Forget about the power lunch. These days it's all about the power latte.
With expense accounts on the wane and even the upper crust guarding their wallets, "Let me get the check" has been replaced with "Let's go Dutch."
Consequently, the schmoozers of the workforce have had to get creative with how and where they wheel and deal. Fine dining has been replaced with the corner diner. Crab cakes with cupcakes. Pot roast with a pot of coffee. A pricey bottle of merlot with a two-for-one manicure.
If you, too, suffer from a dwindling entertainment budget, take heart. Meeting your business associates on the cheap doesn't automatically relegate you to the McDonald's drive-through.
Chi-Chi Settings, Cheap Eats
For some wheelers and dealers, the swanky setting is non-negotiable. But that doesn't mean you have to pay top dollar to eat, drink and be merry in style.
"It's cheaper to order a pot of coffee at the Four Seasons in San Francisco and share it with two other people than to order individual coffees at Starbucks," said Dhana Pawar, co-founder of Yojo Mobile in Mountain View, Calif., which develops mobile applications for women.
"I always prefer a nice hotel lounge because it's much quieter," said Andrew Reese, a recruiter with The McCormick Group, an executive search firm in Arlington, Va. "There's nothing worse than being at a Starbucks and hearing people call out coffee orders and the espresso machine running."
But Reese, who frequently meets with executives who make $500,000 a year on average, takes the hotel meeting one step further.
Before he attends an industry luncheon sponsored by the professional organization for high-level executives that he belongs to, he checks the RSVP list. If one of his prospects is attending, he'll suggest they take a few moments out of the event to meet one-on-one over that almighty pot of coffee.
"It's both time- and dollar-efficient," he said.
In other words, why pay for a cab or parking twice if you don't have to?
From Cupcakes to All-You-Can-Eat Buffets
Of course, not all networkers are married to the idea of holding their business meetings in luxe surroundings.
Pawar, the entrepreneur, takes her clients to Sprinkles Cupcakes in downtown Palo Alto for baked goods and -- you guessed it -- a cup of joe.
"I don't know of a single person who has a bad meeting after having one of those cupcakes," Pawar said.
Total cost per guest: $5. Putting a smile on your cupcake-loving client's face: Priceless.
Stephen Wayhart, principal of BrandMill, a marketing consultancy in Pittsburgh, has another take on the offbeat business rendezvous: He frequently brings his clients and prospects to the private German, Lithuanian, Polish and Ukrainian clubs and lodges he belongs to in his community.
Not only does the historic German club Wayhart frequents offer tasty, economical all-you-can-eat buffets, "the beer is outstanding," he said.
Even better, his clients and marketing partners eat up the ambiance of the 1888-built establishment.
Still, there's no hard-and-fast rule that says you can't talk shop unless you break bread. Anyone who's ever brokered a deal on the golf course can attest to that.
"Instead of a meal, I've been meeting for manicures," said Tory Johnson, CEO of Women for Hire and workplace contributor for ABC's " Good Morning America." "It's $9 plus tip throughout Manhattan. Can't beat that."
If you're not the nail salon type (or not a metrosexual), swap "meeting for manicures" with strolling through the park or getting together at your favorite museum or bookstore.
When it comes to meeting business associates, it's no longer about how much you spend. The person with the biggest credit limit doesn't win. The person with the best half-price happy hour recommendation does.
Not Cheap, Just Smart
"I don't think this is all about being cheap -- it's about being smart," said Joceyln Brandeis, principal of JBLH Communications, a publicity firm in New York City. You don't want to be spending your money stupidly for a $500 lunch when a $12 lunch would do just as well."
Besides, it's easier to get to know someone over a low-key cup of tea than while they're wrestling with a lobster tail.
"A lot of my clients like to meet at a diner because it's casual and the sell isn't as hard," Brandeis said. "You can get a bit more information out of somebody that way."
Embracing your inner penny-saver also sends a message of financial responsibility to current and prospective customers.
As Brandeis put it, "The last thing you want is for the client to turn around and say, 'Are they going to charge me back for that $500 meal? Is this going to be included in my monthly retainer?'"
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist, author and former cubicle dweller. Her books — "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube" -- offer an irreverent take on the traditional career guide. More tips on career change, flex work and the freelance life can be found on her blog, Anti9to5Guide.com.