The People’s Guide to a Brilliant Coffee Date

A coffee date.

Ah, the coffee date, the classic casual first date. Unlike its classic contemporaries (movies, candlelit dinner, I’m looking at you) coffee dates don’t have to suck. Coffee outings are great, because they allow two people to meet in a casual, no frills setting and focus on what’s important: getting to know each other. If either party isn’t feeling the vibe, it’s easy to bow out. What’s not to love?

Of course, that all sounds great, but many of us have been on our fair share bad coffee dates. So what gives? Well, like most things that have to do with romance, even something as simple as sharing a caffeinated beverage can get complicated. Enter the People’s Guide to a Brilliant Coffee Date. Get ready to learn all you need to know about planning the perfect coffee house excursion for you and your future love to get acquainted.

1. Pick the destination.
When picking the perfect place to get coffee, the most important qualities to consider are the location, the spatial dynamics, and the vibe. It’s not a perfect equation, but you’ll want to weigh these against what you know about your date to pick the best coffee shop.

Location is pretty simple. Pick a place that’s relatively easy for both of you to get to. If you don’t mind traveling, pick one closer to them. Make it as easy as possible for them to get to the date.

The vibe of the coffee shop will telegraph your taste preferences. Do you like mom and pop homestyle cafes or do you prefer artisanal fresh roast pour over options? Also, try to pick somewhere upbeat. The fewer people working on laptops the better. The vibe isn’t a make or break, but it may reveal telling differences or similarities between you.

Probably the most important factor to consider in your selection is the coffee shop’s spatial dynamic. Since your goal is to get to know your date, pick a place where you can talk freely. The ideal place would have well spaced tables and customers that wouldn’t mind an animated first date conversation. Private patios and corner seating are a plus.

No need to worry about how the coffee tastes.

2. Always reconfirm the date.
As a good rule of thumb, always confirm the meeting time on the day of. People flake or ghost—it’s nothing personal. Save yourself the trouble of getting stood up. When they give you the confirmation text that they’ll be there, you’re good to go. In regards to getting stood up, if the person is running late, I give 20 minutes for them to show up or text to say they’re running late. If I haven’t heard from them in that time period, I’ll head out (or stay if I’m in the mood to enjoy a book).   

3. Show up early.
While you shouldn’t need a reason to show up early, I’ll give you a few. First, if you show up early, you’ll have the best chance to get a good spot to sit. You don’t want to have to stand in a busy coffee shop on your first date.

Second, if you’re someone who gets bad first date nerves, this will give you some time to calm down. Warm up your conversational muscles by chatting with the baristas, then take your seat and take a few yoga breaths. Caffeine has been linked to anxiety, so lay off if you’re feeling jittery.

Third, you can mitigate some first date awkwardness. If you’re meeting for the first time, it’s always best to start by chatting, but waiting in line for drinks isn’t the best place for introductions. When you show up early, you can get your drink and cup of water for them, which will alleviate the pressure for them to get up and order a drink right away because you have one. This way you can get past the initial hellos (the most awkward part of the date) at the table before you get up to get them a drink.

4. Buying the drink.
This is a more hotly debated topic. On the first date, I usually offer to get their drink. I think it’s a nice gesture. If they insist on buying for themselves (or for both of us), then that’s okay, too. There’s a lot hubbub about who should pay, but ultimately you’re both adults with good intentions trying to get to know each other—you’ll figure it out.

5. Now do the date.
At last, you’ve both made it to your table beverages in hand. This is the date. Conversationally, start small. Where they’re from, what their dreams are, and what they do for fun are all good places to start. Steer clear of family and relationships. Try not to dig too deep, unless they offer up that information freely. You’re just trying to get a feeling for who they are and share in kind. These conversations will often be more about feeling than information exchange.

Next, be present. Most of us spend most hours of each day on autopilot. If you want to make a connection, you have to be mentally present to receive it. Let your guard down and put your attention at the ready. Withhold your judgements, opinions, and words that you just have to get in when they’re talking. Actually hear what they have to say. This is the best way to get to know someone.

A last note on chatting: don’t expect something hypersexualized and don’t expect to get anything out of it. Walk in open-minded. First dates can be overtly sexual, but often they’re not. Some dates may end in kisses or more, but ultimately they’re about getting to know each other.

6. Go for a walk, plan the next date, or move on.
Most coffee dates will last about an hour or two. At that point, it’s time to figure out what’s next. If you enjoy their company, you can continue the date to food or an activity or plan to pick up a different time.

If you don’t feel the chemistry, say so gently. There’s no need to tell someone you want to hang out when you don’t. Conversely, if you’re interested but they’re not, respect their decision and take your leave.

So that’s it. You’ve completed the People’s Guide to a Brilliant Coffee Date…which isn’t a guarantee of anything. It’s just a better way of doing things. The search for love is rarely quick. It may be a while till you find the one, if that’s even what you’re looking for. Dating is about sharing company and the occasional intimate moment with a stranger. If you did things right, there’s magic in that.

Alex Bocknek

Alex Bocknek is the senior editor of The Date Mix and works at Zoosk, the online dating service. He’s also a recovering music critic and an aspiring fiction writer (probably lost) on the way to an independent bookstore near you. He can be found occasionally musing about politics, philosophy, and love in the modern world.

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