Meals continue to be deductible under IRS guidance

The IRS issued guidance clarifying that taxpayers may generally continue to deduct 50% of the food and beverage expenses associated with operating their trade or business, despite changes to the meal and entertainment expense deduction under Sec. 274 made by the law known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), P.L. 11597.

According to the IRS, the amendments specifically deny deductions for expenses for entertainment, amusement, or recreation but do not address the deductibility of expenses for business meals. This omission has created confusion in the business community, which the IRS addressed in this interim guidance. Taxpayers can rely on the guidance in the notice until the IRS issues proposed regulations.

Sec. 274(k), which was not amended by the TCJA, does not allow a deduction for the expense of any food or beverages unless (1) the expense is not lavish or extravagant under the circumstances, and (2) the taxpayer (or an employee of the taxpayer) is present when the food or beverages are furnished. Sec. 274(n)(1), which was amended by the TCJA, generally provides that the amount allowable as a deduction for any expense for food or beverages cannot exceed 50% of the amount of the expense that otherwise would be allowable. Prior to amendment, Sec. 274(n)(1) also allowed as a deduction up to 50% of the expense of any item with respect to an activity of a type considered to constitute entertainment, amusement, or recreation, or with respect to a facility used in connection with such activity.

Under the interim guidance, taxpayers may deduct 50% of an otherwise allowable business meal expense if:

The IRS will not allow the entertainment disallowance rule to be circumvented through inflating the amount charged for food and beverages.

The notice contains three examples illustrating how the IRS intends to interpret these rules. All three examples involve attending a sporting event with a business client and having food and drink while attending the game. The examples follow the AICPA’s recommendation that meal expenses be deductible when their costs are separately stated from the cost of the entertainment.

The IRS plans to issue proposed regulations and requested comments on:

In a letter to the IRS dated April 2, 2018 (available at, the AICPA had requested that the IRS provide immediate guidance on the TCJA’s changes to Sec. 274. The AICPA recommended that the IRS confirm that business meals are deductible: (1) that take place between a business owner or employee and a current or prospective client; (2) that are not lavish or extravagant under the circumstances; and (3) where the taxpayer has a reasonable expectation of deriving income or other specific trade or business benefit from the encounter.

— By Sally P. Schreiber, J.D., a JofA senior editor.

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