Professional Matchmaker

Written by: 
Michelle Hale

Irene LaCota (photo by Sandy Huffaker)For many professional singles, finding time to meet and go out with other singles is a challenge, to say the least. Trying to juggle career responsibilities with the prospects of finding love can prove to be too much for some, who end up putting their love life on the back burner.

Enter UNT alumna Irene LaCota, president and chief marketing officer of It's Just Lunch – a service that matches couples for a casual, low-pressure meeting where they can get to know each other. Many busy singles suffer through blind dates, consider or try personal ads, the Internet and online dating services but still can't find the love they are looking for. LaCota's company provides them with another alternative -- a fun, laid back, stress-free way to meet normal, well-educated professionals.

This month It's Just Lunch celebrates 18 years in the matchmaking business.

More about It's Just Lunch

Watch a video including It's Just Lunch and learn how the recession has affected dating

Take It's Just Lunch's Dating Quiz and find out how your dating tendencies compare with those of other singles

Read It's Just Lunch's Single's Scene blog

Irene on dating and finding love

What is your No. 1 dating tip for busy singles?
My No. 1 dating tip is: don't put too much pressure on yourself. This happens a lot with people who don't have a lot of connections to other singles. They meet someone and think, "I've got to make this work out. It could be 6 months before I find someone else even remotely interesting."

What attitude should single people have when they start dating?
Keep dating light and casual, especially early on. On a first date, go out to lunch, drinks or brunch and split the check. This keeps the expectations and pressure lower. If you decide to see each other again, you know your date is interested in you. It's that simple. As you get to know a new person, you'll have an opportunity to "try each other out" and see if the relationship might work. Even if a date doesn't develop into a full-blown relationship, you're still growing and learning as a human being, which makes life interesting and exciting.

What is the biggest mistake single professionals make?
Probably the biggest mistake people make is repeatedly dating the same type of person and expecting different results. I always encourage my clients to open themselves up to connecting with people who have similar core values but different professions, backgrounds, and interests.

What would you say to a single who's just about given up on finding love?
Learn to love yourself. Remember that the very characteristic or behavior that turns one person off may turn another person on. Don't waste your time with people who don't recognize what you have to offer. Learn to love yourself for everything you are and everything you're not. When you like who you are, people will naturally be drawn to you.

The evolution of It's Just Lunch

When was the business started?
In 1991. Our first office was in Chicago.

How many franchises are operating today and in what cities?
We operate in over 200 cities around the world (both franchise and corporate owned offices).

When did the first international franchise open?
2004 in Singapore.  It has been fascinating to observe that singles in Singapore join It's Just Lunch for the same reasons singles in the U.S. join IJL – they don't have time, want confidentiality, etc.

Photo by Sandy HuffakerDo you keep statistics about how many lunch dates end up marrying? If so, how many?
We focus on how many first dates lead to second dates.  Our mission is to introduce singles to other singles they would never normally meet in their day-to-day lives.   We don't want our clients focusing on marriage on the first date or even the second date, rather we want them to enjoy themselves, get to know the other person and only ask themselves, "Do I want to see this person again?"

Describe your typical client.
Single male or female, age 32 to 50, college educated with an income $75,000 or higher.  They are used to outsourcing many aspects of their lives and are not happy with other options for meeting others. They want to make a proactive change in their lives.  And they are smart for joining It's Just Lunch.

What are some of the greatest challenges regarding this kind of business?
Always remembering that men and women are motivated by very different marketing messages.  In addition, we deal with matters of the heart and brain, which often times are not rational.  We also have to keep up with the dramatic shifts in advertising and societal trends.

How would you like to see It's Just Lunch evolve?
We are going to continue our expansion across the U.S. and internationally and move into related single services.  We want to continue our research on dating trends with busy single professionals so we can be viewed as the thought leaders in the dating industry.  We want to be perceived as the best option for single professionals when they get serious about finding someone.

Do you have a blog or Twitter account that you use to market your business or keep in touch with your clients?
Yes we have both.  We post dating tips to our Singles Scene blog.  We also just started a Twitter account.

All about Irene

Where are you from originally?
I'm from upstate New York, a small town called Owego, in the Finger Lakes area.  I grew up among streams, hills, lots of snow -- and great pizza.

When did you graduate from UNT?
I received my MBA in August, 1991.

What did you study?
Personnel/Industrial Relations

What did you learn at UNT or what experiences did you have while at UNT that have helped you with your business?
I took a variety of classes while studying for my MBA at UNT.  I think the diverse class selection helped me develop a sound business platform that I still utilize today.  I worked and took night classes so I used what I learned in class in my day to day challenges.  When I reflect back, I still remember the insurance class I took, business law, accounting, finance and marketing.  I took a lot of classes that entailed group work as well.  Many of the students were also working full-time so it took a lot of skills to motivate a case study group to get our tasks done when our daytime jobs were our top priority. 

What do you enjoy most about your work?
No day is the same for me. One day I'm discussing how to expand our use of Twitter and the next day I'm working on budgets and reviewing dating stats.  My fondest memories are when I get a call from a client and they thank me for changing their life.

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