Coffee, yeah?
August 3, 2011 9:19 PM   Subscribe

How to Ask People Out for a Coffee?

Is it really unconventional to try to befriend your bosses or current or ex-profs?

There are a few of them and I'd really love to get to know them better. They are just such fascinating people, and some seem to care for me (but yeah, they are friendly or it's the need of their professions/positions). So I hope they don't take it the wrong way (like if I were either sending a quasi date vibe, or too formal, or having ulterior motives).

I know there's people'd say, maybe I'm not the right person they wanna befriend with, coz I don't even know what they might enjoy doing. But I'd still like to give it a try.

(For the record, I did have one ex-prof who once had a meal with me, and even paid for me. But they asked first)

So yes, I'm rambling. Sorry. If it's do-able, socially acceptable,
a) how do I ask?
b) Afterwards, if they said yes at first, but bailed later, would that be a sign to never ask again?
posted by easilyconfused to Human Relations (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think it's definitely reasonable, but it's a case-by-case basis. If you can honestly say "I have had a conversation with this person that is NOT about work/school", then I think you can ask them to coffee.

As to how, it is trickier. Bosses aren't too bad, I think it's totally valid to just say something like "hey, after work I'm thinking of grabbing a coffee, care to join?" Non-formal, non-committal. Profs I'm not really sure, it depends on if you're still in the department or not.

For part b) - I'd put them in the driver's seat. If they bailed, just say the offer stands, and let them contact you or not. Again, this is situation-specific [sorry! I wish there was a specific rule to follow as well] and depends on why they bailed, and how much notice they gave you.
posted by Lemurrhea at 9:28 PM on August 3, 2011

I'm sorry to say it, but your ages and genders and marital statuses are all essential information to answer this properly. But my gut is already saying," Don't force it, let it happen organically."
posted by taff at 9:28 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Becoming friends with your boss? It really, really depends on the culture of your workplace and the structure of your positions. As for professors and former professors, try going to office hours if you'd like to have conversations.

Afterwards, if they said yes at first, but bailed later, would that be a sign to never ask again?

My gut says you are correct in your assumption.
posted by puritycontrol at 9:30 PM on August 3, 2011

I just had a professor this past summer who talked about this. He said you can ask a professor, executive, anyone you professionally had an interest in really, out to lunch and it's totally okay. He said that sure you might get rejected in your offer, but it's worth a try. I believe his advice was to offer to take them to lunch, or in your case coffee, and be totally cool about it. Something like "I really enjoyed your class this semester, especially (insert whatever interested you). Do you mind if I take you to lunch and we can discuss it?" or "I really would like your advice on something based on the class you taught, can we grab some coffee discuss it?" My professor made it sound like it happens more than people think and that it's totally okay. He even took his old professor to lunch a couple of weeks before the class began.
If they bailed, I would leave the ball in their court, really. Maybe keep up with them somehow. Most professors I've taken love to hear themselves speak or talk about something they teach, so you can always try and keep up with them that way..
posted by Polgara at 9:51 PM on August 3, 2011

I would say ask them to lunch rather than coffee. I'm not really sure why but it seems to straddle that personal/professional divide better than coffee. I guess going to get coffee with someone seems like a thing you do as an excuse to hang out with them but everyone's got to eat lunch, why not have company?
posted by ghharr at 9:53 PM on August 3, 2011

I like it when my students ask to have lunch or coffee or whatever with me. For me, typically it's, "I'm interested in this thing you do outside class" (I'm just an adjunct) or "I'm thinking about going on in [your field], can I get some advice?" I've always said yes. Some students like to ask in a group of two or three, they feel like that's less weird. That's cool too. (I think, in most jobs, you should definitely be having lunch with your boss from time to time!)

I suppose there's some possibility of being misconstrued as making a romantic overture based on your ages, marital statuses, and sexualities, but I never had that problem either as a female student with male prof mentors or as a female professor with male students (both in the 18-22 range and "non-traditional" who are near me in age). It's pretty normal these days for men to have women as mentors and vice versa. I'd actually be a lot less worried about creepy romantic overtures than about students with poor boundaries surrounding grading issues. As long as that's not a problem, by the time you're in college you're reasonably close in age to your professor and most professors teach because they like students. (Except when grading papers. Then we all hate students.) I find my students fascinating, engaging human beings, so of course they're people I'm happy to get to know better. And because of the power differential, it's less awkward for them to make the overture.

(And yes, I'd rather have lunch. I don't like coffee and I don't really understand going out for coffee anyway ... lunch you have something to do with your hands and it's a little more defined in terms of time. With evening classes, I've sometimes gone for dessert with students after class. For lunch with a prof, pick something cafe-y or bar-y, depending on the area and your prof, not something fancy, and it's fine. Where I went to college we could actually get free dining hall tickets to invite profs to lunch with, because they wanted to encourage this kind of teacher-student interaction!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:03 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, I totally forgot to mention that some people have really busy schedule, i might be available after work/school and they are often occupied, if setting up a specific time/date, that's a bit too formal, far from cool, isn't it?

