Having coffee meetings at a La Madeleine (a French-themed restaurant chain with excellent coffee and pastries) near my office almost every weekday for the last six years has earned me the nickname “Mayor of La Madeleine” from friends and colleagues who know how much I enjoy the place. I even have my own table and the friendly employees all know my name. Walking in each morning makes me feel a little like Norm from Cheers!
You might think my fondness for this restaurant is connected to my love of good coffee and their convenient location(s). Possibly, but my love of coffee meetings more accurately stems from my belief that this is a great way to build relationships and conduct business. I strongly prefer the relaxed feeling of a meeting over coffee to a lunch or dinner meeting with overly attentive waiters at your elbow interrupting the flow of conversation. I have never conducted business after hours over drinks, but in my opinion alcohol and serious business conversations likely don’t mix well.
I see coffee meetings as the great “equalizer” and a way of producing a relaxed atmosphere with a level playing field. I invite people from my network and local companies to join me for coffee, regardless of title, and the result is a more casual conversation with a focus on getting to know each other versus trying to impress each other. This is important to me as I strive to be authentic and transparent with everyone I know. I find that my willingness to be candid about my life and interests first provides an open invitation for my guest to do the same. Pretty soon we recognize how much we may have in common and the ensuing conversation is more productive and enjoyable. We have established a relationship rather than conducted a transaction.
Other benefits of coffee meetings:
- Coffee meetings are easy to schedule and typically occur before the work day begins, freeing up more time to focus on work and other interests.
- I long ago committed to being home for dinner with my family each night, so out of necessity I shifted my focus to early coffee meetings and lunches to conduct my business.
- In the current atmosphere of tight budgets and closely watched expenses, coffee meetings are one of the least expensive ways to conduct business.
- If you are struggling to pin down a client prospect or other important contact for a meeting, offer to meet them for coffee near their office or at a convenient spot on their way to work one morning. This is often the least invasive way to get on their calendar and the least likely appointment for them to reschedule.
- There is a certain predictability to having a favorite coffee spot where you know the food/beverage quality, the quality of the customer service and peak busy times to avoid.
I have told my friends and colleagues for years that I am a blue collar guy in a white collar world. I certainly enjoy the food at great restaurants, but I often feel business meetings in these places can be contrived and pretentious. There is often a feeling of tension in the air with too much focus on being seen, impressing your guests and people watching versus intentional listening and a sincere desire to learn about the people at your table. Building honest and collaborative relationships with my ever expanding network is much more important to me than closing the deal. I would rather do business with my friends after we establish a trusting relationship and the coffee meeting is simply my preferred vehicle for making this possible.
You may read this and be unconvinced about the benefits of coffee meetings. I suggest you do whatever works best for you. My fondness for the subject of this post stems from years of growing self-awareness about who I am and how I prefer to interact with people. You may enjoy tremendous business success over lunch or cocktails and if it feels comfortable, keep at it. As for me, I will be at my favorite La Madeleine five days a week building relationships one cup of coffee at a time.