upwards) members there to enjoy the same things as you. Our charming and personable hostesses are there to make conversation and make introductions over pre-dinner drinks (though, it must be said, they struggled to get a word in edgeways with the chatty lot I had the pleasure of meeting). And personal safety as an issue, in the company of so many, simply evaporates.
Yvonne is keen to make the point that the primary purpose of the Supper Club is to act as a conduit to making new friendships: 'We're not a dating agency by any yardstick,' she told Go!, 'and nor do we ever want to be seen as such. The Supper Club is, in essence, a bunch of like-minded people who meet up to converse, enjoy themselves and meet new people which their lifestyles or jobs wouldn't otherwise introduce them to.'
It's a philosophy that seems to work. Arriving at the splendid Cha in Miller Street and enjoying a (stiff) pre-supper gin, even I had to admit to feeling just a wee bit nervous at the prospect of meeting so many people at once. Especially since Diane had insisted that her clients had to know that there was a journalist in their midst, so there was no prospect of 'doing a Roger Cook' on them. But there was no need for worry. Introductions were followed immediately by a round of handshakes, a good deal of friendly banter, a bit of gentle Glaswegian leg-pulling and a discussion about of all things the ever-increasing popularity of Drum 'n' Bass music. Other topics which came up included Robbie William's sex-life, good places to hang out and eat and drink in Glasgow, why women adore chocolate so much (it's a hormonal thing, apparently!), the musical genius of Tom Waits, John Martyn and a host of others, why mobile phones are such a curse in restaurants (er, mine rang. Sorry!) and more funny, curious and downright hysterical anecdotes about everything from T in the Park to the way that Bob Maxwell used to be portrayed in 'Private Eye' magazine than you could shake an exceedingly shakeable stick at!
The one thing - if there is a single strand - that connects the Supper Club's members is not so much that they're single, it's that they're normal. This is no formal gathering and there wasn't a gent's tie to be seen anywhere. Casual and comfortable is the order of the day, and there's not the slightest hint of pretentiousness. If the gathering had been held in Edinburgh then I'm less certain that it would have been such a front-free zone, so maybe it's true what they say about Glasgow people. Not that this was any weedgie conclave, however; there were more than a few accents, belying the fact chat many members are people who have moved to Glasgow for one reason or another and are in the process of settling in and making new social links.
The youngest member of the Supper Club is twenty four, the oldest well, much older. But the average age of the cheerful diners that made my Saturday night vanish rather swiftly couldn't have been much more than thirty. Perhaps this isn't such a surprise, on reflection; hitting thirty is a curious time of life where many people who have spent years studying, or building and consolidating their careers (or both) suddenly look up from their books and realise that the majority of their friends have become attached, to some degree or another, to others. As much as we humans try, an evening spent as a single with a bunch of loved-up couples still isn't a perfect night, and it was a refreshing change to chill out with some humorous, thinking similars.
The order of the day (or evening) with the Supper Club plainly depends on what you choose to do, but you can rely on the mix being good. Around my table were a media worker, an antiques dealer, a surveyor and close by were others including a young doctor who, given a rare night off by the caring NHS, fielded several work connected mobile phone intrusions before switching the phone off, being the veritable life and soul of the party then promptly falling asleep after dessert! And the attitude of the good people of the Supper Club shone through; the poor, exhausted guy was left to sleep for the best part of an hour by the simultaneously amused and sympathetic members before being gently woken, fed coffee and led out to a pub afterwards for a refreshing revitaliser. Or a drink, I can't remember which!
There are so many frames of reference amongst even a small table of diners that it's well-nigh impossible not to find some conversational common ground with fellow diners. And the timbre of chat is enlightening. You may find yourself sitting with a doctor or a lawyer, just as you may find yourself sitting with an administrator, a civil servant or, for that matter, even a journalist. But the expectation which I had that everybody would be so keen to show themselves up in the best possible light by boringly monopolising conversations, telling tales of their own worth couldn't have been wider of the mark.
Diners do talk about their work, of course, but anecdotes are inevitable, amusing, entertaining, informative or self-deprecating. You shouldn't be surprised to hear conversations that begin: 'You think that was a bad experience? Let me tell you about a time I really screwed this job up and nor should you be afraid to laugh. I formed the impression that there no guards up here to be let down, and nor are there any suits of armour on the participants, either. Relaxed? You betcha! There's no compelling reason I could find that would allow a prospective client to find a way of talking themselves out of joining.