Also, one of my current boss works irregular hours just like I do, and they have another job, their social life is even at stake, coz they keep mentioning to me that their friends complain about don't see them often. It's close to impossible to see them outside the work environment, not even staff organized parties, they don't have the same office or the same break time like I do. They finish extremely late at time, and I don't want to be inconsiderate to keep them from getting some sleep. I know they aren't really the bond-over-drinking type, neither am I, and I would prefer a relatively quiet place to talk anyway.

It's nerve-wrecking. (btw, I also want to be slightly more discreet, not asking in front of others, so I don't become the focus and being gossiped about)
posted by easilyconfused at 10:10 PM on August 3, 2011

For profs, find a friend in the class and ask the prof together. That makes it a little more "we're really interested in the class and just want it to keep going!" than an expression of personal interest which might be misconstrued. Three people means fewer awkward silences, too!
posted by MadamM at 10:12 PM on August 3, 2011

To answer your question more fully, it is essential to understand the context to give advice on the appropriateness. I will assume that you are an undergraduate and suggest the following:

* If you are still a member of their class then no, you cannot ask them out until grades are final. It is otherwise very awkward;

* Lunch is way better than coffee and even better with a second person so it looks above board and cuts down the misinterpretation of date vibe;

* Accept a "no" answer gracefully and not take it personally. There is a personal calculus involved that you may not be aware of and that the professor needs to think things clearly upon.

People are social creatures by nature. It is good that you are interested in your professors and in turn your professors will be more interested in you. I hope you have wonderful lunches.
posted by jadepearl at 6:41 AM on August 4, 2011

As someone who hates the taste and smell of coffee, uh... well, you might run into someone like me. Which makes coffee askouts awkward. Just pick a place to go to that offers some other beverages besides coffee, please? Because man, it's just awkward when someone is all, "Hey, let's go to Peet's* and I have to be the special snowflake who makes it a pain for everybody.

* yes, I know they have tea, but their tea is awful. And that's IT for the beverage selection!
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:28 AM on August 4, 2011

"* If you are still a member of their class then no, you cannot ask them out until grades are final. It is otherwise very awkward;"

Just FYI, this was not the case when I was an undergrad or grad student, and I don't find it to be the case with my students. Again, students with boundary issues about grades are the problem, but they're not usually the ones asking me out to lunch. It may be an institutional culture issue.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:50 AM on August 4, 2011

As someone who hates the taste and smell of coffee, uh... well, you might run into someone like me. Which makes coffee askouts awkward.

That's a good point - I actually don't drink coffee. I usually suck it up and get bad tea but well I don't really want to.

"* If you are still a member of their class then no, you cannot ask them out until grades are final. It is otherwise very awkward;"

Just FYI, this was not the case when I was an undergrad or grad student, and I don't find it to be the case with my students.

I haven't noticed this either with my profs - I've gone out for beers with my profs after classes or events, a prof invited me to lunch over the summer for semi-work-stuff (but it was known that I would be taking later classes with her). Law school, small classes (80/year), which might make that different.
posted by Lemurrhea at 8:05 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Regarding asking an instructor/professor out while still being a member of their course. Indeed it could be an institutional culture of policy issue. My particular institution is stringent with faculty-student interaction while the student is taking a course with the instructor.

Again, the context and particulars of your situation has an impact to how your question is answered. Graduate students have more flexibility and freedom than undergraduates. Older student vs. under legal age drinking? Well, that has an impact too.

Ask, it provides an opportunity. The professor can decide whether it is a good idea or not.
posted by jadepearl at 9:53 AM on August 4, 2011

Generally, asking for what you want and seeing how it goes is a great idea. A lot of people think you can't ask for a lot of things. I like to challenge myself to break these steriotypes and I feel I get a lot more out of my professional life because of it.

Never be afraid to ask - even if everyone on MetaFilter tells you not to.
posted by LZel at 11:29 AM on August 4, 2011

As for WAYS to ask, if you think you and the person generally hit it off well than just ask -- "Hey, I'm about to go grab a coffee, do you wanna come along?"

If it's someone you are just interested in speaking with but don't really have a casual relationship with you might want to do a more formal invitation... with a specific conversation subject in mind. -- "Hey, I found this project you are working on to be really interesting. Would you mind sitting down with me for coffee sometime to talk about how you handled that?"

And I wouldn't gauge ANY no as a hint to never ask again, look for context clues and facial expressions.
posted by LZel at 11:34 AM on August 4, 2011

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