NEW YORK – Whoever said money can't buy love has yet to meet high-end dating consultants.
These professional matchmakers have built businesses on pairing beautiful people from the power scene in cities all over the country, charging clients up to $15,000 to find Mr. or Mrs. Right.
"I work with the top, top echelon of the social circle in New York," said Samantha Daniels, the 30-something single founder and president of Samantha's Table in Manhattan. "I mostly get people who are very upscale."
Another New York City consultant, the 40-something married founder of Janis Spindel Serious Matchmaking Inc., said of her mega-bucks service, "It's a small price to pay to be happy for the rest of your life."
Critics dismiss the services as a waste of time and money, contending they're no more effective than traditional — and much cheaper — ways of meeting singles. Believers point to the number of couples that meet through consultants and say the fees are a drop in the bucket for investment bankers, doctors, lawyers, CEOs and other big earners looking for soulmates.
And what exactly do these moneyed customers get for their buck?
"I do everything from soup to nuts," said Spindel. "I play shrink, mother, shoulder to cry on. I get people past the hiccups in their relationship." She said she even relays feedback from one dating partner to the other along the way.
Spindel first screens potential clients by phone — asking for vital stats like occupation, height and weight. Those who "don't take care of themselves" (people carrying too many pounds) will probably be turned away, she said, as will those who can't afford her services.
Assuming they clear that hurdle, initial consultations vary depending on gender. Men initially pay for the cost of taking Spindel to dinner on a simulated date. The man chooses the restaurant, and she chats him up while scrutinizing his chivalry, manners and conversational skills.
Women pay $350 for membership and a half-hour consultation at a coffee shop, where Spindel looks them over and learns what they're seeking. She tells them how to dress ("date clothes" are elegant yet sexy) and might send them to an image consultant, makeup artist, personal shopper or hair stylist ("short hair doesn't work — men like hair"). But all of that is extra, of course.
Interested male clients must then pay $15,000 up front, which buys them 12 "introductions" to potential partners and access to Spindel's advice, networking parties and other consulting services. Women can opt for the same package or pay half the price for six intros. Clients have two years to find the right person before they must either re-up or walk away solo.
"I'm harder on women," Spindel said. "If you don't look your best, the date is over in five minutes. Women are easy. Men are very, very, very picky."
Daniels bills herself as a more low-key matchmaker. "I don't believe in being very aggressive," she said.
She charges everyone $400 for an initial hour-long consultation. Clients who sign on then pay anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000, depending on the services. Like Spindel, Daniels can get people image consultants, stylists or even astrologers ("it gives them hope").
"I talk to them about dating etiquette, what they do right, what they do wrong," she said.
The consultants say their success rates prove they're worth the money. Spindel said nearly 200 of her couples are married, with 400 more in what she called committed relationships.
Nonetheless, plenty of singles are more than a bit skeptical about the benefits of exorbitantly priced dating consultants.
"It's outrageous," said Steve Buxbaum, a 33-year-old business consultant who lives in Los Angeles. "For someone to be frustrated enough with the dating scene that they're willing to spend that kind of money, that's amazing. It would never be worthwhile to me."
One Spindel client in her 40s, who asked to remain anonymous, said she chose the service as a way to avoid men intimidated by her high-powered career and salary. She's too busy to spend a lot of time meeting new people, she said, and has grown weary of the dating scene.
But she admitted to a downside of a high-society dating consultant: Rich people aren't always nice, and nice people aren't always rich. And there's still no sign of Mr. Right on her horizon.
That leaves others wondering if these clients are lookin' for love in all the wrong places.
"The fact that you have to pay to meet somebody — I question that. It makes me think of prostitution," said Kristen Bloom, 31, a Baltimore marketing associate. "People don't have time, so they try to make everything efficient.
"But you can't make fun efficient. It takes the fun out of it."