124

It seems that coffee is a staple of the workplace. So much that, in a previous workplace, it took 1 hour to raise funds for a new espresso machine as the current one broke down.

Our culture is built around that. So much that a typical excuse to meet someone is to ask to 'grab coffee', or 'have a beer' if it is at the end of the day. Bummer, as I don't like drinking either.

How can I politely escape the coffee or beer in business situations, without killing any opportunity related to the meeting? How can I do it without appearing rude? It is the drink in its own I would like to avoid (or switch to some other drink I enjoy more), not the associated meeting.

Examples:

  • Colleagues going for a break at the coffee maker. Seems not drinking coffee looks weird, and I was no more invited to such breaks. Consequences : less relationships built and missed opportunities.

  • Business meeting. If he asks if I want coffee, can I decline? Should I accept anyway and just let the cup sit full? Or should I force myself to drink anyway?

  • Business meeting, reverse situation where I would feel it would be nice to propose coffee from my side. Is it rude if I order for my guest and do not drink the black beverage along?

  • Drink in the evening / after work. Usually I like to get a soft drink. Is it acceptable? If a beer is offered and served, can I just let the glass sit full?

  • What else than 'grab coffee' or 'have a beer' can I invoke as an opener to meet?

Note: I'm in Europe, concerning the cultural situation.

  • 2
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mister Positive Jun 19 at 15:29
  • 4
    Sounds like a silly question, but where is the coffee maker located? If it's in a work kitchen area, is it acceptable to store your own beverages there (or even naughty little snacks you can share out)? This is personally how I've gotten around the problem of the first point in the past, but depends very much on the make-up of your office. – DoctorPenguin Jun 20 at 7:18
  • 3
    by the way, it's really not acceptable to let a full beer sit around :D it's perfectly fine to decline it, but especially in Europe it's not ok to waste it – Velimir Tchatchevsky Jun 20 at 16:28
  • 1
    It's not worth a full answer to say this, but please never accept something offered and then just leave it there - this is far more of a social snub than declining, and it looks very odd (particularly if someone does it repeatedly). – DaveMongoose Jun 21 at 9:23
  • 1
    You know, I don't like coffee or beer either, but I do not have this problem. I just order something I do like, even a water. And no one ever seems to care. You're just severely overthinking the situation. – user6014 Jun 21 at 12:54

12 Answers 12

258

My suggestion would be to 'grab a coffee' with them, but drink something you DO like, be it water or a soft drink. When someone says 'grab a coffee', it's not an explicit requirement to drink a latte/cappuccino/americano/espresso/etc...

Business meeting. If he asks if I want coffee, can I decline? Should I accept anyway and just let the cup sit full? Or should I force myself to drink anyway?

"No thank you" is a perfectly valid response.

Drink in the evening / after work. Usually I like to get a soft drink. Is it acceptable? If a beer is offered and served, can I just let the glass sit full?

Of course it's acceptable, and it shouldn't be an issue for your co-workers. If someone offers you a beer, politely decline or say "Can I get a coke please?"

  • 83
    In the last situation it's important to decline the beer before the coworker orders you one as they are paying money for it. But it's perfectly okay to say, "Sorry, I do not drink beer and would like a coke. Please have my beer, I did not drink it." – Dan Jun 18 at 15:20
  • 58
    I had a former colleague that did not drink either caffeine or alcohol for religious reasons. He often came with the group to social outings and simply ordered something suitable to him. There was some light-hearted teasing a couple of times, but it was never a big deal for anyone involved. – TimothyAWiseman Jun 18 at 20:01
  • 31
    Also, "I don't want a coffee right now, but I'll gladly come along for the social experience" works wonders. The important part of the coffee break is not usually the coffee, but the people with which you want to socialize. There is nothing wrong with that. – ereOn Jun 18 at 21:08
  • 12
    @Dan If they ordered before asking you, it should be perfectly acceptable to decline. Really, a drink having been paid for shouldn't be a reason to be forced to drink it, least of all an alcoholic drink. – Jasper Jun 19 at 12:18
  • 23
    "I'll gladly come along for the social experience" does not sound like something real humans say. Good that on the internet nobody knows you're a dog. – Tomáš Zato Jun 19 at 14:12
172

"Grab a beer" and "Grab a coffee" are colloquialisms. They are not meant to be taken literally. They mean "Let's get together informally and chat."

If you don't drink beer or coffee then drink soda, tea, water, or whatever you prefer, or nothing. The point is to get together in a more relaxed setting.

