Coffee shop business culture: why it wee-wees all over walking meetings

Walking meetings vs coffee meetings: a no brainer in England

England, as you know, is the country where you experience all four seasons in one day

Being a lazy old goat, I am pleased to update you on that terrifying trend of last year whereby business meetings increasingly were being held on the trot – or at least, at a steady, healthy walking pace. Outdoors. Yikes!

Earnest executives were lacing up their hiking boots, switching their phones to silent so they could appreciate the swish of the breeze through the trees and the chirping of bird song overhead, and raising their faces to the warm – oh, wait a minute. This was England. In November.

It’s no wonder the English talk about the weather

There is certainly plenty to talk about. England, as you know, is the country where you experience all four seasons in one day. The majority of nearly all 365 is spent in winter. Except for the last couple of summers where anyone foolish enough to arrange a walking meeting in July or early August needed to supply ice packs and parasols to any client or colleague exposing more than a few square centimeters of bare flesh.

England’s rare heatwaves are not warm and wonderful; they are hot, sweaty and stinky. I delivered a blog writing workshop on one of hottest days of this summer – about 32C or 90F outdoors – in an office building with one long wall entirely made of glass, no air conditioning (it had broken down) and two small desk fans. It must say a lot for the quality of my training content that the participants did not a) leave, b) pass out, or c) die.

Let’s get real here, and stick with good old coffee meetings

Particularly with autumn/fall about to descend on us the thought of working on business writing projects while trying to stand upright in 50 m.p.h. wind gusts or dodging hailstones the size of golf balls doesn’t do much for my ability to concentrate. Much as I appreciate inhaling fresh air I can just as easily do that while sitting comfortably on the outdoor terrace of a nice coffee shop if it should happen to be a sunny day. Well, with maybe the odd whiff of diesel fumes from the traffic, but that’s just me being picky.

The fact that coffee meetings have become incredibly popular in England has not gone unnoticed by the coffee giants like Costa and Starbucks. (Tim Hortons from Canada – yoo-hoo, where are you?)

Descended from the blowout business lunch of 40 years ago?

The boozy business lunch of the 1970s and 1980s was all fine and dandy if you worked in City of London banking, had an unlimited budget for half a cow’s worth of rare beef, vintage claret, Cuban cigars, industrial-strength brandy, a very stout liver and no need to get back to work until the next morning.

Given western society’s increasing concern about cholesterol and alcoholism plus corporations’ decreasing desire to pay for their executives’ ridiculous expense accounts, the ensuing light, non-alcoholic business lunch pleased the Politically Correct and CFOs all in one hit.

But I suspect the even more recent rise of the coffee meeting took the light lunch’s place in the last few years due, mainly, to the recession.

Coffee meetings beat light lunches because:

  1. They are more flexible (you’re not tied to a mealtime)
  2. They can be as long, or as short, as you want
  3. They are one hell of a lot cheaper

You can sit in a coffee shop nursing one latte each for two or more hours, with a table to work on, free wifi and no-one pestering you asking for your food orders. Yet the environs lack the formality of an office and despite being right out in the open in public, can be surprisingly private.

Perfect for me as a business writer

HTWB coffee

How do coffee meetings help you in business?

I find coffee meetings creatively inspiring, because they physically take me out of my own office environment … and I find the bustle and chatter around me helps me to zone in on what I’m doing.

Particularly if I’m strict about switching off my phone, I don’t get distracted by emails or Facebook or texts or, indeed, the landline or the dogs or the cats or the cleaning lady shrieking bloody murder when she steps on a dead mouse. (Thank you, cats.)

Coffee shops: neutrality that inspires?

A friend and colleague of mine, who lives within spitting distance of my home, hardly ever meets with me at each other’s home offices when we need to work together. No, we drive over to our local Nonna’s – a charming place that rolls Italian, Maltese, Spanish and English culture into a glorious eclectic mish-mash of a converted bakery. Their coffee is good, their brunches are to die for, and they don’t bitch even if you stay there for 3 hours drinking mineral water or their excellent coffee.

There, my colleague and I have come up with many great ideas for our respective business projects … far more so than we would do if at home. Even if you do have one room in the house dedicated to your business, the sounding of a crying child or a howling dog will have you out of your seat no matter what your work deadline is. But there are no such distractions in a coffee shop, unless the espresso machine explodes.

Great works have been written in coffee shops

Numerous authors say they do their best work in coffee shops, including J K Rowling who allegedly wrote much of the earlier Harry Potter novels in the very gourmet-sounding gourmet tea and coffee shop, The Elephant House, in downtown Edinburgh, Scotland.

Whether that was because she found the ambience inspiring, or because she hadn’t paid her heating bill and so needed to keep warm while writing (I lived in Edinburgh for 6 months and my bones still turn to icicles when I think about it) I’m not sure. But whatever the circumstances, the results were out of this world.

So what do you think? Are coffee meetings the creative way forward?

I’m beginning to think so, but that could be just because I need a regular caffeine fix. I look forward to your comments!

photo credit: jenny downing via photopin cc




  1. I, too, love sitting in coffee shops – words end up on the page of my notebook 🙂

    Nonna’s looks fab!

    • It’s interesting, isn’t it, Suzie? There’s something creative in the atmosphere … apart from the caffeine, I suppose! And much as I love the Great Outdoors, somehow I never feel quite so inspired if I’m trudging along a muddy path in fine drizzle… 😉