Is “Let’s Meet for Coffee” the new “Hi, How are you?” When someone asks “How are you,” it’s rarely a meaningful question—often it’s just part of a standard greeting—a secondary clause after “Hello.” A possible stand in for “Nice to meet you.” Has coffee become some commonplace that “Let’s meet for coffee” has become the new “Let’s keep in touch,” or “I’ll call you?” Do people really mean it when they say it?
In today’s workplace, speed is of the essence—if a moment or two can be saved—it is. This mentality may filter down past the job itself and touches even the commonplace phrases co-workers exchange every day, pertaining to social life, home and hobbies. Whereas colleagues once used to “have lunch,” they now invite one another to “grab coffee.” But what does that really mean? And when they say it, do they mean it?
Coffee is easily America’s most popular beverage, and is interwoven with the American workplace—coffee breaks during the workday, coffee during business meetings, coworkers meeting offsite for coffee, countless employees punching in with a morning cup of coffee in their hand—clearly, the work world could not survive without the brew.
Employees are “grabbing coffee” more often than ever. Business Insider suggests aiming for “50 Coffee Meetings” as a way to reach networking nirvana, equating the notion to the cultural belief that mastering a skill requires 10,000 hours. Since not all invitations to grab coffee will be accepted, people feel free to invite at will.
The Coffee Date
Because coffee has become such a ubiquitous part of popular culture, it peppers conversation as well—instead of asking someone if she might like to “get a drink,” the new request is to “grab coffee.” This may actually refer to drinking coffee, but it doesn’t need to—it’s understood that the phrase merely implies meeting off-site, perhaps for a drink of some kind. It’s a safer, lower-commitment engagement, which may or may not lead to drinks, dinner, and happily ever after. It’s also easy to ditch out of a coffee shop after a quick cup of coffee if you and your date are not meant to be—no hard feelings. And the upside is that you’ve enjoyed a cup of coffee!
A Meaningless Phrase?
Of course, some use the phrase “grab coffee” without really having any intention of meeting up later. This practice may have become popular because it can often generate from the listener a positive impression of the speaker, while not committing either party to anything. Just mentioning the word “coffee” can have an important psychological effect on the listener if it reminds him of a positive experience connected coffee. In 2008, research was conducted at the National Institute of Health studying the psychological effects of holding a warm cup of coffee. Participants, the researchers observed, would often attribute warm feelings to strangers and even found them more trustworthy. The researchers surmised that “‘warmth’ is the most powerful personality trait in social judgment, and went on to conclude that warm objects promote warm feelings toward others.
It may be a subconscious act, but the positive response from people with whom you ask to “get coffee” may be subtly reinforcing usage of the phrase. Everyone likes to think about coffee, and the person who brings it up regularly is likely to gain favor from all those in hearing.
Keep it Spontaneous
Surprisingly, research has shown that spontaneous coffee dates—i.e. those that are NOT planned in advance, tend to make people happier than those that are put on the calendar. Calendared events can feel like work. So, keep it simple, spontaneous, and grab coffee with a friend!