Taking a chance on lunch

Three reporters agree to have lunch with three different random strangers.

By James DelVesco

The days of awkwardly avoiding eye contact on the quad may soon be over. A new website, called www.uchicagolunch.com, lets U of C students set up a lunch with a random stranger, giving them a chance opportunity to meet someone new. Third-year Kevin Zhang, who coded the site, said that he got the idea last year when SG College Council Chair Neil Shah told him about a similar concept at Harvard. Using the Harvard site as inspiration Zhang built the UChicago lunch site, which randomly pairs students for a lunch date based on their schedule and food preferences. Since launching in November, Zhang said that the site, which both undergraduate and graduate students used, receives approximately 5–10 schedule requests each day.

 We sent three reporters out to try out the site to see what chance would produce.

Still Waiting

Using the website is relatively simple and harmless—you provide basic contact information and select a few options from a dropdown menu. Your preferences—availability and type of cuisine—are then entered into a mysterious algorithm. The “system” will randomly match with you with someone who shares similar tastes and is available on one of the days you indicated.  It makes sense in theory, but like every U of C student, I wondered, does it work in practice?

The matching process is fairly quick—within a few hours, I received an e-mail containing my match’s contact information and a suggested Hyde Park eatery for our lunch. UChicago Lunch suggests that you contact your match ahead of time to confirm your meeting and in case you want to arrange a different date and time. It also encourages you to deviate from the suggested restaurant if you and your match would like to eat somewhere else. Basically, it gives you a starting point—the rest is up to you and your match to coordinate.

I am still waiting to experience the actual lunch date. My match unfortunately had to cancel at the last minute, and she has not rescheduled yet. So far, I have reinforced what I already knew: machines are efficient, but it is the human factor that is always the make-or-break factor.—Marina Fang

How random is it anyway?

As if meeting a completely random stranger through UChicago Lunch is not a Herculean endeavor in and of itself, I was taken aback when I saw that my underlying assumption of random did not exclude classroom acquaintances.

The moment when you realize the “stranger “ you were randomly assigned to for lunch is the same girl you sit two seats down from in Spanish class, It’s a telling experience.

After receiving a friend request from my mystery lunch date, third-year Katie Hough, I naturally scanned her Facebook page, trying to get an indication of what this unfamiliar person, and our lunch date, would be like.

Things got interesting when I started to piece together facts about my perspective date—first name, Facebook-declared major, profile picture—and came to the conclusion that she and I conjugate verbs and memorize Spanish vocabulary together four times a week.

As I was looking at her profile in my house lounge, the fact that two of my housemates know my lunch date led me to the conclusion that the degrees of separation between students here, even first years like me, are probably not often more than one.

Although I missed out on the experience of conversing with a complete stranger, our lunch together was worthwhile nonetheless.

Once we got past the usual conversation starters—our majors, which dorms we live in, where we’re from—we were able to develop a more interesting discussion about the socio-economics of our hometowns, why we chose to come to the U of C, and what type of lawyer you would have to be to be able to sleep at night.

After my lunch, I realized the value in taking the time to get past the usual polite inquiries we are accustomed to being content with when talking to our classmates; in doing so, people become a lot more interesting. —Jennifer Standish

Still on my mind

Thursday came around and I had neglected to look up my lunch partner, second-year Vicki Yang, on Facebook. I had also neglected to tell her I’m in Calc 152 at 12:30. So at 10:45 I sent her an email asking if we could push our lunch back. At 12:12, I got a reply:

I’m very glad you want to push back the time! Let’s do 1:30 then, same place at Shinju (so we can make the $14.99 all-you-can-eat special). My number is XXX-XXX-XXXX, so just text me if you can’t find me or something. I’m short. I’m Asian. I’m wearing a bow tie today.

Long story short, I had a really great lunch. We knew a few of the same people, and it was interesting finding how our social circles overlapped. And never have I felt so inadequate in my ability to consume raw fish. I know that sounds weird, but let me explain.

She was going to St. Louis for the weekend on a late bus, and wasn’t going to get in until 2 AM. “I’m trying to eat enough so that I don’t have to eat dinner,” she said. And did she pack away the sushi.

Both of us were pleasantly surprised by the lunch. “I was a little worried about people being flaky. I was going to show up here anyway even if you didn’t,” she said. It was an hour-and-a-half well spent, and I’ll definitely keep UChicago Lunch and her in mind.—James DelVesco