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Cupid switches to digital arrows


The COVID-19 pandemic has made dating virtual, one of Asia’s leading agencies finds.


Violet Lim
Lunch Actually Co-founder and CEO Violet Lim “Pictures: Lunch Actually”

With a presence in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia, lunch-dating agency Lunch Actually deploys a matching algorithm that has successfully played cupid to more than 4,500 couples to date, Co-founder and CEO Violet Lim said. She established the business in 2004 with her then-fiancé Jamie Lim. In addition to offline service, Lunch Actually offers online-to-offline dating service “esync” and mobile-dating app LunchClick, which caters to singles seeking long-term love. To further boost clients’ chances of finding their perfect match, the agency provides dating and image-coaching services, Ms Lim said. Given that many are still wary of meeting strangers face to face, the company has switched to virtual consultations and coaching sessions and online dating and virtual speed-dating events. The digital option has been especially relevant this year as the COVID-19 pandemic makes clients reluctant to venture out, and many potential meeting venues are closed or have their operations curtailed.

People in Hong Kong tend to have busy schedules
People in Hong Kong tend to have busy schedules

The dating and image coaching services are a key component of the business, Ms Lim said. “After being in the dating industry for more than 16 years, we know that finding the right one is not just about meeting the right one – it’s also about being and choosing the right one. Our consultants work with clients to help them improve their mindset, manage their expectations and steer them in the right direction to help them find love more efficiently and effectively. We've seen clients who have gone through coaching actually double their chances of getting into a relationship.” A pandemic positive for singles is that they have more time to focus on themselves. “Many have taken this time to upgrade their skills and follow their passions, all of which helps to increase their attractiveness,” she said.

Virtual romance

Many clients feel more comfortable with online meetings
Many clients feel more comfortable with online meetings

Ms Lim admitted that some clients were apprehensive about virtual dates as most had not tried them before. The most common concerns were that it may be awkward or boring, and the lack of opportunity for physical interaction.However, by exploring ideas on how to make virtual dates fun and exciting, clients have become more accepting of the format, and the agency currently arranges hundreds of virtual dates every month. “One of our clients said that it’s a great way to still meet new people from the comfort of her own space. One of her dates got creative and showed her the sunset view from his balcony. She enjoyed seeing a date in their own setting and the chance to get a ‘behind the scenes’ look at their digs.”Other virtual dates have lasted longer than an offline engagement, with some clocking up almost three hours’ screen time. “Another client commented that she felt comfortable being in her own space and got to save so much time travelling to meet someone,” Ms Lim said.Nevertheless, singles should remember love happens offline, Ms Lim said. “You can get to know someone online, but your ultimate goal still should be to meet this person offline as soon as you can. The real purpose of dating platforms is to meet more people that you can connect with in real life.”

Quality over quantity

Social-distancing may still be very much part of our lives but singles are still keen to meet new people and expand their social circle. “We’ve seen an increase in the use of our dating apps, and the enquiries for our matchmaking services remain healthy too. If anything, [the pandemic has] enforced the desire for love and companionship and having someone to go through life's ups and downs with,” Ms Lim said.The agency’s latest research showed singles are starting to prioritise quality over quantity. “Instead of swiping every profile on dating apps, they are spending more time reading each dating bio and deciding if they are interested to connect. Without the option to immediately ask someone out, they can focus on meaningful conversation.”There may be fewer opportunities to meet would-be beaus but the CEO does not think it makes those looking for love are more willing to settle. “Now, singles are forced to pay more attention to each person they’re matching with, or talking to them online to see if there’s a real connection beyond just physical attraction because you can’t meet this person immediately.”

Finding love in Hong Kong

Seeking love from home
Seeking love from home

Ms Lim said the Hong Kong dating scene does not differ greatly from other places in Asia. “Asked what they are looking for in a long-term partner, the majority of men and women in all countries want partners that share the same values and beliefs as them.”The dating expert said singles in Hong Kong tend to be conservative and find it harder to meet new people, or approach those they don’t know. “Some may also have a need for a lot of personal space. They might be under the impression that having a partner could curb their freedom and that may stop them from looking for potential partners,” she added. As Hong Kong is a fast-paced society, singles generally do not have much time to waste, she observed. In Malaysia, for example, singles are more willing to go on a second date but singles in Hong Kong are less likely to do so. Ms Lim advised that unless the first date went really badly, there is no harm in going on a second date to get to know each other better. “The majority of our successful couples who met through us didn’t rate their first date with their partner as a perfect date. Neither was it love at first sight. Most of the time, they started off as friends and it developed from there.”Having recently acquired online dating businesses in Thailand and Indonesia, Ms Lim said the firm continues to look for new opportunities to expand across the region to achieve its ambitious goal of one million happy marriages.“We are always looking out for opportunities for growth because of our big, hairy audacious goal. The more markets we are in, the faster we can get there.”

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Lunch Actually

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