Nov. 1, 2013 -- A Toronto woman recently came under fire in the media for admitting on Tumblr to accepting dates purely because she wanted to eat out at nice restaurants. But a new wave of online dating sites and applications are betting the Canadian blogger isn't the only woman who wants a man to pick up the tab. In fact, they are aiming to guarantee it.
HiDine, launching next month, bills itself as a matchmaking site for food lovers. Women can set up a profile for free, sharing their "stories," listing their favorite places to eat and "winking" at male users they find attractive. Men, on the other hand, have the onus put on them to formally ask out another user on a date. Not only that, but male members must put down a deposit toward paying for any restaurant rendezvous to take place offline.
"We believe in old-fashioned chivalry," the site states. "You spend enough time and money on clothes, shoes, hair styling, and beauty products. Before you even sit down at the table with a guy, you have made an investment in the date in order to look your best... And the last thing you should worry about is who is going to pick up the bill."
Another app that launched two weeks ago, Carrot Dating, allows men to virtually dangle meals for a date with an attractive woman. Chosen from a pre-programmed list of 20, these "carrots" or "bribes" can range from spa trips to plastic surgery to even a tank of gas. But according to Carrot Dating founder Brandon Wade, "the most popular items are the most traditional." Namely, flowers and dinner.
"Online dating is very superficial in nature, with most of the decisions being made when looking at someone's profile picture," Wade told ABC News. "Just like a peacock would open up its amazing tail to show off its genetic attributes, us humans do the same in different ways. There are the men who work out at the gym, have excellent physiques from the waist up, and there are men who are very good at pickup lines, and then you have the guys like myself who are a little bit shy or awkward but generous."
While both HiDine and Carrot Dating repeat words like "generous" and "chivalry" throughout their press materials, critics of the pay-to-date sites blast them as being sexist variations on more overt sites rewarding wealth with beauty, such as SugarDaddie.com, MutualArrangements.com or SeekingArrangement.com, which Wade also founded.
"Dating/courting has existed forever, and only recently are we trying to take that out of the equation," said Kyle McGinnis, founder of HiDine, in an e-mail to ABC News. "We think it is mutually beneficial, and should be preserved rather than looked down upon. We believe many men are able to get away with not paying, not being gentlemen, etc., and that if we allow that recent trend to continue, romance will wither along with it. Only the negative aspects of sexism should be removed in our culture--and we just don't think this is one of them."
Wade, of Carrot Dating, said that detractors were missing the humor in his own site.
"If people want to take the term bribe or bribery literally, it would be really bad," he said. "But many friends of mine use the term bribe in a funny, humorous manner."
Notably, HiDine does market itself as being gay friendly. You can choose whether you would prefer to take someone out or be taken out when you sign up, McGinnis said. The site charges $5 per date, with a limit imposed of one date per day. Deposits toward the restaurant dinner are separate and based on its star rating.
Women can offer bribes on the Carrot Dating app too. According to Wade, of the 60,000 downloads since launch, 25% of the offers have been initiated by women. But one thing they may not implicitly offer for money is sex.
"On any dating website people are aspiring for intimacy at some point. But in the language and the messaging on the website there is no suggestion that you are paying for sex," he said, adding that escorts posing as dates will be exposed and stopped.
But even if men are content to play into stereotypical gender roles, paying for dinner via these sites, they may still be left with a sour aftertaste. What if the woman on the other side of the table, like Toronto blogger Erin Wotherspoon, is only in it for the free bread basket?
"This girl is looking for love in her lobster roll, not your academic achievements," wrote Wotherspoon. "Men of Toronto be warned, there is a menace on the loose."