All of us go on coffee dates these days. They’re quick, relatively cheap, and casual. But as relaxed as they may seem, they have the power to jump-start a terrific relationship…or leave you both feeling like the dregs at the bottom of a mug of joe. The truth is, in order to go from latte to love, you’ve got to ace that let’s-meet-for-coffee moment. With that in mind, we culled advice from experts to help you brew a positive first impression.
Do appear laid-back. It’s just coffee! That’s the appearance you want to give. No pressure, relaxed, ready to meet and chat. In other words, if you dress the part of “fun date,” you’ll have a better chance of having just that. If you’re coming straight from the office, consider wearing a less conservative outfit that day or taking off your jacket and unbuttoning your shirt a little so you don’t come across as all business, says Nancy Slotnick, founder of Cablight.com and author of Turn Your Cablight On: Get Your Dream Man in 6 Months or Less. “You shouldn’t arrive looking like you’re about to have a job interview,” she points out. “Nothing about this should feel transactional.” It’s about getting to know one another.
Do stake out the joint. If you’re the person who suggests the meeting place, make sure it’s someplace that will have adequate seating, a comfortable environment and won’t be too crowded. “Make a list of the independent, fun, funky coffee houses in town in addition to the standard chain-type places and check a couple out ahead of time if you can,” suggests David Wygant, author of Always Talk to Strangers. “Some of these will also have things like poetry readings or music so you have a chance to broaden the date if you want.”
Don’t be late! “Some people think it’s OK to be late if they call, but it’s just not OK because you’ve still made the other person wait,” says Slotnick. “Maybe you can do that with your best friends because they’ve known you for a long time, but this is about first impressions and you only get one chance.” In fact, be five minutes early if you can and grab a table, preferably one with a banquette or soft chairs, so you’ll have one less thing to worry about once your date does arrive.
Do maintain eye contact from the get-go. Coffee houses can be busy with lots of distractions. The trick is not to get overwhelmed, because those first five minutes are important. “Put your focus on your date even if there are 17,000 things going on around you,” says Slotnick. “Keep in mind the goal which is connecting with this person and maintaining eye contact, even while waiting in line together.” If you don’t, your date may have formed an opinion of you before you even get your drinks.
Do order what you want. Are you one of those people with a rather complex drink order? Are you afraid to request your usual venti triple-shot no-whip light-water extra-foam vanilla latte in front of your date? Don’t worry. It’s how you order, not what you order, that matters. “The important thing here is how you interact with the barista,” says Slotnick. “If you’re really demanding about it like, ‘I want my half-caff, no whip, blah, blah, blah done like this,’ you might look high-maintenance or rude.” A better bet? Make a joke about it like “Are you ready for this?” and then thank or even tip the barista for getting it right.
Don’t make an issue over who pays. Though the general dating rule is “the person who asks, pays,” with the coffee date most experts felt the man should foot the bill no matter what. “I love a coffee date because it’s affordable,” says Wygant. “Too many chew-and-swallow dates leave a hole in the pocket but with coffee, there is no reason for the man not to step up and pay. It just looks good.” Wygant suggests avoiding the whole money shuffle by having your date sit at the table, asking what she wants and then getting it for her. Another slick move? Have a pre-paid coffeehouse card—one swipe and payment has become a non-issue.
Don’t freak if you can’t find a table. If you do have to wait for someplace to sit, don’t let it throw you. “It’s not like ‘Oh my god, we don’t have a table so we can’t have a date,’” says Slotnick. “You can have a date standing up and be relaxed about it!” Another option is getting “to go” cups and going for a walk or seeing if you can find a bench outdoors somewhere, weather permitting, of course. “It’s about not letting your anxiety get in the way of getting to know the person you’re with,” she says. Being calm and flexible will make a good impression, without a doubt.
Don’t arrive famished. Don’t assume that the date is going to turn into dinner, so don’t turn up absolutely starving. If things are going well, ask if your date would like to share a treat. “You can extend the coffee date with a snack if you like each other,” says Wygant. “Just skip the food option up front, but if things are going well in a half-hour or so, offer to share a cookie or a sandwich, which shows you want to keep chatting.”
Do suggest another meeting. If, at the end of the date, you know you two are clicking, don’t be afraid to book date #2 right then and there. “If you like your date make sure you tell them and secure the next date immediately,” suggests Wygant. “Say ‘Coffee was great and I’d love to hang out with you on Saturday if you’re free’ or whatever.” In other words, at this point, you probably know if you want to see this person again…so if you do, let it show to make that great coffee date an even better experience!
Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a New York City-based freelance write whose work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Fitness, and Marie Claire. She has no problem ordering her favorite grande skim 6-pump no-water chai latte on a date, but always thanks the barista by name.