Sometimes, “Let’s Do Lunch” isn’t entirely the right “Do”. Honestly, not every small business meeting needs to involve the expense of a 3-course prix fixe, two glasses of Sancerre and a 20% tip, not to mention the 60 to 90-minute commitment.
My own solution to this is “Let’s Do Coffee”, which turns out to be the setting for 3 to 6 of my most effective one-on-one business meetings each week. The coffee shop option is full of practicality on all levels, but like fine dining, also comes with potential pitfalls ready to trap those of us who lack experience or intuition. For anyone who fancies the caffeinated conference format, take the following bits of advice from someone who leads the charge.
The first thing to keep in mind about coffee meetings is that the timing is not as defined as it would be with lunch meetings. For instance, I’ve had half-hour coffees that, in actuality, were 15 minutes too long; On the flip side, there have been two-hour coffees where we’ve just scratched the surface of our business at hand. Good practice is to get a feel for how much time the other person has, and set a cell phone alarm for a “hard stop” about ten minutes before a departure is required. This will preserve the flow of any deep conversation, while promising that scheduled commitments are met.
The Walking Coffee
To state the obvious, you can’t make a reservation at a coffee spot. If the line is long and the tables are full, it could carve an enormous chunk out of your meeting time. This is why arriving early for a coffee is even more important than for a lunch meeting. An additional technique I use for keeping on schedule is scouting out a public space near our date location that we can walk to once we’ve purchased our coffee to go. Now that the weather is mild, walking coffees will prove far more practical. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to get a little sunshine and exercise in the process. Here’s my secret cultured coffee hideout, if you happen to be meeting between 9 and 10:30am.
The Ambiguous Hour
Often, the coffee meeting time that works for both of you will fall close enough to either side of lunchtime as to suggest a small meal is in order. The androgyny of an 11am or 1pm coffee will certainly prompt you to choose your spot differently. My advice is to be mindful of the other party’s food preferences or lifestyle when making your choice. I know it’s hard to believe, but not everyone likes Starbucks! Just some brief online research the day before will help you zero in on an appropriate venue in any neighborhood.