What turns lunch into a business meal?

If you’re a contractor, there are meals where it’s clearly work-related: dinner with a client, lunch with a coworker while discussing your current project, etc. These are straight forward and qualify as legitimate meal write offs. But what about when you grab a meal with a friend, and work comes up -- does that count as a tax write off?

The rule of thumb for meal write-offs

In order for a meal to be considered a “business meal”, the discussion has to truly be related to your line of work and provide some benefit to you. Whether in the form of research, referrals, potential client, etc. It doesn’t matter that this benefit is coming from a friend.

The other thing to remember is that not overdoing it is key. An example of this would be meal write offs that are disproportionate to the amount you’re earning. Let’s say you’re making $2500 in the year from your Juicing gig and writing off $2000 in meals alone, this will likely raise some flags with the IRS. Use our free self-employment tax calculator to see how much taxes you owe and then add up what percent you are writing off.


Lunch Tax Deductable Examples

You’re a freelance photographer and you meet up with your friend to grab a bite to eat. During the lunch you start to talk about your next project and your friend has lots of great ideas for locations, themes, subjects, etc -- this counts! You may not have known this would start as a business meal, but the shift occurred and this now counts as research for your job.

✔️ This counts as a “business meal”

You drive for Lyft and you and your buddy meet up for dinner. You start telling your friend about how well the driving gig is going for you and he sounds interested. This could be a potential referral for you, and you are taking your time to inform your friend about this type of work and how he could get started as your referral -- this is a write off!

✔️ This counts as a “business meal”

You’re a wedding planner and you and your friend are out to lunch. She tells you about her cousin who just got engaged! You start off with casual convo about ideas for her, but as the meal continues, a real interest sparks. You share more about your work and what you do with your friend who says she will pass this onto her cousin. You now have a potential client/referral and can write this off.

✔️ This counts as a “business meal”

You’re a Postmates driver and it's Sunday morning...Brunch! You and your friend catch up over avocado and toast and work comes up. You tell your friend you really needed this break because you have been slammed all week with deliveries. You vent a little more about work, but the work part of the convo doesn’t go beyond that -- this is a personal meal.

❌ This does not count as a “business meal”

You’re a real estate agent and just sold a large property that had been on the market for a while! You invite your friend for drinks and dinner. You let your bestie know about that house you finally sold and cheers over Mai Tais. The rest of the meal, work does not come up, you’re there to have a good time and celebrate right -- this wouldn’t count.

❌ This does not count as a “business meal”

Bottom line

So, yes you may write off meals where business was discussed. When you track your expenses, be reasonable with the types of meals you are writing off so they do not fall under the lavish or extravagant categories and be sure a fair amount of work was discussed as mentioned above.

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Gina Evans

Gina Evans


Gina is an Enrolled Agent with the IRS and has 5 years of tax experience. She enjoys hiking, kayaking and is an avid traveler.

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Note: at Keeper Tax, we're on a mission to help freelancers overcome the complexity of their taxes. That sometimes leads us to generalize tax advice. Please reach out via email if you have questions.