The Latest on Business Meal Deductions

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) permanently eliminated deductions for most business-related entertainment expenses paid or incurred after 2017. You can no longer deduct the costs of taking clients out for a round of golf, to the theater or for a football game. But the TCJA didn’t specifically address the meals, beverages and snacks that often accompany entertainment activities.

Then the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), signed into law December of 2020, temporarily increased the deduction for certain business-related meal expenses.

If you’re like many business owners today, you may not be sure what you can deduct or how much you can deduct. Here’s what you need to know.

A 100% deduction

The CAA allows taxpayers to deduct 100% of the cost of business-related food and beverage expenses incurred at restaurants in 2021 and 2022. In previous years, deductions for business meals at restaurants were limited to only 50% of the cost.

Under the new law business meals provided by restaurants are 100% deductible, subject to the considerations identified in preexisting IRS regulations. IRS guidance in Notice 2021-25, released in April, defines “restaurants” for the purpose of this tax break to include businesses that prepare and sell food or beverages to retail customers for immediate on-premises and/or off-premises consumption.

However, the definition doesn’t include businesses that primarily sell pre-packaged goods not for immediate consumption, such as grocery stores and convenience stores. Additionally, an employer may not treat certain employer-operated eating facilities as restaurants, even if these facilities are operated by a third party under contract with the employer.

Pre-CAA regulations

In October 2020, the IRS issued final regulations clarifying that taxpayers could still deduct 50% of business-related meal expenses under the TCJA. These were written before the CAA change, but they still provide some useful guidance on the following issues:

Definition of food and beverage costs. Food or beverages means all food and beverage items, regardless of whether they are characterized as meals, snacks, or other types of food and beverages. Food or beverage costs mean the full cost of food or beverages, including any delivery fees, tips and sales tax.

Treatment of food and beverages provided with entertainment. For purposes of the general disallowance rule for entertainment expenses, the term “entertainment” includes food or beverages only if they’re provided during an entertainment activity (such as a sporting event) and the costs of the food or beverages aren’t separately stated.

Specifically, to be deductible, amounts paid for food and beverages provided at or during an entertainment activity must be:

  • Purchased separately from the entertainment, or
  • Stated separately on a bill, invoice or receipt that reflects the venue’s usual selling price for such items if they were purchased separately from the entertainment or the approximate reasonable value of the items.

Otherwise, the entire cost is treated as a nondeductible entertainment expense. The taxpayer can’t attempt to allocate costs between the entertainment and the food or beverages.

Treatment of business mealsUnder the final regulations, a deduction is allowed for business-related food or beverages only if:

  • The expense isn’t lavish or extravagant under the circumstances;
  • The taxpayer or an employee of the taxpayer is present at the furnishing of the food or beverages; and,
  • The food or beverages are provided to the taxpayer or a business associate.

A business associate means a person with whom the taxpayer could reasonably expect to engage or deal with in the active conduct of the taxpayer’s business. This could include a customer, client, supplier, employee, agent, partner or professional advisor—whether established or prospective.

Treatment of meals while traveling on businessThe long-standing rules for substantiating meal expenses still apply and they can be deductible.

The final regulations also reiterate the long-standing rule that no deductions are allowed for meal expenses incurred for spouses, dependents or other individuals accompanying the taxpayer on business travel (or accompanying an officer or employee of the taxpayer on business travel), unless the expenses would otherwise be deductible by them. For example, meal expenses for the taxpayer’s spouse would be deductible if the spouse works in the taxpayer’s unincorporated business and accompanies the taxpayer for business reasons.

Under the new law, for 2021 and 2022, meals provided by restaurants while traveling on business are 100% deductible, subject to the preceding considerations.

Need help?

There are additional circumstances under which your business can deduct 100% of the cost of meals, other food and beverages. Contact your tax advisor if you have questions or want more information.

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