by Scott Bennett    Tue, Mar 20, 2007, 05:09 pm

Back in the day it was the three-martini lunch - then HR got involved (ever notice how much fun they seem to spoil?). And, it wasn’t a bad pace – three martini’s, three-hours. You could still walk afterwards. Of course this was popularized before the internet, before the blackberry, even before the cell phone (if you can imagine). This was back in the day before it was considered appropriate for many professional services to advertise (that’s the hard one to imagine – commercials for ambulance chasers were not allowed). So, this was marketing. Good old, face-to-face discussions, with the rough edges smoothed out by a nice gin.

But then political correctness, MADD, and of course, HR got in the way. And, along the way, the world changed. Lawyers could advertise, phones went everywhere you went, and then this thing called the internet. As some folks predicted it might, is has really caught on, … really. And the pace of business became about speed. Business relationships took on a more impersonal manner. Nstd of cing sum 1 ud txt m or leave a vm. Countless deals were struck with people never actually talking to each other – the closest was talking to each other’s voice mail.

But, more recently, folks have started figuring out that behind it all it is still people and people need to relate to one another in a direct manner. In order to truly communicate and collaborate, people need to look into each other’s eyes at least once. There is a trust factor that is gained that cannot be communicated over a digital medium. It has to come from looking that person in the eye – live and in person if possible.

Of course, that raises the question where do you do this eyeballing of the other person. No way HR is going to go along with the reintroduction of the three-martini lunch, not even the two or the one. And many of us don’t have real offices any more to meet at. There’s only so much you want to talk about in a cube with everyone around prairie dogging. And then, of course, there are those of us with the ‘virtual office’ (fancy language for working in your gym clothes most of the time). And who wants to clean house every time we gotta have a meeting.

So, where else but the coffee shop to meet? Starbucks and its competitors are getting rich off of this trend. Of course, if you meet there, you have to buy the product – at least get a ‘tall’ (which of course is the small). According to Howard Schultz, the Starbucks CEO, Starbucks brews over 227 million gallons of coffee a day (and that’s before they open all the new Starbucks inside the Starbucks).

I was thinking about all this the other day, working my way home (oops, I mean back to the office) after a series of meetings, my mind going a hundred miles an hour, my foot tapping, my finger tapping, talking fast on the blue tooth, realizing I really needed to go to the restroom, again. I was hopping, really wired, ready to crank some work out. And, then it hit me, coffee is the new business martini. My day started at the Park Cities club for a breakfast meeting and coffee. Then it was over to Javalato’s in Preston Center to do some quick email over coffee (if you haven’t been there – its great – puts Starbucks to shame and the wireless is free if you buy a cup). Then, a meeting there over coffee. Then, over to Starbucks in Las Colinas to meet with another client. Then a lunch meeting (with a little coffee afterward). Then to Addison for one more meeting over coffee. And, of course, what’s the point of decaf, right?

I used to consume half a cup of coffee a day (along with three martinis). Now I don’t even want to try to measure my consumption (of coffee – no martinis anymore, HR). It seems we have gone from the martini being the liquid that oiled the meetings to coffee fueling them. Who would have ever imagined it not so many years ago. But then who would have ever guessed people would line up to pay $5 for a fancy cup of coffee. I like the change. The coffee meeting combines the personal interaction with the business need for speed. You can keep meetings shorter – its over when the coffee is cold or gone. You come out of a meeting wired, not smashed. Its cheaper than a martini (unless you order a quad grande 3 pump extra hot no whip white mocoa). All good things; I like it when I slow down enough to think about it.

That’s one of the things I love about business; its dynamics, the way its changes and adapts. Who knows what will be next. Maybe coffee will be around a while as the fuel/excuse for a meeting, at least until HR figures out a reason to ruin this too.


Keith Walters is an accomplished operational executive, a seasoned management consultant and a veteran of the technology boom. Keith has a gamut of business and technology experiences from being a programmer to starting businesses to running a global division of a billion dollar company. Having decided to recapture his life he left his role in large-corporate America and is rebuilding his network in DFW while he works on startups, provides management consulting and decides what to do next with his career. He has found that networking over coffee truly gets him wired.

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