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What is a Meal Reimbursement?

Lily Ruha
Lily Ruha

A meal reimbursement is a payment from an employer to an employee who has paid for a business meal out of his own pocket. To obtain reimbursement, the employee must generally abide by specific business guidelines that define allowable meal expenses. Typically, a business expense form must be filled out detailing the date, amount, and reason for the business meal. Employers choose to reimburse employees for meals in work situations where doing so will prove a more convenient and accurate way of tracking business expenses.

The purpose of a meal reimbursement is to ensure that an employee is properly compensated for all business-related expenses. This is done in situations where allotting a specific dollar amount in advance might prove inaccurate. An employee might be allowed to spend $20 US Dollars (USD) for a business meal, for example, but find that the dinner only costs $15 USD. In this case, the business benefits by reimbursing the employee for the exact amount.

Businessman with a briefcase
Businessman with a briefcase

A meal reimbursement can apply in a variety of business meal situations. An employee who is traveling on business may be allowed to buy meals at the airport or while on his trip. He might be required to pick up the dinner bill at a product meeting with a client. In other situations, he might need to order lunch for a company-related sales presentation. Each company or organization has its own guidelines for what types and amounts of business meal expenses are allowable for reimbursement.

To obtain a meal reimbursement, an employee must usually take specific steps. In many cases, an expense form must be filled out indicating the date of the meal, the cost and, if applicable, the individuals present at the business meal. Meal receipts must normally be turned in along with the expense report. In most cases, the signature of the employee and that of his supervisor are needed on the expense form before meal reimbursement may be granted by the company or organization.

An employee is faced with both advantages and challenges with regards to meal reimbursements. He has the freedom to order meals without being overly concerned with adhering to an exact cost. A meal reimbursement is typically considered a business expense and is generally not taxable as income, which is important for employees to know when filing taxes. The challenge of being reimbursed for meals sometimes occurs if extensive delays exist between the time that the employee incurs the cost and when the employer actually issues reimbursement. Some employees use credit cards to cover business meals if they cannot afford to pay for business meals in cash.

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Discussion Comments


@Buster29, I once had a territorial sales position with a generous expense account. It was fun for a while, knowing I could order any item on any menu and someone else would ultimately pay the bill. After a few months, however, I started getting tired of taking a new client to a different restaurant in every town in my territory. I missed going to a grocery store and making my own simple meals. The client would suggest a higher end steak restaurant or a buffet and I'd feel obligated to indulge yet again. It was great for business, but not so good for my health.


While I think it would be great to have a company reimburse me for my meals, I think I would be too tempted to choose expensive or unhealthy dishes. Sometimes it's knowing that I only have a few dollars to spend on food that keeps me on the straight and narrow. I can't see having more than one or two meals per day being considered business expenses. I'd have to pay for at least meal myself just to stay grounded.

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      Businessman with a briefcase