The dreaded invitation: “Let’s have coffee…”

coffee cup empty“Let’s meet for coffee.”  Sound familiar? If you’re a business owner you may hear this phrase often. Yet, it’s not always a welcome invitation.

I received an email from a Clise Etiquette follower asking me how to handle the I-don’t-want-to-meet-for-coffee dilemma. She wrote, “I tend to have far more requests for my time than I can (or want to) keep up with. Do I have to reply to text and email requests for my time (i.e., thanks, can’t make it/doesn’t work for me), or is it okay to not reply and just say how busy I’ve been (true) when/if confronted?”

While usually well-intentioned, a coffee date can take valuable time out of your day. And, if you’re a business owner, the time spent meeting with colleagues is not billable time. Yes, it could possibly lead to a client referral or information that is helpful to your business, but too often casual meetings are not a good use of time.

Maybe you have encountered the person who “just wants to pick your brain?” The person who wants free advice on how to launch, run or grow a successful business?  Or, have you shown up to a meeting only to discover it is a sales pitch? If it’s not a brain-picking meeting or a sales pitch it’s often a get-together without a purpose meeting. While it’s always nice to  connect with others, if the meetings don’t have an objective you could spend all day having coffee with great (and some not so great) people but have nothing to show for it.

So what are you and the Clise Etiquette follower who emailed me to do? It somewhat depends on the situation. If you think the meeting could be mutually beneficial, than agree to meet but make sure that you’re both clear on what you hope to achieve in the meeting.  Is the person requesting the meeting someone who would be a good referral partner or has information that would be beneficial to you and vice-versa? If so, what will the focus of the meeting be? It’s always exciting to connect with someone and exchange ideas, but make sure you have a plan for both the meeting and for afterwards. Make an action list and stick to it after the meeting.

When in doubt about whether the get-together would be a good use of time or not it’s okay to ask why the person wants to meet. Her answer will let you know. You can always just have a 30 minute phone conversation.

If you’re pretty certain the meeting is not going to be useful then simply respond that you’re really busy and can’t meet.  If it’s hard for you to close the door completely say you can’t meet for two months and ask that the meeting requester follow-up with you then. If the person doesn’t circle back it probably wasn’t important.

The bottom line is you are not obligated to meet with everyone or even anyone who asks you to meet. And, as far as the person who emailed me to ask if she can just not respond to the invitations, while not my first choice, sometimes that’s acceptable. You’re busy and you don’t have to be at everyone’s beck and call.

For those of you who are requesting a coffee or lunch date, ask yourself how it will be beneficial to the other person in addition to yourself. If you can’t come up with an answer then it’s best not to waste the other person’s time. If you feel a meeting could be helpful to both parties clearly state how it will be beneficial when you request the meeting. And, if someone chooses not to meet, don’t be offended. It’s most likely less about you and more about the other party needing to focus on client work.

How do you handle requests for coffee dates? Do you always say yes? What makes you say no to a meeting? What do you wish people knew about coffee dates that would make them more useful?

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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. Chris on September 13, 2016 at 4:44 am

    The worst trait I experience tends to be people nagging repeatedly for a ‘catch-up’ and then when I eventually relent, finding they want me to drive to them as ‘it’s easier’. More often than not, I try to trust my instinct, and if it’s a local meet, I’ll try to make it a lunch rather than coffee, as I try to stop for lunch anyway, even if that means that I’m still talking shop away from my desk!

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