Men and women are rotated to meet each other over a series of short "dates", usually lasting from 3 to 8 minutes depending on the organization running the event. At the end of each interval, the organizer rings a bell or clinks a glass to signal the participants to move on to the next date. At the end of the event participants submit to the organizers a list of who they would like to provide their contact information to. If there is a match, contact information is forwarded to both parties. Contact information cannot be traded during the initial meeting, in order to reduce pressure (especially on women) to accept or reject a suitor to his or her face.
These events typically require advance registration, often an online prepayment by credit card. However, they may accept a few walk-ins when needed to balance the gender ratio. Some services make use of waitlists when signing up to strive for exactly the same number of men and women, while others have a more "party" atmosphere and only aim for an approximately matching number.
There are many speed dating events now in the UK, Canada, and the US. Many of these simply specify an age range for ladies and gentlemen; sometimes a slightly older range is specified for men. On the other hand, many organizers offer niche events such as nights for graduates only, gays and lesbians, older men with younger women and vice versa, book lovers, ethnic events, and of course the original niche event, religious affiliation.
Speed dating has some obvious advantages over most other venues for meeting people, such as bars, discotheques, etc. in that everybody is purportedly there to meet someone, they are grouped into compatible age ranges, it is time-efficient, and the structured interaction eliminates the need to introduce oneself. And unlike many bars a speed dating event will, by necessity, be quiet enough for people to talk comfortably.
Participants can come alone without feeling out of place; alternatively it is something that women who like to go out in groups can do together
Because the matching itself happens after the event, people do not feel pressured to select or reject each other in person. On the other hand, feedback and gratification are delayed as participants must wait a day or two for their results to come in.
The time limit ensures that a participant will not be stuck with a boorish match for very long, and prevents participants from monopolizing one another's time. On the other hand, a couple that decides they are incompatible early on will have to sit together for the duration of the round.
Most speed dating events match people at random, and participants will meet different "types" that they might not normally talk to in a club. On the other hand, the random matching precludes the various cues, such as eye contact, that people use in bars to preselect each other before chatting them up.