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Singles meet and mingle
New business launches dating service in Hall County
0514 Speed dating 1
Jane Harrison of Gainesville and Marco Zuniga of Lawrenceville talk to each other during the mingling time of Cocktails & Conversations, a new dating service venture. The pair were participating in the group’s first dating and mixer activity at Scott’s Downtown. - photo by J.K. Devine

Cocktails & Conversations
What: A new mixer and dating service in Gainesville
Next event: 7:30 p.m. June 13, at Scott’s Downtown, 131 Bradford St. NW (about a block off the square)
How much: $20 in advance. Preregistration encouraged.
Dress: Business casual
Contact: 770-539-4049 or

For 52-year-old Gina Sweet, it had been awhile since she hit the dating scene. Luckily for her, family members gave her the Cinderella treatment before she ventured out to Cocktails & Conversations, a brand-new speed-dating venture in Gainesville.

Her teenage niece and nephew, as well as her younger brother, took time to encourage the divorcee.

“They did my feet,” Sweet said, pointing to her manicured toenails in a pair of black sandals. “And they told me to wear this (an off-the-shoulder, waist-length blouse) to show off my shoulders.

“It was like a Cinderella thing,” the Braselton woman added with a grin.

The special treatment appeared to be a good omen for her evening. Sweet exuded enthusiasm and excitement before and after the speed-dating event last week at Scott’s Downtown.

“This is really great,” she said after meeting the dozen women and men at Cocktails & Conversations. “I’ve never done this before and it’s nice.”

Sweet’s remark rang true with a few others who attended the event. Mary Duffy of Buford had never tried speed dating before and didn’t know what to expect. But she wanted to give it a try.

“I thought it would be a good time and I could get out there and mingle,” she said after going through a couple of the speed-dating rounds.

She also was supporting a girlfriend who knew the four women who launched the speed-dating business.

Rena Cantrell, Fox Gradin, Cari Dobbins and Barbara Burk started the business venture after discussing the lack of activities for singles in Gainesville, aside from hitting the bar scene.

“And online dating stinks,” Cantrell said.

So after some more discussion, the four women — two who are single and two who are married — decided to act. The four created a business plan, compiled the capital, lined up their logistics and launched Cocktails & Conversations.

The first speed-dating event was geared toward single men and women 30 and older. Participants met at Scott’s Downtown for a time to mingle before jumping into the speed-dating arena. During that time, men and women played an ice-breaker game to encourage interaction while sipping their wine, beer or other alcoholic drinks in the lounge area of the restaurant a block off the square.

“That card thing was great,” Sweet said, referring to the ice-breaker game.

Upon arrival, each person was handed a playing card and asked to find its match. It encouraged participants to talk to one another, the organizers said. When a match was found, the man and woman would receive a ticket for the raffle at the end of the night. The prizes were a gift certificate to Scott’s and a gift certificate for wine and cheese.

After mingling and getting to know each other, the participants were ushered into a private room with one long table for speed dating. The men and women sat across from each other and had a five-minute minidate. Questions were provided in case the participants got stuck on what to ask. Questions ranged from “What are your favorite hobbies and interests?” to “If they made a movie about your life, would it be a comedy or drama?”

After each person had a minidate, the men and women wrote down the first name of the person he or she would be interested in seeing again. If two people matched names, the organizers then contact each person to let them know their contact information.

“It takes away all of the awkwardness of being rejected and having to ask for someone’s number,” Cantrell said, noting only first names are used at the event. “That’s for safety reasons. We want them to volunteer the information if they feel comfortable.”

Marco Zuniga of Lawrence-ville said the singles-only atmosphere made him feel comfortable.

“Everyone here is here to meet people,” he said. “If you go out on your own, you may be shy or timid. Or you don’t want to approach someone who is married or is with someone. This made it easier to have a conversation.”

The only drawback mentioned with the speed-dating format was the time limit. A couple of participants pointed out five minutes is not a lot of time.

However, most in attendance seemed to enjoy the camaraderie.

“I didn’t come with any expectations, but I met with real people,” Zuniga said. “Hopefully, I can go out with some people and make some friends.”

Zuniga and Sweet said they planned to participate in Cocktails & Conversations’ next event set for 7:30 p.m. June 13 at Scott’s Downtown. The July event is tentatively set at Fishtails in Flowery Branch. Cantrell said the change in location will be to draw in different singles.

“It’s to change it around, so you don’t have the same people showing up,” she said.

Her business partner Dobbins also noted the events will not always be in restaurants. She explained some events could be hikes or other outdoor activities.

Cantrell added Cocktails & Conversations may have special events for residents age 20 and older, but right now its focus will be the 30-and-older crowd.