The university pays directly or reimburses individuals for expenses that are necessary and appropriate to conduct university business. Key considerations and associated processes are found in Business and Travel Expense Policies Fundamentals. The university outlines its core responsibility, guiding principles and IRS regulations with regard to business and travel expenses in Administrative Guide Memo 5.4.2.
A business meal is defined as a meal at which faculty, staff, students and/or guests are present for the purpose of conducting university business. Business meals must take place at a restaurant or catered by an approved supplier. A business meal may occur while traveling, but is differentiated from a travel meal. A business meal must have a business purpose which is connected to the university mission and clearly documented in the expense report (see receipts and documentation section). In addition, the business meal must be deemed reasonable and necessary under university policy.
In general, meal expenses of a spouse, family member or persons not directly connected to the business purpose of the meal are not reimbursable. Such expenses are only allowed if the person has a position with the university and is making a significant contribution in furtherance of university business. Exceptions to this policy are rare and must be approved in advance of the event by the Offices of the President and Provost.
As stewards of Stanford’s financial resources, faculty and staff should show prudence and fiscal responsibility in providing Stanford-paid meals during the conduct of Stanford internal meetings during the work day. Where possible, meetings should be conducted within normal working hours and should avoid meal times.
Roles and Responsibilities
It is the responsibility of the individual incurring the business meal and those involved in the preparation and approval of the reimbursement request or financial transaction to exercise good stewardship of university funds and to adhere to university policies. The individual incurring the expense and the appropriate administrator must ensure that all costs are in compliance with university travel and business expense policies prior to purchasing. These roles and responsibilities are outlined in Reimbursements & Expense Requests.
Payment and Reimbursement Methods
It is a best practice to have the individual with the highest level of financial approval pay for the business meal and submit the reimbursement so that the expense request can be reviewed by an approver who was not a meal attendee.
The Stanford Purchasing Card (PCard) is the preferred payment method for local business meals. Alternatively, personal funds may be used and a request for reimbursement submitted. The same guidelines must be followed regardless of payment method.
Gift cards may be provided for the purposes of purchasing a business meal and should use the appropriate expenditure type to avoid tax implications to the recipient.
When a business meal occurs while traveling, the Stanford Travel Card (TCard) is the recommended payment option for any travel costs that will not be reimbursed through the per diem method. For more information on reimbursement methods, see the Topic Overview: Business and Travel Expense Policies page. In these instances, the business meal must be deducted from that day’s Travel Meal reimbursement request. Refer to meal deduction guidelines on the Travel Meals Policy page.
The university has established limits on maximum university reimbursement for business meals. It is expected that, as stewards of university resources, employees continue to consistently stay well below these maximums.
- The maximums below include the actual cost per person for food, tax, tip and alcohol. The total cost for the meal, including all fees, taxes and tips, should not exceed the daily per person maximum.
- The business meal maximums do not include any additional banquet or service fees (including room rentals and non-food costs) charged by the venue.
- For events at the Stanford Faculty Club, or other on-campus event sites, do not include rental or service fees when calculating the per-person cost.
- The business meal maximums do not include Living Wage (Cost of Living) fees. These fees are automatically added to dining bills by some restaurants to compensate for high labor costs, ongoing labor shortages and increasing food costs. They may be listed on a receipt as Wellness fees, Dining-in fees, or Health care fees.
- For guidance on tips, visit the Business and Travel Expense Policies page.
- Individual schools and units may choose to set lower limits and/or may require all receipts to be submitted.
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner Meal Maximums
Meal Maximums Effective May 1, 2023
|Meal||Per Person Maximum|
Receptions and Refreshments Maximums
Some events do not involve a “meal” but instead include drinks, appetizers, or refreshments that may or may not occur during regular meal hours.
For these receptions and refreshments events, use the maximums shown below. These maximums include the actual cost per person for food, alcohol, tax and tip (excludes room rental and non-food costs). Departments should consider the audience and type of refreshment when determining an appropriate spending limit for an event. Note that Vice Provost offices, Dean’s offices, and/or departments may elect to impose lower per person maximums for budgetary controls than what is shown in the policy below.
Note: When alcohol is served, please make efforts to ensure attendees drink responsibly by limiting the number of drinks per person.
Receptions and Refreshments Maximums effective May 1, 2023
|Meal/Event Type||Per Person Maximum|
|Reception or Refreshments||$45|
|Reception and dinner combined||$170|
Meals with Alcohol
In Expense Requests, meals with alcohol do not require food, alcohol, tax and tip breakout or itemization. When a travel or business meal includes alcohol, enter the full cost (food, alcohol, tax and tip) on a single line and allocate that entire amount to an unallowable expenditure type.
Business Meals while Traveling
A business meal can occur while traveling, and is treated separately from a travel meal. When a business meal occurs while traveling, that meal must be deducted from that day’s travel meal reimbursement request. Refer to meal deduction guidelines on the Travel Meals Policy page.
In addition to the receipt and documentation requirements outlined in Business and Travel Expense Policies Fundamentals, additional documentation must be attached to business meal reimbursement requests in order for expenses to be paid by the university.
Documentation of business meals must include:
- Business Purpose: A clear and complete business purpose, describing the expected outcome from the meal. Refer to Resources: Guidelines for Writing a Clear Business Purpose.
- Receipt: When the meal cost is $75 or more, attach receipt(s) with the following information:
- Itemized expenses (menu items ordered, subtotal, tax and total), date of meal, and name and address of the location of the meal.
- Customer copy with tip posted (subtotal, gratuity and final bill total).
- Attendee List: The names of business meal attendees and their titles or other information establishing their business relationship with the individual incurring the expense. The attendee list can be entered by listing them directly in the transaction, or by attaching the list as a supporting document. Attendees will generally also need to be included in the beneficiaries section. The preparer should ensure that:
- The number of names on the list matches the number of attendees at the event.
- Attendees are identified by name and affiliation with Stanford (e.g., faculty, staff, student or non-SU).
- Non-SU guests are identified by their organization name (e.g., company, agency, institution, etc.).
- All requirements for entering beneficiaries are followed.