When Meeting for Coffee, Be Sure to Have a Cup.

Many of us whose jobs involve being out and about, prospecting and meeting people will often do so coffee houses. Here in Columbus, Ohio, I am partial to Panera Bread in particular.

It brings to mind a scenario from a Panera Bread store that I frequent on the east side of Columbus. When I ordered a cup of coffee, Dan, the general manager told me it was on the house—because he sees me in there so often.

As much as I appreciated the gesture, I couldn’t accept it. “Why not?” Dan asked.

“For as much time as I spend in here,” I answered, “I feel like I should be ordering more than just coffee.” Sometimes I would order something else, but the truth was, for the free wireless, the crackling fire and the relaxing atmosphere, all I was paying for that “office space” was about two dollars—which included all the refills I wanted. And I wasn’t just ordering it for show—the truth is I’m a coffee lover; it was a win-win arrangement.

Dan chuckled at my response, acknowledging that the place was very popular for one-on-one business meetings. “Last week,” he told me, “our district manager was here. Late one morning we looked out at the dining room and saw perhaps ten to fifteen people sitting, meeting and working—and not a single product of ours on the table! The DM went out and politely asked them all to leave if they were not going to order anything.”

I replied that I could understand the DM’s point of view. “Me too,” Dan countered, “However I don’t think I would have gone that far. I’m happy to fill the seats. If you can do that, you’ll make money.”

Dan probably has it right—bring people in, provide value, and you’ll build customer relationships. However, it begs the question: If you use someone else’s business, such as a coffee shop or restaurant, to build your own, yet you don’t patronize that business, what does that say about you—especially in circumstances when you are meeting prospects for the first time?

This gets into subtext here. It’s the difference between being a giver and a taker. It’s also a measure of showing respect for the people and resources at your disposal to help you do business. If you appreciate those establishments being available for you to meet others and conduct business of your own, don’t they deserve the respect of your patronage?

Not a coffee drinker? Fine! Order tea, juice or a soft drink. Order something—and while doing so, order for your guest as well.

By the way, that’s a cardinal rule if you extended the meeting invitation.

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