If you're offered coffee or beer in a more formal setting, like a meeting, then simply and politely decline. "No thank you, I'm fine." or "No thank you, but a glass of water/cup of tea/a soda would be great. Thanks."

  • 5
    The social gathering around drinking maybe is part of our human nature: I picture our primitive ancestors gathering around the fire drinking something and telling stories to entertain themselves and also to share the experiences of the day. :-) – Ricardo Jun 19 at 3:32
  • 31
    @Ricardo "Ug kill fast horse-thing today. Big rock, SMASH! Ug also think Brug big jerk, make Ug file lots TPS Reports this morning. Where Ug put that rock? <*sips coffee*>" – Bradley Uffner Jun 19 at 10:44
  • 4
    +1. I'd add that if the OP does like tea, it's especially interchangeable with coffee: similar preparation rituals, similar small talk around it, etc. – Wayne Jun 19 at 13:19
  • 4
    @Ruslan Depends on how thick that stout is.... – chepner Jun 19 at 15:46
  • 2
    That's a completely correct answer. Don't say anything up front about your preferences, but it's completely understood that when you get to the place in question you'll order whatever you want. The point is the sociability, not the actual beverage (in Europe too people aren't likely to want to drink out of your glass) – user90842 Jun 19 at 23:38
26

I don't think 'drink a coffee / grab a beer' situations really depend on you drinking said beverage. I even ask people to have coffee and I don't drink coffee. It's just a term for having a slightly more informal but work-related chat, and if you prefer tea, water, or a soda, that seems perfectly fine to me. The same goes for beer, just order what you feel like drinking at that moment.

Nobody should make you feel bad about the choice of beverage. I would however make your order clear beforehand, it would be a bit of a waste to let someone order you a beer or a coffee and then not drink it. Just tell them "Thanks, I will have a coke/tea/water please". You should be fine :)

22

I also am a non-coffee, non-beer drinker.

  • If offered a coffee, just say no thanks. Requesting water instead is usually a safe choice. "No, thanks--but do you have water, please?"
  • If you feel the urge to offer someone something, why not be more open and offer any beverage. "Can I get you something to drink? Coffee, tea, water...?" Many other non-coffee drinkers will appreciate this, and it will be less awkward than if you just propose coffee and then don't partake.
  • After work, it's perfectly fine to order soda at the bar. If someone else is ordering, do your best to put your request in for soda/water before the drinks are poured! If someone orders "a round", usually you can just catch the bartender or waiter and ask that yours be a soda/water, "Just soda/water/lemonade for mine, please." If someone is ordering something for you specifically, they would be pretty rude to not ask what you want (maybe you wanted a specific type of beer) so you can specify then. If it's the alcohol you object to and not the flavor, there are also non-alcoholic "beers" that you can order, or you can ask for virgin mixed drinks, this will give the appearance of an alcoholic drink.
  • You can ask to meet for non-specific drinks, or just ask to meet at a specific restaurant/cafe (e.g. Starbucks)...if you get there and order cocoa or tea, no one will care that it is a non-coffee beverage.

From TemporalWolf in the comments--offering to be a designated driver is also a nice thing to do, if you're planning on staying for all/most of the event. This will transform your non-drinking from something unusual into something useful.

  • 11
    I do this all the time in the US. I usually just go with "I'm the DD/No thanks, I'm driving"; this also works for waiters/bartenders. I've even been given free food for DD (hooray responsibility), although that's less common than my friends buying me stuff for DDing. – TemporalWolf Jun 18 at 21:02
  • 1
    I've found that in the US, the person ordering a round rather buys an entire pitcher, which makes it a little more awkward to ask for "something else" (but socially easy to not drink from it). – gerrit Jun 19 at 7:42
  • 1
    As a fellow no coffee/beer drinker (by simple choice), I would just add that if you want to enjoy the spirit of "going out for a beer" without the alcohol, order Root Beer. It is "beer" in a manner of speaking and available at almost all places, and at bars is usually served in a bottle (at least in my area, IBC Root Beer bottles are common) Then just "pretend" it is actual beer (even though everyone knows it isn't; this is just to be silly/have-fun with co-workers) – Tezra Jun 19 at 20:35
  • I have friends who don’t drink coffee but have a coffee-maker so they can offer it to guests. I’m not aware of anyone ever being offended or even puzzled at the host not consuming. – WGroleau Jun 20 at 0:23
  • @WGroleau Short story: Had a friend who wasn't a coffee drinker, but had a 4-cup maker. Brought our own coffee (knew she wouldn't have any) in a 12-cup pre-measured packet. She put the whole thing in and started brewing. Bent two spoons trying to stir in the creamer... Moral: be wary of non-coffee drinking friends trying to be helpful. :D – FreeMan Jun 20 at 11:53
10

