The Art of Meetings – Why You Should Never Have a Meeting in a Coffee Shop

Posted: April 9, 2011 in Uncategorized
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In the restaurant industry, we have a saying – “location. location. location.”  This mantra applies to meetings too, but I see it constantly being done incorrectly.

Now before I tell you why you should NEVER have a meeting in a coffee shop, we should layout and agree on the makings of a great meeting.

  • Comfort – Unlike a negotiation (in which you often want the other party to feel uncomfortable in their surroundings) both parties need to be relaxed and not worried about what to do, where to sit, how loud to speak etc.. before you can talk business.
  • Shoelace Theory – ‘not too long, not too short’ – you don’t want the meeting to drag on forever, or to be so short that you rush through topics.
  • Don’t be an acquaintance- “it’s great to meet you! fantastic! that’s so interesting! goodluck!” then you trade business cards and walk away, leaving no lasting impression. The goal is to go beyond that fluff and talk about some real shit – that’s when real connections are made.

Now, onto the reasons why a coffeeshop is the worst place to have a meeting.

1. Hipsters – There’s nothing worse than having a beret-wearing, macbook pro using, tall triple expresso shot drinking hipster glaring at you because you’re talking is interrupting his zen focus on the ‘book-that-I’ve-been-working-on-for-over-a-year’.*  You need to be able to laugh, tell stories, and express yourself when you meet someone – and coffee shop hipsters can really be a buzzkill.

classic hipster glare.

2. Can’t sip forever – Coffeeshop meetings have no structure. If you’re early, you can either lurk around, or grab a coffee and sit down (causing a ‘Where’s Waldo’ situation if you don’t know what each other look like). Once you have your coffee, you sit down and are never interupted again. That means it’s 1 on 1 for the rest of the meeting, and neither of you know when it should end. This leaves you with one option, pulling the “I’m really busy and important, so I’ve got to run now” ending to the meeting. Not a good look.

3. No Alcohol – There’s no beating around the bush here, booze is a great form of social lube, and getting hammered together can be a great bonding experience. In fact, we went from being in awe of Phillip the Food Network Chef to really believing he would teach and work with three 21-year olds over a couple of bottles of sake on the first night we met.

4. Logistics – Everyone and their mom loves Starbucks. That’s why you’ll never find a seat. Once you get to the coffee shop and there’s no seats, you’re shit outta luck. Nobody gets up. Ever. Now the meeting is off to a terrible start, and all because you picked the wrong location. Or you’ll end up in one of the ‘alternative’ seats, on a couch (silly), or on bar stools facing the window. Turrible, just turrible as Charles Barkley would say.  If you meet at a bar or restaurant, they seat you, they bring your food and drinks to you, and they bring you the bill when its time to leave. Let the restaurant staff handle the logistics of the meeting – you focus on what you’re going to say.

Basically – the formula for a great meeting isn’t much different than the formula for a great first date. You don’t want to go somewhere that you’ll barely be able to talk (ie. going to see a movie), you don’t want to look like a scrub (ie. trying too hard and taking a girl to a fine french restaurant, and ordering a Cabernet (pronouncing it cab-er-NET) and making a special request for the 2009 version “because its newer”), and you need to be able to connect personally over stories and get to know each other as people first, business partners later.

In the end, its all about breaking down barriers. Get them in a place where they are comfortable enough to open up and be themselves. Remember that everything you do says something about you, not just the words spoken during the meeting. Pick an interesting place in the city if you want to be seen as interesting. Drink if you want to show your fun side. Go to a place where the entire waitstaff knows your name if you want to show you’re status in the community. You can show many different facets of your knowledge/experience just by your choice of location – don’t follow the social norm and pick a local coffeeshop if that’s not the best fit for the meeting.

That’s it for part I of The Art of Meetings – Look out for part II on Monday – about a trick that we’ve learned from some of the best businessmen in the world – Being the First to Cuss.

– Shaan

*Note – If you do encounter said hipsters – follow my man Stewie’s approach to asking about their progress:

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