How to Write Off Meals and Entertainment As A Business Expense

Learn how to save money on taxes by understanding the rules for writing off meals and entertainment expenses as business expenses. Properly writing off these expenses can reduce tax liability, increase profitability, and strengthen relationships for long-term success.

If you're a business owner who wants to create a positive work environment and enjoy tax benefits, it's crucial to know the ins and outs of meals and entertainment expenses. These costs cover the price of the food, drinks, and entertainment you provide for clients, customers, or staff when doing business. However, not all of these costs eligible for tax deductions. That's why it's important to understand the eligibility requirements and keep detailed records of your expenses. 

What Meals and Entertainment Expenses Can You Write-Off As A Business Expense?

Meals and entertainment expenses refer to the costs incurred by a business for food, beverages, and entertainment activities that are primarily for business purposes. These expenses are often incurred while entertaining clients, customers, or employees.

Imagine you are planning a party for your business. You want to invite clients and employees and provide food, drinks, and entertainment to create a fun and productive atmosphere. However, just like how you need to make sure the number of guests and the amount of food and drinks you provide are appropriate for the size of your venue, you also need to ensure that the expenses you incur are within the limits established by the IRS. 

Keeping accurate records and properly documenting your expenses is like keeping a headcount of your guests and making sure everyone has enough to eat and drink. By doing so, you can host a successful party that not only strengthens your business relationships but also qualifies for tax deductions.

In this article, we'll dive into the details of meals and entertainment expenses, including IRS rules, record-keeping requirements, and practical tips for optimizing your business expenses.

Why it's Important to Understand How to Write Them Off as a Business Expense

Meals and entertainment costs can be one of the biggest expenses for businesses. These expenses are made for meals, drinks, and entertainment that are primarily for professional reasons. When properly classified, these expenses can be written off as legitimate business expenses, which can help reduce a company's tax liability and increase its profitability. As a result, it's important for companies to understand how to classify these costs and what requirements must be met in order to write them off as tax deductions.

Eligibility Criteria for Meals and Entertainment Expenses

IRS Rules and Regulations

To claim meals and entertainment expenses as tax deductions, businesses must adhere to specific rules and regulations set by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). These rules are designed to make sure that expenses are spent primarily for professional needs rather than leisure activities. In 2023, the IRS established strict criteria for determining the eligibility of these expenses.

Types of Expenses that Qualify for Tax Deductions

It's important to know which expenses qualified for tax deductions when writing off meals and entertainment costs as business expenses. Expenses must meet specific requirements established by the IRS in order to be eligible for deductions. Let's discuss the several categories of expenses that are eligible for tax deductions, along with some examples of such expenses.

Business Meals with Clients or Customers:

In 2023, the IRS allows for a tax deduction of up to 50% of the cost of business meals with clients or customers. 

For example, if you spend $100 on a meal with a client to discuss a potential business deal, you can deduct $50 from your taxes.

Note that the meal must be directly related to the business, and not just for socializing purposes. This means that the purpose of the meal should be to discuss business matters such as negotiating a contract or discussing project details. 

Employee Business Meals:

If you provide meals for employees while they are traveling for business or working late, the cost of those meals can be tax-deductible. 

Up to 50% of the cost of those meals might be deducted from your taxes. This includes meals given to staff members who are on business trips, attending meetings or events, or putting in the extra effort. The meals must be served at the employer's location or in a professional setting, but they must not be extravagant or lavish.

Company Holiday Parties:

The cost of holiday parties or other events that are primarily for the benefit of employees can also be tax-deductible. However, the expense must not be extravagant or unreasonable.

Sporting Events or Other Entertainment:

If you take clients or customers to a sporting event or other entertainment activity, the cost of the event can be tax-deductible if it's primarily for business purposes. This means that the event should be related to the business, such as discussing a potential deal or building a business relationship. However, if the event is purely for personal enjoyment, the expense would not be eligible for a tax deduction.

The percentage for tax deductions on entertainment expenses is currently limited to 50% of the cost of the event. For example, if the cost of a client dinner and concert is $500, only 50% or $250 can be tax-deductible.

