I love the lunch date... always have. It's casual, it's public, and it has a clear beginning and an end. No matter how bad it is, it will end in an hour and you're going to get fed either way. In dating, downside protection goes a long way.
So, it's really struck me that no one has ever built a dating/social networking service around lunch or other work location centric stuff. I've had a lot of wacky ideas in the past, but this is one that has been bouncing around my head for a while that I might seriously consider putting some time and effort into. So if this is interesting to you, please do not just go off and steal it...I may want to help.
Searching people by where they live really doesn't capture where they spend their time, particularly in a metropolitan area. For most people, five days a week, they spent at least eight hours a day in one spot...more time then they probably spend at home.
Lunch dating also connects people along a different line...food. Finding a great place for lunch by your office is a big win, not to mention finding someone else close by who also likes Pakistani vegan organic pizza.
You could branch out from lunch to include coffeeshops, the gym, happy hours. This taps into what the keeps the Facebook strong...offline connections. When you friend someone on Facebook, you see them in your English class. Here, you could bump into someone at your local Starbucks.
The business model taps into the highly soughtafter local advertising model. Not only could restaurants make offers to local customers for specials and discounts, but think of all of the other things you could advertise to single people when you know where they work, what they do, and know a lot about their preferences. It's a goldmine of metadata.
So here are some of the rules and features I think the service needs to have:
First, I think you roll this out city by city, starting with New York.
Profile creation should be easy. You should be able to pull photos in from URLs, or automatically from Flickr, Facebook, Photobucket, etc. You should also be able to suck in your music, movies, and personal interest data from these sites as well.
The professional information should be pretty comprehensive as well...maybe a LinkedIn integration. You should be able to put in that you are a trader versus a portfolio manager versus a broker...not just "Finance".
Outlook/calendar integration... Remember, these are office people. Plus, we'd need people to be able to say that they'd rather eat at 12 versus 2. Scheduling, and the limits people have on lunch, are important criteria.
Privacy...people should be able to tell the system exactly where they work and be searchable, but not have all that info show up. So, if I find someone "two blocks away" I don't really need to know exactly where that is.
Let the venue owners own their networks. Each restaurant should have a page which becomes its own social network. Maybe you work with a Seemless Web or someone who has channel penetration there to allow people who favorite or friend a restaurant to get special deals or vote for specials, etc. Starbucks, Jamba Juice, and New York Sports Club could be major contributors to the site here in NYC.
What do you like to talk about at lunch? Work? Work off limits? Politics off limits? A few cues about what makes for a good lunch topic might go a long way.
So, is this a completely ridiculous idea? Think it will fly? What else does it need? I'd love your feedback.
UPDATE: Itsjustlunch.com is not a competitor here. This is a website that you join for free that is advertising supported. Its Just Lunch costs you hundreds of dollars for an expert to match you up with someone... very different service.