Coffee Mourning4. February 2013 by Herman Brodie
Cost-cutting measures in one stressed investment bank have reached such an extreme that bankers will have to forego a coffee service during their meetings from now on. Admittedly, the saving is hardly likely to felt on the bank’s bottom line; like cancelling the newspaper subscriptions, the gesture is more intended to demonstrate the extent of the balance sheet pressure and to lower bonus expectations. However, throwing out the coffee pot might not just mean a reduction in catering expenses; it could mean a reduction in other things too.
Physically holding a warm drink in one’s hand encourages the sub-conscious mind to make associations between its physical warmth and the personality of the person making a presentation. The limbic system, the part of the brain that regulates emotions and motivation, particularly those related to self-preservation (possibly well developed in bankers), responds to such cues. In this case, it equates the warm drink to a warm, friendly personality in a stranger. So the result of serving a round of hot coffee in a meeting is to produce higher evaluations of the speaker than if a cold drink or no drink at all is served.
This physical warmth is particularly important for those who feel socially excluded, something else that could be common in investment banks these days. When people are deprived of social contact or perceive themselves to be excluded from the in-group, it not only induces anxiety, but also a literal feeling of coldness. Raising the ambient temperature in the room or – you guessed it – giving them a hot drink , is likely to reduce anxiety and increase feelings of social inclusion.
All of these effects do not even begin to take into considerations the effects of the caffeine in the coffee: arousal, higher performance, and faster information processing. Coffee drinkers also report feeling more energetic, imaginative, alert, self-confident, motivated, and having a greater desire to socialise.
So, before one decides to call time on the coffee service, it is worthwhile to know that costs will not be the only thing to be cut.
 Chen-Bo Zhong and Geoffrey J. Leonardelli (2008) Cold and Lonely: Does Social Exclusion Literally Feel Cold? Psychological Science 2008 19: 838