Unlocking the Secrets of Meal Expense Deductions for Small Businesses

Posted on May 22, 2024

As a small business owner, understanding how to fully leverage tax deductions can significantly reduce your taxable income and enhance your financial efficiency. One of the most practical yet often underutilized deductions is for business-related meal expenses. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you maximize this deduction while staying compliant with IRS regulations.

If you are looking at the overall topic of maximizing deductions, check out The Ultimate Guide to Maximizing Business Deductions and Write-Offs!

Understanding the Basics

The IRS allows businesses to deduct qualifying food and beverage costs associated with operating a business. These expenses must be ordinary and necessary, not lavish or extravagant, and directly related to or associated with the active conduct of your business.

Deductible Amounts

Different types of food/meal expenses have different deductible amounts.

  • Dining With Others (Client, Prospect, Staff, Vendor, etc)
    • 50% Deductible
  • Dining When Traveling (Including Alone)
    • 50% Deductible – Must be overnight and outside of your normal commute.
  • Office Meals / Food
    • 50% Deductible
  • Company Events / Presentations / COGS
    • 100% Deductible
  • Company Party
    • 100% Deductible – Majority must be part of non-tainted group.
  • Entertainment
    • NOT Deductible


Starting in 2018, entertainment expenses are no longer deductible, but the meals around the entertainment can be expensed assuming the amount can be separated from the entertainment cost.

Imagine you took a vendor to a baseball game.  The tickets to the game would not be deducible but the meal and drink you had there when you discussed business would be deductible (at 50%).

There is one clause where entertainment may be deductible. Per IRS, “expenses for recreational, social, or similar activities (including facilities therefore) primarily for the benefit of employees” qualify for the 100 percent deduction. With this it must be primarily (50% or more) for the benefit of employees other than a tainted group. A tainted group includes: highly compensated employees and an individual or family member of individual owning 10% or more.

Strategies to Maximize Deductions

  • Keep Detailed Records: The foundation of maximizing your meal deductions lies in meticulous record-keeping. Save all receipts and document the business purpose of each meal, including the names and business relationships of those who participated and a one line of what was discussed. Example: Met with Rachel to discuss new referral program.
  • Find a Business Purpose to Your Meetings: From now on, these people are sources of business, so start talking business and asking for referrals over meals and beverages. Are you grabbing dinner with a client, or potential client that happens to be a friend or family member? Think about the purpose of that meal.
  • Leverage Company Events: If you provide meals to your employees at your workplace for the convenience of the employer or as part of a recreational or social activity for employee benefit, these may be fully deductible. This includes meals provided during team-building activities or large-scale employee training sessions.
  • Plan for Non-deductible Scenarios: Some meals, such as those involving only the business owner without a clear business purpose, are not deductible. Plan these meals strategically to minimize the tax impact.
  • Solo Meals and Drinks: Going through the drive thru at Starbucks on your way to work is not a business deduction. However, if you plan a business meeting around that stop or you are on an overnight business trip, then it would be.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid

  • Failing to Document: Lack of proper documentation is a common reason for the disallowance of deductions during an IRS audit. Always keep detailed records.
  • Deducting Non-qualifying Expenses: Personal meals or those without a clear business purpose are not deductible. Ensure the business nature of each expense is clear and justifiable.
  • Do Not Get Greedy: Meals is a great opportunity for business owners but do not get greedy. If every time you go to dinner with your spouse it’s considered a business meal, the IRS may raise an eyebrow. Evaluate how your meal expense line item compares to your overall expenses. 


Maximizing your meal expense deductions requires a strategic approach and thorough understanding of IRS rules. By keeping detailed records, understanding what qualifies, and using available opportunities, you can significantly enhance your business’s financial health. Always stay updated with IRS changes to ensure compliance and optimal tax planning.

This guide should serve as a starting point for small businesses looking to make the most out of their meal deductions. 

If you are looking at the overall topic of maximizing deductions, check out The Ultimate Guide to Maximizing Business Deductions and Write-Offs!

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