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Meals Continue to be Deductible Under New IRS Guidance

The IRS this week issued guidance clarifying that taxpayers may generally continue to deduct 50% of the food and beverage expenses associated with operating their trade or business, despite changes to the meal and entertainment expense deduction under made by the tax law known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TJCA). According to the IRS, the amendments specifically deny deductions for expenses for entertainment, amusement, or recreation, but do not address the deductibility of expenses for business meals. This omission has created a lot of confusion in the business community, which the IRS is addressing in this interim guidance. Taxpayers can rely on the guidance in the notice until the IRS issues proposed regulations.


Under the interim guidance, taxpayers may deduct 50% of an otherwise allowable business meal expense if:


    1. 1.    The expense is an ordinary and necessary business expense paid or incurred during the tax year when carrying on any trade or business (Sec. 162);
    2. 2.    The expense is not lavish or extravagant under the circumstances;
    3. 3.    The taxpayer, or an employee of the taxpayer, is present when the food or beverages are furnished;
    4. 4.    The food and beverages are provided to a current or potential business customer, client, consultant, or similar business contact; and
    5. 5.    For food and beverages provided during or at an entertainment activity, they are purchased separately from the entertainment, or the cost of the food and beverages is stated separately from the cost of the entertainment on one or more bills, invoices, or receipts.

The IRS will not allow the entertainment disallowance rule to be circumvented through inflating the amount charged for food and beverages.


The notice contains three examples illustrating how the IRS intends to interpret these rules. All three examples involve attending a sporting event with a business client and having food and drink while attending the game. The examples show that meal expenses can be deductible when their costs are separately stated from the cost of the entertainment:


Example 1. Taxpayer A invites B, a business contact, to a baseball game. A purchases tickets for A and B to attend the game. While at the game, A buys hot dogs and drinks for A and B. The baseball game is entertainment and, thus, the cost of the game tickets is an entertainment expense and is not deductible by A. The cost of the hot dogs and drinks, which are purchased separately from the game tickets, is not an entertainment expense. Therefore, A may deduct 50 percent of the expenses associated with the hot dogs and drinks purchased at the game.


Example 2. Taxpayer C invites D, a business contact, to a basketball game. C purchases tickets for C and D to attend the game in a suite, where they have access to food and beverages. The cost of the basketball game tickets, as stated on the invoice, includes the food and beverages.

The basketball game is entertainment and, thus, the cost of the game tickets is an entertainment expense and is not deductible by C. The cost of the food and beverages, which are not purchased separately from the game tickets, is not stated separately on the invoice. Thus, the cost of the food and beverages also is an entertainment expense. Therefore, C may not deduct any of the expenses associated with the basketball game.


Example 3. Assume the same facts as in Example 2, except that the invoice for the basketball game tickets separately states the cost of the food and beverages.  As in Example 2, the basketball game is entertainment and, thus, the cost of the game tickets, other than the cost of the food and beverages, is an entertainment expense and is not deductible by C. However, the cost of the food and beverages, which is stated separately on the invoice for the game tickets, is not an entertainment expense. Therefore, C may deduct 50 percent of the expenses associated with the food and beverages provided at the game.


The IRS defines “Entertainment” as any activity which is of a type generally considered to constitute entertainment, amusement, or recreation, such as entertaining at night clubs, cocktail lounges, theaters, country clubs, golf and athletic clubs, sporting events, and on hunting, fishing, vacation, and similar trips, including such activity relating solely to the taxpayer or the taxpayer’s family. The term “entertainment” may include an activity, the cost of which is claimed as a business expense by the taxpayer, which satisfies the personal, living, or family needs of any individual, such as providing food and beverages, a hotel suite, or an automobile to a business customer or the customer’s family. The term “entertainment” does not include activities which, although satisfying personal, living, or family needs of an individual, are clearly not regarded as constituting entertainment, such as (a) supper money provided by an employer to an employee working overtime, (b) a hotel room maintained by an employer for lodging of employees while in business travel status, or (c) an automobile used in the active conduct of trade or business even though also used for routine personal purposes such as commuting to and from work. On the other hand, the providing of a hotel room or an automobile by an employer to an employee who is on vacation would constitute entertainment of the employee.