Here’s when a restaurant operator should expense a meal

Expense report
There are times when it's perfectly OK to expense a restaurant meal. And times when it is not. | Photo: Shutterstock


Dear Advice Guy,

I dine out a lot. Since I am in the restaurant industry, should I be claiming this as a business expense?

– Owner


Dining is not just a pleasure but also an obligation in the restaurant business. It’s important to stay current on changing trends and keep an eye on up-and-coming or competitive concepts. It can also be important to network and support your neighbors.

Dining, of course, is also fun. As a rule of thumb, I advise operators to think about the overall goal of the meal in determining whether this is a business or personal expense. Occasions like taking a chef to competitors or leading-edge places for their professional development, networking with industry peers, or R&D to pick up menu inspiration are clearly business-related expenses. Occasions like date night or everyday dinner are clearly not, even if some business inspiration strikes.

Paul Kim, a finance executive at Mikey Pomodoro says, “If you are just dining out, no. If it is a purposeful trip for research and development, then you should itemize that expense. Keep a record of the receipt and write down the purpose of that meal in case you are audited.”

I also recommend encouraging your employees, especially managers, to dine out as well. It’s important to be able to see things from the guests’ perspective. This could be done through an employee benefit like a credit or stipend or through some incentive tied to performance.

As always, this column is not legal advice. Consult with your accountant and attorney to be sure you are compliant.

More on restaurant expenses here.