Meals and Entertainment Deductions: 50% vs. 100%

Here’s something to chew on: There’s less on your plate today that qualifies for meals and entertainment deductions.
The rules limiting meals and entertainment expenses have been modified quite a bit over the years, and, as a result, 50% of qualifying expenses are now disallowed as deductions. The latest revision (1993) also prohibited the deduction of membership dues for clubs organized for social, business, pleasure and recreational purposes.
While the general rule limits meals and entertainment expenditures, expenses that meet any of the following criteria are fully (100%) deductible:

  • Recreational expenses such as business holiday parties, company picnics or similar activities.
  • Meals provided on the employer’s premises for more than half the employees for the convenience of the employer. An example would be meals provided so employees can work late.
  • Minor (de minimis) employer-provided meals and entertainment that are small in amount and relatively difficult to track. Office snacks or drinks provided to all employees would come under this rule.
  • Meal expenses for which the business is reimbursed. An example would be a business incurring meal expenses on behalf of a client or customer.
  • Meal expenses made available for the general public at a trade show or for advertising and promotional purposes. A retail store that offers food samples to the general public—people who are potential customers—may claim these expenses as deductions.
  • Meal expenses included in the income of persons who are not employees. This includes expenses reimbursed for an independent contractor rendering services for a business.
  • Tickets to a charity sporting event where the proceeds benefit the charity and the event is staffed by volunteers.
  • Costs (other than meals) for IRC 501 organizations such as Rotary and Kiwanis.

The best (and easiest) practice is to set up and maintain separate accounts for 50% and 100% deductible expenses. Whoever is responsible for recording expense reports and transactions should understand the differences and the exceptions.