The IRS allows self-employed taxpayers to deduct certain business meals and entertainment expenses. However, knowing what meals and entertainment expenses are deductible can be pretty confusing. Recent tax laws have changed what businesses are allowed to deduct. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 eliminated the deduction for most entertainment expenses and the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 temporarily allowed business meals provided by a restaurant to be 100% deductible.

Even with these changes, business owners still have opportunities to benefit from deductible business meals and entertainment. The key to maximizing tax benefits is understanding what is deductible versus what is not and using that as a guide for business expenditures. Here are some examples of common business meal and entertainment expenses, and how they are taxed:

100% Deductible

  • Company holiday party or summer picnic
  • Business-promoting meals provided to the public such as an open house
  • Meals provided as taxable compensation to employees (included on W-2)
  • Business meals that are a critical part of your business function (food critic or food blogger)
  • Meals provided to an employee at work in order to work late
  • Entertainment for paying customers, such as hiring a band to play at your restaurant

50% Deductible

  • Business meals and/or drinks with clients or colleagues
  • Meals while traveling on business
  • Treating a few employees to a meal
  • Food for an in-office meeting
  • Meals at conferences
  • Office snacks

0% Deductible

  • Entertainment with a client or customer, whether or not business is discussed
  • Tickets to sporting events
  • Lavish or extravagant expenses
  • Country club dues

It is important to note that even though the entertainment portion of a business outing is nondeductible, meals consumed during the event would still be 50% deductible. For example, if you take a client to a hockey game and also purchase food and drinks, the game tickets are nondeductible, but the food and drinks are 50% deductible. Just be sure to get a breakout of the expenses on the receipt.

Be sure to keep proper records for deductible business meals. The IRS requires documentation of the amount (taxes and tips can be included), the date and location of the meal, who attended, and what was discussed.