The ticket to romance in Orange County may be your business card if you don't mind mixing a little business with pleasure.
Do a little networking, pick up a few phone numbers and, if you don't want to hire me, then how about a little dinner for two?
That's the idea behind the YES (Young Executive Singles) Network, a Beverly Hills-based singles social organization that hosts several large parties in Los Angeles and Orange counties each month for professional singles between the ages of 25 and 45. Each party is a sort of combination job fair and cocktail dance, without the uneasiness that can accompany other, purely social events, the organization's founders say.
The one piece of standard operating equipment--the catalyst, motivator, ice breaker and billboard of the parties--is each person's business card, according to Deborah Winkler, one of the founders of YES.
Winkler, a former social worker, said she and her co-founder, Jeffrey Gendler, "had met at other singles events and we noticed that people were not really mixing or meeting each other very well. These were nice people, but it was more like a high school dance where people were so shy and standing on opposite sides of the gym.
"We were thinking one day of what could make people more comfortable in those situations and we decided that a perfect combination for young professionals would be to have a place where they could advance their careers and look for Mr. or Ms. Right, all in the same evening. Not only would the business networking be useful, but it would erase that singles bar feeling."
The size of the gatherings also lends a more wide-open atmosphere, she said. They are usually held in restaurants or hotels and are attended by an average of 500 people, Winkler said.
The gatherings might be divided into two general types: the after-work cocktail and buffet party and the evening cocktail-buffet dance. The after-work affairs tend to be bridges from the business day into the evening, Winkler said, with many of the guests remaining in their business suits and discussing their work. The evening parties, however, "seem to be used more for the social aspect, and that's fine with us," Winkler said.
The game, she said, has variations but always involves the collecting of other guests' business cards. It can be a sort of one-room scavenger hunt, during which guests can qualify for prizes--champagne, candy or books, for instance--by obtaining cards from, say, an engineer, a salesperson, a lawyer, a real estate agent and an architect.
"Most importantly," said Gendler, a former electrical engineer, "we wanted everyone to keep the cards they got and use them after the party. The game is a way to get people to do what they really want to do anyway but might not on their own."
One guest, Winkler said, "came up with a great analogy. He said it was like trading baseball cards. Kind of like, 'I've got two lawyers. Would you trade them for one doctor?' "
For guests without business cards--teachers, for instance, seldom have them--YES provides blank cards.
But it is not necessarily cheap to get into one of the YES gatherings. Winkler said prices range from $12 to $20, depending on the size and lavishness of the spread. Optional memberships are also available: a gold membership costing $199 entitles the member to a year of free parties, and silver members receive a $2 discount on events for one year at $25 or six months at $15. But, Winkler added, YES was never meant to be a come-one, come-all association.
"We didn't intend to become a Jonathan Club," she said, "but we are a place for quality single professionals to meet. Long ago we decided that those were the kinds of people we wanted in this group. And it has grown that way of its own accord without us trying actively to restrict things."
There is a dress code for most events, she said, whether business attire for after-work gatherings or evening dress for later affairs. But men without ties are admitted."
The formula, Winkler said, seems to have worked. The YES Network, she said, carries 42,000 names on its Southern California mailing list after two years in business. And after nearly a year of operation in Orange County, the network schedules parties here "every two or three weeks," she added.
The next YES Network parties in the county are scheduled for June 3 at the Grand Hotel in Anaheim and June 17 at the Irvine Hilton, Winkler said.
YES has grown, Winkler said, because of the unpredictable being blunted and even aided by the predictable.
"In business," she said, "it seems like you can control what happens to you, to a certain extent, by doing certain things. If you work hard and you're talented and creative and give your all to a company, you generally get rewarded. But there are no guarantees like that in the world of romance. . . . Nobody knows what will happen in affairs of the heart. But by combining the two, we've been really pleased with the results."