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I recently worked with a client who scheduled a coffee meeting with an employee from a company he previously interviewed with online. His upcoming meeting prompted a conversation during which we discussed coffee meeting etiquette. The key to a successful coffee meeting is to proactively think through the logistics and how you want the conversation to go. Whether you are meeting to network or as part of an interview process, the tips below will ensure that you have good coffee meeting etiquette.
Dress to Impress
Plan your attire in advance, paying careful attention to any power dynamics at play. Is this a meeting with your potential future boss, as was the case for my client? Or an acquaintance you’ve known for a decade? Adjust what you wear according to whom you are meeting with, but I recommend erring on the side of being more formal than less. This is especially the case considering the pandemic and how informal the work-from-home culture has caused many of us to be. It’s hard to go wrong with a nice blouse or button-down/collared shirt. (Wrinkled clothes should stay home.)
Establish a Time and Location for Your Coffee Meeting—and Confirm the Details
Confirming the location prior to the meeting is important, especially because many coffee shops are franchises that have multiple locations within one geographical area. More than once, I’ve been waiting for a person to show up for a meeting only to get a call or text asking me where I am. In each case, the person went to the wrong place. These things happen, but you should do your best to make sure you’re not the one in the wrong place!
I recommend sending a meeting invitation with the time and street address of the coffee shop. Then, you can confirm the day before with a brief email that restates the time and location. This extra step will also demonstrate your organizational skills.
The key to a successful coffee meeting is to proactively think through the logistics and how you want the conversation to go.
Allot Plenty of Travel Time
A good way to make a bad impression is to be late. Beforehand, look up the drive time, and then add buffer time in case of traffic. Google Maps or another GPS tool can also suggest alternate routes if there was an accident or other issues that could extend the commute time.
The Big Question for Coffee Meeting Etiquette: Who Pays?
The etiquette around who pays can be tricky, so I recommend that you make this decision in advance. Common etiquette suggests that the person who initiated the meeting should pay. Of course, if you are meeting with many people as part of your networking strategy and funds are tight, you might not be able to cover the tab for everyone.
If You Plan to Pay for Your Coffee and Theirs
One option is to arrive early and wait near the door so you can meet your guest and get in line together to order. If you are first in line, place your order and then indicate to your guest and the cashier that you’ll be paying for both of you. If your guest is first in line and orders before you, take a moment to thank them for meeting with you and tell them you’d like to treat.
If the person is already at your meeting location because they had a prior meeting there, greet them before you order and ask if you can get them anything. Easy enough.
If You Only Plan to Pay for Your Own Coffee
You have two options here. Arrive early, get your coffee, sit down, and then work or read while you wait. If you see the other person walk in, greet them and let them know you’ve secured a table where they can join you after ordering. The step of getting a table can be valuable on its own in busy coffee shops.
Option two is to wait to place your order until the other person arrives. Greet and then join your guest in line, but order separately and make no mention of paying. If the other person offers to buy your coffee, graciously accept, making sure to say thank you.
Wear a Watch
Being a mindful timekeeper shows respect for honoring the time commitment. To this end, I recommend wearing a wristwatch so it’s easy to glance at it without having to pick up a phone to activate the screen, which can be distracting. Not losing track of time also helps ensure the agenda gets covered.
Coffee Meeting Etiquette Includes the Equitable Sharing of Information
When I first started my business and had networking coffee meetings, I predominantly filled the role of listener because I didn’t manage the clock well. I would let the other person talk for 50 minutes and would only start to share information about my business in the last ten minutes of an hour-long meeting. This was neither satisfying nor effective. And even though I always wore a watch (see tip above), I didn’t know how to direct the meeting when the other person dominated the conversation.
It can be helpful to be aware that this imbalance can happen and to come prepared with strategies for managing the clock. Simple verbal cues work well: “It’s great to hear this information about your job! I know we only have about 30 minutes left, so I’d love to tell you more about myself. I can see we have some similar interests.” The exact wording doesn’t matter as long as you use language that is authentic and communicates your message clearly, concisely, and enthusiastically. Whether you are meeting to network as a business owner or job seeker, good coffee meeting etiquette includes the equitable sharing of information.
Conclude the Meeting by Expressing Gratitude and Planning Next Steps
Transition into closing the meeting about ten minutes before it is scheduled to end. In the last few minutes of the meeting, you can establish next steps and thank the person for having the meeting.
If you’ve networked long enough, you’ve probably had a networking-gone-bad experience. Coffee meetings can be awkward if either party is inexperienced or has poor etiquette. By brushing up on coffee meeting etiquette and ensuring the logistical considerations are addressed, you can focus on the exchange of information—which is the point of the meeting!