Meals Provided for the Public:

If a business provides meals or refreshments to the public at an open house or promotional event, the cost of those meals can be tax-deductible. It's important to remember that the event must be directly related to the company's operations, and any food or drinks served should be affordable and not expensive.

For instance, if a real estate firm has an open house to market a property, they may be able to deduct the cost of the snacks or light refreshments they serve to guests. But, the expense might not be entirely tax deductible if the business throws a lavish celebration with pricey catering and entertainment

The percentage or quantity that can be written off may change based on the particulars of the event and the expenses involved. A tax expert should always be consulted for advice on how to maximize deductions for meals served during promotional events.

It is important to remember that these limits and criteria are subject to change, so it is always better to speak with a tax professional, such as the expert team at Better Accounting Solutions, for the most up-to-date information.

Understanding Record-Keeping Requirements When Writing-Off Meals and Entertainment Expenses

Importance of Keeping Accurate Records

For businesses to be eligible for tax deductions, accurate food, and entertainment spending records are important. To support the deduction and prevent any potential audits, proper documentation is needed.

Which documents should you keep for tax purposes?

Businesses should keep receipts, invoices, and other documents that show the date, amount, and purpose of the expense. It is also important to record the names of the individuals who attended the event or meal and their business relationship with the company.

How to Organize and Categorize Expenses

Businesses may find it easier to keep track of their food and entertainment spending by organizing and categorizing their expenses. One approach is to set up separate accounts for each type of expense, such as company events, employee meals, and business dinners. This will make it easier for businesses to keep track of their spending and make sure they are taking the proper deductions. 

Related: Top 15 Tax Deductions and Write-Offs for Self-Employed 1099 Entrepreneurs

Tips for Maximizing Your Deductions

Planning Ahead

To maximize their meal and entertainment deductions, businesses must plan ahead. Companies should think about the expense's timing and confirm that it is directly related to their operations. They should make sure the event is neither expensive nor lavish by taking into account the venue and type of event.

Staying within the Rules

Businesses must comply with the guidelines established by the IRS in order to maximize deductions. As part of this, make sure the expense is reasonable and required, directly tied to the business, and not expensive or extravagant. Also, businesses should maintain correct records and adhere to IRS record-keeping regulations.

Being Consistent with Record-Keeping

The best way for businesses to maximize their deductions is through consistent record-keeping. Companies should set up a system for keeping track of expenses and make sure that they are all accurately recorded and classified. They can do this to make sure they are deducting the proper amount and to avoid any potential IRS problems.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Not Complying with IRS Requirements

Failure to follow the guidelines set by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regarding meals and entertainment expenses can result in serious consequences for businesses. This includes being audited by the IRS, being subject to fines and penalties, and potentially losing the ability to claim deductions for these expenses in the future. It's important for businesses to keep accurate records and only claim expenses that are directly related to their business activities in order to avoid these negative outcomes.

Claiming Personal Expenses as Business Expenses

Another mistake is claiming personal expenses as business expenses. This includes expenses that are not directly related to the business or expenses that are primarily for personal entertainment. Businesses must ensure that their expenses are incurred for business purposes and not for personal use.

Failing to Keep Proper Records

Failing to keep proper records is also a common mistake. Businesses must keep accurate records of their meal and entertainment expenses to support their tax deductions. Failure to do so can result in penalties or potential audits from the IRS.

To save money on taxes, businesses should understand the rules for meals and entertainment expenses. Follow eligibility criteria and keep accurate records, but avoid common mistakes like not following IRS guidelines or claiming personal expenses as business expenses. Consulting with a tax professional such as  Better Accounting Solutions can help. Properly writing off meals and entertainment expenses can reduce tax liability, increase profitability, and strengthen relationships with clients and employees. By taking the time to learn and utilize these deductions, businesses can position themselves for long-term success.

We’re so happy you found this article informative! Head back to our blog page to learn more tips, tricks, and guidance on accounting to maximize your business’s growth and development. 


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