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Feast on Bigger Tax Deductions for Business Meals

01/11/2022 Scott Dietz

Uncle Sam is helping to pick up the tab for certain business meals in 2021 and 2022. Under a provision in the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), the usual deduction for 50% of the cost of business meals is doubled to 100% for food and beverages provided by restaurants for the 2021 and 2022 tax years.

So, you can take a client out for a business meal or order take-out for your team and temporarily write off the entire cost — including the tip, sales tax and any delivery charges. To help maximize your benefit of this tax law change, let’s take a look at the current rules, and we will highlight what has changed.

The Basics

Despite a crackdown on deductions for business entertainment expenses in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), a business taxpayer could still deduct 50% of the cost of qualified business meals, including meals incurred while traveling away from home on business.

Currently, the deduction for business meals is allowed if the following requirements are met:

• The expense is an ordinary and necessary business expense paid or incurred during the tax year in carrying on any trade or business.
• The expense isn’t lavish or extravagant under the circumstances.
• The taxpayer (or an employee of the taxpayer) is present when the food or beverages are furnished.
• The food and beverages are provided to a current or potential business customer, client, consultant or similar business contact.

In the event that food and beverages are provided during — or at — an entertainment activity, the food and beverages must be purchased separately from the entertainment. Alternatively, the cost can be stated separately from the cost of the entertainment on one or more bills.

New Guidance

IRS Notice 2021-25 explains the main rules for qualifying for the 100% deduction for food and beverages provided by a restaurant. Under this guidance, the deduction is available if the restaurant prepares and sells food or beverages to retail customers for immediate consumption on or off the premises. As a result, it applies to both on-site dining and take-out or delivery meals.

However, a “restaurant” does not include a business that mainly sells pre-packaged goods not intended for immediate consumption. So, food and beverage sales from the following businesses are specifically excluded:

• Grocery stores,
• Convenience stores,
• Specialty food stores,
• Beer, wine or liquor stores,
• Drugstores,
• Newsstands, and
• Vending machines or kiosks.

The restriction also applies to an eating facility located on the employer’s business premises and used to provide meals excluded from an employee’s taxable income. Business meals purchased from such facilities are limited to a 50% deduction. It doesn’t matter if a third party is operating the facility under a contract with the business.

As before, the meals can’t be lavish or extravagant under the circumstances. But that doesn’t mean you have to skimp. You can still go first-class as long as you don’t go over the top.

In the table below you will find several examples to help guide you through this change in tax law.

IRS Notice 2021-63 provide additional clarification for meals paid under per diem arrangements. Notably, for these purposes only, a business taxpayer may treat the meal portion of a per diem rate or allowance paid or incurred after 2020 and before 2023 as being attributable to food or beverages provided by a restaurant.

For fiscal year 2022, which starts on October 1, 2021, the per diem rates for business travel under the “high-low” method are as follows:

• $296 for post-September 30, 2021, travel to high-cost areas within the continental United States (consisting of $222 for lodging and $74 for meals and incidental expenses), and
• $202 for post-September 30, 2021, travel to all other areas within the continental United States, (consisting of $138 for lodging and $64 for meals and incidental expenses).

The notice is effective for expenses incurred by an employer, self-employed individual or employees during 2021 and 2022.

Recordkeeping Is Essential

It’s important to keep track of expenses to maximize tax benefits for business meal expenses and to facilitate tax return preparation. Start by properly classifying expenses on your general ledger. In addition, ask restaurants to divvy up the tab between entertainment vs. food and beverages.

For meals, you should record the:

• Date;
• Cost of each separate expense;
• Name and location of the meal;
• Business purpose; and
• Relationship of persons entertained including occupations and names that show the business relationship.

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