Potluck, redefined

May 13, 2012, 11:08 IST | Anjana Vaswani

Born of jazz piano teacher Cressida Howard's epiphany, ladies-only social discovery website Invite For A Bite helps women connect with complete strangers around the world. So if you're looking for someone to grab a drink with, company to attend that writers workshop in Scotland, or if you just don't feel like dining alone one night, post a note

Cressida Howard from Cheltenham, England calls herself a, “reformed technomoron.” About a year ago, she confesses on her website, “My computer was my boyfriend’s hand-me-down, an unwieldy beast from the late ’90s. My mobile phone could have been in a museum... I couldn’t even text.” It’s little wonder then that when she announced her intention to launch Invite For A Bite, an online social network just months ago her near and dear ones were surprised. “My friends and family really liked the idea, but thought it was hilarious,” says Howard.

The idea, Howard recalls, was inspired by a discussion on BBC’s Radio 4, recounting which, she says, “A group of women were talking about how they loved travelling alone. But they all agreed on one thing: they hated eating alone.” This rang a bell with the jazz piano teacher who faced the problem herself while travelling through Spain and Japan. “There I was in the kitchen poking at my teabag when the thought pinged in my brain,” Howard remembers, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a website where women who didn’t want to eat alone could hook up with one another and eat together?”

Would it though? If, like us, you’re socially awkward and generally uncomfortable at social events, then the notion of dining with complete strangers probably makes you shudder. But, Howard would assure you, “It’s not like going to a party where you don’t know anyone, and where you worry about having to make conversation with people who may not want to talk to you. Invite For A Bite is like going to a party where everyone wants to talk to you. They’ve turned up because they want to meet new people. They want to meet you.”

Confident that the device had great scope, Howard secured the help of two friends — web developer George Farron and web designer Kayleigh Witts-Thomas, and Invite For A Bite was born. With no country off-limits, and a tremendous response — Howard tells us, “Almost a thousand people signed up in the last week alone; our highest membership is in the United States of America at the moment” — the two month-old resource already extends itself to women everywhere, and not exclusively to travel enthusiasts either. “Maybe you’re new to a town, or you’ve lived there all your life but want to meet new people. Whether it’s over a meal in a restaurant or at your house, or at a picnic in the park, eating together is a really relaxed way to get to know people.”

Then why limit its use to women alone? Howard says, “We wanted it to be a safe, friendly place where women could meet new people, not something that turns into a dating site.” “Most women aren’t comfortable going into a bar or restaurant on their own,” Howard adds, stressing that dining alone is harder for single women. “In many countries going into a bar alone is unacceptable, even dangerous. As women, however, we feel safe in each other’s company.” A simple and free registration on the site is all it takes to either create an invite or accept someone else’s, and members even have profile pages you can go through to understand who they are. So in a complete U-turn, Howard now has a renewed respect for the Internet. “It makes connecting with people so much easier and more spontaneous,” she says. We’re sure women everywhere are just as grateful. 

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