I fully agree with the two answers (Sabine & Spikey Richie) that cover the topic quite thoroughly - I can only add some additional advices:

In my office I encountered a similar situation since I can't handle 4-8 cups of coffee a day and therefore also pass on several occasions to socialize with my teammates and managers. In order not to miss out too much I started making healthy smoothies in the morning (I use a big 1.5 liter mug so everyone that likes to can have a glas of around 100-200ml) and offered them in a so called 'smoothie-break'.

That idea was very well accepted and also appreciated by managment since its beneficial effects on the health of the individuals consuming it. Since then more people joined in with fancy smoothie creations and the whole thing went off rapidly and to the liking of everyone.

In terms of afterwork drinks I suggest you just order what you like - alcoholic or non-alcoholic shouldn't make a difference. If you are presented with a beer politly thank the person for their generous invite and the state the fact that you are not so much into beer/alcohol and that you are happy to order something on your own. I'm sure one of your beer-drinking colleague will gladly accept the additional beer now being up for grabs ;)

9

"Getting coffee or beer together" is just an expression. It means "let's meet for an informal chat in the afternoon/evening". It has nothing to do with beer or coffee.

If you come to such a meeting and don't buy coffee or beer, probably nobody will care. You might object that it is boring to sit around and watch a bunch of people drink. Go ahead and join the billions-strong club of people who are bored to tears by social occasions with their coworkers. Believe me, if there is a substance on Earth that can make these things tolerable, possessing it would almost certainly result a lengthy prison sentence. You're not missing out on much by skipping the beer.

If people do insist you always have the option of getting water or soda. If you want an unassuming excuse, perhaps your doctor may have recommended you to cut down on caffeine or perhaps you're driving afterwards. I personally hate coffee but love tea, so when we go to get coffee I either get hot water (for my own teabag) or just order tea even though I was invited for coffee, not tea. I've even invited people to "have a coffee" and then brazenly ordered tea. So far, the coffee police have turned a blind eye to my wanton anarchism.

  • 3
    Proud member of the 'invites you for coffee and then orders tea' delegation! – Meg Jun 19 at 19:27
8

Like you, I also don't like beer (much), although I will drink it to be social, and I often refuse a coffee when offered at my parents' house, although I will accept one from a colleague or manager. I much prefer other alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, such as a hot chocolate or a cider. If I remember to ask for a hot chocolate instead of a coffee when offered one, no-one ever makes an issue of it.

Find your preferred drink that works in the social situation. They're drinking coffee? Drink tea or hot chocolate instead! They're drinking beer? Drink cider or wine instead! If you don't like any hot drinks or alcoholic drinks, drink soft drink, etc.

Basically, find a drink you find acceptable or hopefully even enjoy that is as close as possible to the drink you don't enjoy. You don't need to make a fake excuse for drinking something different. Just "I'd prefer an X" will do. If they press it, you can say "Sorry, I don't like Y".

Don't accept a drink you won't drink. Offering and being offered a drink is important socially, and actually drinking it shows appreciation. Not drinking it would be seen as rude by many, if not most, people as they have provided something for you which you have then wasted. Most people want you to enjoy what they have provided for you.

It should be possible in almost every situation to find a drink that is acceptable to you with very little negotiation. It should not be a big deal if you don't treat it as a big deal.

  • 2
    One reason you might not like beer is you're drinking default beer, which is not good beer. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jun 19 at 15:38
  • 2
    @Harper Drink Default Beer! It's the choice of people who don't choose! – Mike Harris Jun 19 at 17:47
6

enter image description here

Mine is filled with club soda and lime (I just happen to like that combo). "Sure - I have my drink here, let's grab a coffee."

At bars, a classy non-alcoholic drink is also a club-soda with lime (or grenadine) or whatever, so use your imagination and still have a good time. I have co-workers who join us all the time and grab non-sweet iced tea or a diet coke, etc. and there's no real notice to those of us who are drinking beer. There was a time when money was tight for me, so I was Designated Driver and often the bar or my co-workers paid my full bill for food and beverage. Take advantage of that role.