It's true that nobody comes to the Supper Club's table without their own unique personal history. There have been boyfriends, girlfriends, a marriage or two and perhaps even some kids here or there. And sometimes life's events can leave even busy and otherwise fulfilled singles that bit less confident about meeting and greeting new friends than they might have been when they were twenty. And perhaps that's why the suits of armour are left at home by this lot; everybody here was a new member once, and they'd not have kept coming back if they hadn't felt welcome and enjoyed themselves.
In fact, it would take considerable effort to retain an 'I'm new here' attitude for much longer than it would take to quaff your first drink and say hello. This is no 'boys on one side of the room and girls on the other' set-up and even the body language of the members demonstrates that everyone's at home here. So far as the minutiae of the Supper Club's concerned, the majority enjoyed a glass or three of wine with a beautiful dinner, nobody even considered looking cool by avoiding the desserts-to-die-for and, afterwards, there were a healthy number who were keen to divert to the nearest hostelry in order to continue the fun over further 'refreshments.' As would be expected, the company really warmed up as the wine went down but, even utterly sober, it was still a cheerful, easy ride. You can - without doubt - forget having that glass of wine before you leave the house to go suppering for the first time. You really won't need it. I promise.
'Tonight's my first time dining with the Supper Club,' Mark, an office worker, told me in a taxi which sped us from Cha to the somewhat different environs of O'Neill's Irish bar, 'and - although I was a bit nervous to begin with - I'm having a good time. I was relieved to find that everybody was just normal and friendly. I won't have any second thoughts about coming back again, that's for sure. It's been a real change, and a lot of fun.'
According to Diane, reactions like Mark's are typical: 'Of course it's a slightly daunting thing for many people to come and meet a bunch of strangers for dinner, but Yvonne and I will both have met them at least once before, so it's not as if there's nobody here that they know. Everybody makes a special effort to ensure that new faces are taken care of and made to feel welcome, and it's virtually unknown for anybody to come and join us once then not be seen again.'
And what of those Supper Club friends who happen to develop something a bit special between each other? 'Well, that's not primarily what we're about,' laughed Diane, 'the whole point is to enjoy the friendship and make new friends. If something romantic happens then that's nice, but don't expect to see Yvonne and I running around like Cupids, shooting arrows into people's soup and so on we don't do that!'
It's reassuring to know that there's no heavy-duty matchmaking going on here and the natural, unpressured vibe probably does more to help friendship thrive than anything else. But I was curious to discover whether a couple who pair up through meeting at the Supper Club have to relinquish their memberships, even temporarily? 'Of course not,' laughs Yvonne, 'it's a social thing here, not a dating agency, so we're delighted to see our members whether or not a couple of them might be seeing each other outside the Supper Club. It's all about socialising that's what we do best, a bit of a chuckle with some interesting and genuine people and our growing membership is testimony to this.'
Perhaps the greatest single advantage that the Supper Club has over other, more traditional, ways of meeting new people is that it's locally-based. There's arguably little point in joining one of the national 'dating services' only to find that your perfect computer match lives in Hereford, not Hyndland and you never know who or what you are dealing with when you look at classified sections and personal columns in the press. These can at worst introduce some pervert into your life or at best lead to a reasonable result all be it after a great deal of trial and error. After all, people are busier than they've ever been, and finding the time to go on love-safaris up and down the country isn't easy, nor cheap. But, when you can be guaranteed that your new friends are going to be at least reasonably available for a chat, a pint or a quick lunch outside of the organised events then you 're onto something that has a far greater chance of offering success in finding friendship.
Yes, singles are coming out of the closet, (not before time, too) and they're reclaiming their rights to fun and friendship. They're finding the time to make new acquaintances and, inevitably, there will be many a laugh on the road to (for some, at least) a deeper happiness still. But the big question, for many, is: have Diane and Yvonne had to look their white hats out yet? As things stand right now, the answer is 'no'. But the Supper Club's still in its infancy so far as the timescale of human relationships tends to run, though - if I were them - I'd keep my wedding outfit dry-cleaned and well-pressed!
by James Hasting "The club helps people broaden their circle of friends"
by Anna Burnside "If they want to meet more people, they have to do something about it"
by Juliette England
"Social Whirl - They are intelligent, articulate and mostly professional people who want to meet new friends as well as find Mr or Mrs Right"