"Why Coffee is Good for your Career" we chatted about some of the reasons why taking business and networking meetings out of the office and into the more relaxed surrounds of a cafe can be a good idea.
This raised the question about whether there are any protocols or etiquette around these coffee meetings? The short answer is - yes. I'm not sure that you would find any documented "rules" anywhere - but there are certainly some 'common sense' guidelines which I would recommend you consider. And there are some conversations that should not be held in a cafe!
Here's my 5 Fast Tips for coffee meetings:
1. Pick the appropriate venue - if you want to have a private conversation make sure you don't go to the same cafe as all your mates from work. Even if you're not overheard, word can still get around pretty quickly if you are meeting with someone that the grapevine considers 'interesting'. Also, unless it's just a casual catch up - make sure you pick a cafe where the tables aren't too close together and it's quiet enough for you and your coffee companions to be able to hear each other.
2. Don't discuss confidential information - it doesn't matter how far away the tables are from each other you never know who can overhear you. Don't take the risk with company confidential information. That could be your competitor sipping on a latte at the next table.
3. Don't order food - unless a) you are in imminent danger of starving to death (in this case put off the meeting) OR b) it is a casual meeting where all your colleagues are eating. It's hard to be at your most articulate when you are asked a question and you're still munching through a muffin.
4. Keep the conversation casual until the coffee arrives (or at least until you have ordered) - this is a good time to get to know the other person a bit better. Have a couple of questions ready to ask that will help the conversation flow. Get down to business once the coffee has arrived. This achieves two things - it gives you time for the more casual chat and it means that when you start discussing a more serious business related topic you won't be stopped mid-sentence by the "Who ordered the Cappuccino?" interruption.
5. Pay - if you have asked the other person for coffee, if you are the most senior person or if you are meeting with a mentor. It's pretty well polite to offer in most circumstances. If it's with someone you are likely to meet with regularly you can always suggest you take turns but pay for the first time.
If the other person has ignored rule number 3 and ordered food and offers to pay - I would let them in this circumstance!
If your companion is quite insistent that they pay - don't get into an arm wrestle with them - say 'thank you', accept graciously and let them know it's your turn pay next time. (My only exception to this if I am meeting with someone who is interested in a job opportunity with me - then I always pay so I don't have any obligation to them.)
The great thing about the "we'll take turns" scenario is it means you have a reason to contact them to catch up again!
So, until we catch up next time - thanks for the chat!