  • 3
    Well done. You will not be offered coffee since you have one. Nobody needs to know it's Mountain Dew... – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jun 19 at 15:36
5

First, I'm a beer AND coffee enthusiast and homebrewer but not a heavy drinker myself. I have mountains of respect for those who, even in a pro-alcohol culture, avoid alcohol. So, please never feel the need to drink in order to drive your social and/or professional life - you're doing the right thing.

That said, I suggest herbal teas sweetened or unsweetened for coffee meetings, and for the bar, I think soda water with some lemon is refreshing and looks enough like a real drink that no one will notice you aren't drinking. Also, a lot of the breweries in my locale serve Kambucha, and Kambucha is life (though can have a tiny bit of alcohol).

  • 1
    "I have mountains of respect for those who, even in a pro-alcohol culture, avoid alcohol." Good for you and congratulations! – FreeMan Jun 20 at 11:55
3

I would say that, by far, the most important thing to do in these scenarios is to be honest with your coworkers as you have been here. Your coworkers are inviting you to these activities to informally build a relationship with you. A large part of that relationship is trust. You can find analogues of these micro-team-building exercises across civilizations throughout history. From a practical sense, it's fairly simple to understand why: if people are going to work with you, they want to know if they can trust you.

I don't know about your particular work culture, my perspective of Europe is that it's too diverse to make an assumption. Keep in mind that some business cultures, like Korea, consider mutual alcoholic drinking as a way "to figure out whether the person sitting next to them is a friend or foe." In addition, I have a European relative who has told me that he "does not trust someone who doesn't drink" because he/she is afraid to lower their inhibitions. I don't share the above opinions necessarily, and you shouldn't assume your coworkers do, but be aware that these are perspectives people may have.

With that in mind, the last thing you should do is lie about why you may not be drinking. If you do not like coffee because of the taste (bitter) or how it makes you feel (jittery), tell people that when they offer you a coffee. This will allow people to get to know you better which is largely the point of the activity in the first place. If they catch you in a lie (i.e. claiming to drink coffee when you are not) they will get to know you as someone who lies, at least about little things. If you do not like beer because of the taste, say that. They might suggest a beer that tastes like a soda (or a cider), and you might be surprised. If you don't like beer because of how it makes you feel, be honest about it, and few people will blame you for not wanting to feel sluggish and slow.

3

Many answers here, but I wanted to suggest a specific strategy at bars. Alcoholic drinks are consumed slowly over time. If you order a normal soft drink like Coca Cola you are likely to finish three glasses in the time that the people drinking alcohol finish one. I have taken to ordering ginger beer, which is like ginger ale but much heavier on the ginger. As a result, you naturally sip it slowly, and your pace is very similar to the pace of others in the group. "Lime and tonic" is another option. The strategy here is to order something you will naturally drink slowly.

  • 1
    Barkeepers hate people clinging to one drink over the whole evening. Don't be too cheap. – Bernhard Döbler Jun 20 at 20:11
  • @BernhardDöbler (yes, but what's the worst that could happen? They quit, go into politics, and start spouting utter economic nonsense? But I digress.) The point of this is not to be cheap, but to pace your drinking at the same rate as your buddies. In this case, the OP wanted to be there for the conversation and business relationships, so it would make sense for him to tip at a level that puts his ginger beers on par with the actual beer his cohort is drinking, for the reason you cited. – msouth Jun 21 at 21:26
1

What else than 'grab coffee' or 'have a beer' can I invoke as an opener to meet?

"let's go get a drink" or "we should have a drink sometime" are generic phrase that leaves the choice of beverage open.

But coffee vs. beer also implies a time of day and atmosphere, which might matter if you don't mean right now.

The "drinks" phrasing does imply alcoholic drinks (in most cultures?). So that's a different sort of invitation, usually more social and less of a professional meeting. So "drinks" is a great generic alternative to "beer", but not "coffee".

If you have a specific place in mind, you might suggest "xyz cafe" again leaving the actual drink unspecified. That works to suggest a coffee-type meeting rather than a beer-type meeting, and you can order a muffin or cookie + water if that's what you like without contradicting yourself. Or whatever treat they have that you like. If they have really tasty Nanaimo bars there for example, you might even bring that up in the invitation as part of the attraction to get someone interested in going.


But the other answers are correct: if you invite someone to "grab a coffee", and you order something else non-alcoholic instead, that's 100% fine. Making the social atmosphere of the occasion clear is more important than avoiding contradicting yourself.

If you like tea, maybe you want to avoid implying that everyone else likes coffee as well, and maybe you'd ask someone if they want to "have coffee or tea"?

protected by David K Jun 19 at 18:54

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.