All About Business Entertainment Expenses

Boats, Dinners, Events - What's Deductible - What's Not Deductible

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Entertaining customers is part of selling in a business. And paired with meal expenses, entertainment expenses are often considered a package. After all, we have to eat while we are being entertained. Meals and entertainment are a legitimate business expense. But because these expenses can be misused and mixed up with personal expenses, the IRS keeps a close eye on them in audits. 

What Is Required to Deduct Entertainment Expenses? 

Businesses can deduct expenses for entertainment of customers, business associates, and employees, if the business owner can show that the expense was:

Look at these requirements a little closer: 

First, expenses for entertainment must be ordinary and necessary business expenses. That is, the IRS says the expense must be common and accepted in the trade or business and helpful and appropriate for the business. An expense does not have to be required to be considered necessary. 

In addition, the entertainment expense must meet one of the following two tests:

The direct test: Showing either that the event was held in a business setting (an office, for example), or that there is a clear business purpose to the entertainment, business was discussed, and that the objective was income or business benefit.

For example, a catered meal for employees at your office or elsewhere at your business location for the purpose of presenting employee awards would probably be deductible as a business expense. But the main purpose of a hunting or fishing trip can't be directly tied to your business. 

To meet the associated test, you must show that the entertainment is associated with your business and that it takes place directly before or after a business discussion.

For example, if you have a business meeting with a group of clients at your office and then take the clients to a play that same evening, this entertainment would probably meet the associated test. Taking the clients to a play several days later would not meet this test.

Entertainment Expenses vs. Advertising and Promotion Expenses

If your business entertains the general public for the purpose of advertising or promotion, this cost is fully deductible as a business expense.

For example, if a children's clothing store pays for the expense of hiring a clown at a community event, that might be considered promotion rather than entertainment.  

How to Deduct Business Entertainment Expenses

To deduct business entertainment expenses, you must be able to prove the business purpose (under the applicable test as described above) and

  • the amount of each expense,
  • the date and place of the entertainment, and
  • the business relationship of the persons entertained.

Without this proof, the IRS can disallow this expense (take it off your tax return). 

For the most part, entertainment expenses are deductible at 50%. That is, you can only deduct half of the cost of that office party. Business meals are also deductible at 50%.

Some entertainment expenses are fully deductible. A company event at which employees are invited is deductible at 100%. Travel to and from an entertainment event is 100% deductible.

Non-deductible Entertainment Expenses

Some entertainment expenses are not deductible at all.

For example, if you attend an entertainment event while you are traveling for business, this entertainment will probably not be deductible.

Also, if you attend an entertainment event while you are considering business locations or investigating a business, you cannot deduct the event as entertainment if you don't start the business.

And "lavish and extravagant" entertainment is never deductible. And in case you are wondering about entertaining clients on your yacht, the IRS probably won't allow a deduction for the purchase of the yacht, but it might allow the entertainment costs.


Self-employment and Entertainment Expenses

If you are self-employed (not an employee of a corporation), your deductible entertainment expenses are not subject to the 50% limit if all of the following conditions are met:

  • These expenses are related to your work as an independent contractor
  • You are reimbursed or given an allowance for these expenses in connection with the services you perform, and
  • You provide adequate records of these expenses for your customer or client.

Keeping Records of Business Entertainment Expenses

As with other business expenses, you must keep careful records to show how the entertainment passes either the direct test or the associated test. The best record is contemporaneous (at the time), stating the specific business purpose.

For example, noting on the bill from a caterer and your note on the bill that the purpose was the company's annual holiday party would be helpful.

For More Information

Read more about record keeping requirements for business expense deductions.

For more detailed information on entertainment expenses, see IRS Publication 463.

Disclaimer. The information and examples in this article should not be considered to be tax advice. Before you deduct any business expenses, check with your tax professional.