OnlineDatingPost.com

The social network for all cravings

August 31, 2011: 10:57 AM ET

Spoondate.com takes familiar concepts from Facebook and Match and mashes them up with Yelp. Question is, can it get a bite of the big market for niche dating sites?

Spoondate.comFORTUNE -- I'm guiding my cursor down a page of cravings: "I'm craving deep dish at Little Star Pizza." "I'm craving carrot cupcakes at American Cupcake." "I'm craving oh-so-creamy burrata at Asellina Ristorante." It's nearly noon; my stomach yelps.

This isn't a restaurant recommendation or recipe web site, though. It's Spoondate, a new online dating network for foodies.

It works like this: users sign in using their Facebook account and sketch a profile of themselves based on culinary preferences. Basic questions and prompts include 'With a $25 meal allowance, I would...,' 'My food personality is...,' 'In addition to food, I enjoy...' At the top of the page a big box asks, "What are you craving?" These cravings are similar to Facebook's status updates. Other users can comment on cravings (Yum!, Crave It!) or simply use them to break the ice and potentially meet up to satiate appetites.

The San Francisco-based Spoondate is the creation of Raissa Nebie, a Wall Street veteran who is no stranger to business trips peppered with lonely meals. During one of those trips, Nebie enjoyed several courses at a restaurant, companionless, only to have the owner pick up the check for the entire the meal -- out of pity. "It's depressing to eat alone," she recalls. Three years later, after a stint at culinary school in France, she's got seed funding from 500 Startups and the Initio Group to try to help out other lonely diners across the country.

Spoondate won't be alone, though. The site, which is slated to launch the week after Labor Day, will compete directly with GrubWithUs.com and HowAboutWe.com, both of which aim to take the awkwardness out of online dating with an activity-friendly premise. The site is launching in the midst of a plethora of niche dating sites. Networks based on religion (Jdate.com), age (Seniorpeoplemeet.com) and sex (Manhunt.net, Ashleymadison.com) have flourished to supplement industry giants eHarmony.com, Match.com and Plentyoffish.com.

David Evans, the editor of OnlineDatingPost.com, says the top five U.S. sites attract the lion's share of users and revenue. The venture-backed eHarmony.com is reported to throw off about $250 million in annual revenue for instance. Smaller sites, meanwhile, find themselves having to pay to buy ads to maintain user bases of just 30,000 to 40,000, according to Evans. But that doesn't mean fledgling sites can't pay off for investors. Earlier this year, Okcupid.com, started in 2004 using quirky surveys and polls to attract users, was acquired by Match.com owner IAC/InterActiveCorp (IACI) for $50 million.

For now, Spoondate is focused on building an audience. Nebie and her team of three intend to closely monitor all posted cravings, ensuring that they are referencing real food and real places in a bid to maintain quality and defend against spam. (The site will start in San Francisco and expand virally from there.) They are also counting on their fresh idea and the site's broad appeal for growth. Users can use it to find a casual date or a platonic meal partner. And the wealth of information about users' eating habits and favorite restaurants could lead to a lucrative location-targeted or deals-based advertising model.

But despite a clever premise and a clean design, Spoondate is still missing one big feature: a success story. Of the 1,000 people using a beta version of the site over the past few months, only 30 or so serially update their cravings. Of those, just three have actually gone on Spoondates. All ended in "food friendship." If Spoondate hopes to grow, it's going to have to lead to more than a few long-term engagements.

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