Blind dates going instant, shallow
Young adults flock to 'booking bars' in search of dateing partners
By Jung Min-ho, Bahk Eun-ji, Kim Bo-eun, Kim Jung-yoon
Dozens of young people in their early 20s were standing in line outside a bar on Friday night. Although there was a two to three hour wait for those toward the back to enter the bar in the Hongdae area of Seoul, most of them were willing to queue.
What made them flock there and wait so long time? It was the anticipation they might find someone through instant blind dates arranged among the customers over a jug of beer.
This newly-thriving “booking bars,” are sprouting in Hongdae, Sinchon and other commercial districts near colleges in Seoul. It is called “booking” as it refers to the arrangement of female customers brought to tables of men and vice versa.
Evolving culture of blind dates
These pubs, also dubbed “smart bars” as some use tablet computers as booking devices, have set the stage for young singles to instantly meet the opposite sex in a more causal and convivial environment.
Unlike traditional blind dates arranged by friends or acquaintances which need to set up at a certain date, time, place and a fixed number of people they will bring along, more and more young adults frequent the booking bars in search of a potential date.
“I come here from time to time because I can enjoy a group blind date without much time and effort,” said a 23-year-old man surnamed Kang, while waiting in line in Hongdae. “Previously, I had to rely on my friends to set me up on a group blind date which was inconvenient and time consuming. But here, I can just come to drink and meet girls the same age or younger.”
The bar provides private rooms, alcohol and food. Once a group of friends of the same sex go into a room, they input nicknames, their age, and the number of people on the tablet provided.
Then they start chatting online with customers of the opposite sex, looking for company to join them.
When men and women join up, they can look for an attractive counterpart, while drinking and playing games to ease the tension.
“This business will continue to thrive given the considerable demand from young people wanting casual dates,” said a waiter at a bar in Hongdae.
Young people seem to find the more comfortable environment appealing, in which one does not need to make too much effort to organize a blind date.
“Everything is already set up here, and such an atmosphere makes it natural for strangers to open up to each other, at least at this place,” said a 24-year-old called Chung.
Whether it satisfies young people’s desires or brings negative effects such as shallow relationships, it is obviously an emerging trend that lures large numbers every night.
Why so popular?
“Although I’ve never officially gone out with anybody I meet at these places, I do keep in touch with them,” said 24 year-old man Park Kyung-min. “That’s why I come here, because it provides the possibility of meeting somebody,” he said.
The collegian said he prefers the booking bars to other clubs as it has private rooms. “At an affordable price, it’s a lot quieter than other bars or clubs, so it’s a nice place to talk and hang out.”
Kim, 25, who was with her friend at another bar in Shinchon, echoed his view: “The music at clubs is so loud it’s hard to talk with the people you meet. Also it’s very tiring spend a night at a club whereas at these places, we can just sit comfortably, drinking and talking.”
People wait in line to enter a bar in the Hongdae area in Seoul, Friday. The number of “booking bars” is increasing in commercial districts near colleges in Seoul amid growing popularity among young people looking for dates in a more casual atmosphere. / Korea Times
Kim Mu-cheol, a male college student, who was drinking at the same bar with two other friends, is also a regular there.
“I come to these booking bars when I have a lot on my mind and need to take a break,” said the 23-year-old. “I don’t come here expecting to meet someone whom I can have a serious relationship with, but rather just to have fun,” he said. “If I really wanted to meet someone, I would go on a blind date.”
“It’s interesting because this place uses smart technology,” said Chung, a 24-year-old man, who was waiting with his friend Kang, 23, at a different bar at Hongdae. “There are other ways of meeting girls, such as through blind dates and clubs at school, but I think this place has its own characteristics that offer a lot of fun,” he said.
A group of girls sitting several tables away, talked explicitly about meeting men. “We came here to meet guys, but our table is too far away from other tables so it’s hard to interact with other people here,” said one of them, surnamed Kim. “We want to move to another table as soon as another spot becomes available.”
Possible side effects?
The thriving business reflects the new way of dating actually working. Some said they are currently in a relationship with someone that they met from the bars.
On the flip side, however, a vast majority of people in the pubs cast doubt on the possibility that the relationship can go any further than a one-night stand.
"Honestly, I highly doubt that I could meet somebody here with whom I could develop a serious relationship with,” 19-year-old female college student Kim said. “I came here with the simple motivation of enjoying the night with a bunch of my friends. Trust me. I’m sure everyone here has the same mindset.”
Kim said visiting the bar could become addictive.
“Maybe I should be the first one to blame. I have met lots of guys in this bar, who I am reluctant to continue to keep in touch with,” she said. “My first-time experience was not like this, though. I met somebody here and the relationship went much further than I had anticipated. And you know what? I liked it. I liked the unexpected fortune that he later turned out to be my boyfriend.”
One night, however, she had a serious argument with her boyfriend, which brought her back to the bar where she said could release her stress.
Kim said her repeated visits to the bar eventually put an end to her relationship. “And here I am again. I don’t think there will be any guy tonight. It’s OK. I’m coming back next week.”
Because the superficial but efficient nature of the way people meet one another at the bars, people are more likely to visit them once they know the style.
Essentially, nothing new
Cafes and bars have long been popular places for group blind dates. The booking bars are just a slight variation.
“The only thing changing is the format,” said Song Jae-ryong, a sociology professor at Kyung-hee University in Seoul.
In the past, men and women usually met through an acquaintance or different kinds of social activity clubs. These encounters are ones which place responsibility on relationships.
“A relationship cannot be shallow if responsibility follows,” said the professor.
Relationships struck up at booking bars will be shallow in nature. They care most about sexual attractiveness when joining group blind dates there.
“When choosing a partner, one can only look at the others’ appearance because that is all there is one can base his or her judgment on, since both are strangers. In that sense, they only end up having temporary flings that cannot develop into serious relationships,” Song said.
The professor says the advent of the booking bars is just one of the numerous social changes witnessed today. “Regardless of whether it is a positive phenomenon or not, it’s just the way society is changing.”