Website to set up blind lunch dates

PennLunch, which launches Friday, will pair strangers together

· February 16, 2012, 8:37 pm   ·  Updated February 19, 2012, 10:44 pm

Penn students now have a real-life version of Chatroulette available at their fingertips.

PennLunch — a website that is based on HarvardLunch — launches to the public on Friday.

Created by College junior Chris Cruz, the website’s interface is relatively simple: enter a Penn email address and you’ll be paired up with another Penn student randomly by a computer algorithm for a lunch meeting within a few hours.

“This idea started [for me] after realizing that Penn has amazing people from all around the world, but that after the first year you form your own bubble and it’s harder to communicate outside your bubble,” Cruz said. “PennLunch gives you a chance to meet new people.”

The infrastructure and web code to implement PennLunch was already available to Cruz in the form of HarvardLunch.

HarvardLunch was created in 2010 by Seth Riddley, now a senior at Harvard University. Riddley said he saw a problem in the housing system at Harvard, where after freshman year, students became entrenched in their own social circles.

An article in The Harvard Crimson prompted Riddley to bring the idea to fruition.

“I read an article in our newspaper that talked about how our housing system worked, and how people complain that after freshman year you don’t meet as many people,” he said.

Like HarvardLunch, PennLunch will also offer another feature that allows entire student groups, as well as individual group members, to sign up for lunch.

For example, students who are involved in a relatively large extracurricular activity — such as student government — can request to eat with another member of that group whom they do not know well.

“They don’t have to be a complete stranger,” Cruz said. “You can get to know someone better.”

However, success for the website isn’t necessarily guaranteed.

While Riddley said HarvardLunch has brought together more than 1,000 students on non-romantic lunch dates at Harvard, the social climate, undergraduate population size, housing system and dining hall structure is admittedly different at the two schools.

Some Penn students expressed discomfort at the idea of going to a lunch with a complete stranger.

“I think it’d be like a blind date,” Engineering sophomore Colleen Reynolds said. “I don’t think I’d be comfortable with that.”

Other students said they do not see a need for PennLunch.

“I think it’s a good idea, but personally I wouldn’t try it,” College senior Hascal Humes said. “I don’t think I’m looking for more people to interact with.”

Others, though, said they were willing to give it a chance.

“It sounds cool,” Wharton junior Rebecca Schmierer said. “I think I would use it. I like meeting people.”

Though PennLunch’s success remains to be seen, Cruz is not overly worried.

“We don’t know how receptive Penn students will be,” he said. “But it’s not a concern. If even two people use it, it would be a success because two people would have met someone they wouldn’t have met.”

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