In a surprising decision, the US Tax Court (Tax Court) concluded that the pregame away-city meals provided to the Boston Bruins hockey team was not subject to the 50 percent deduction disallowance on the basis that the meals were both for the “convenience of the employer” and were provided at an “employer operated eating facility.” In Jacobs v. Commissioner, 148 TC No 24 (June 26, 2017), the court found that meals—consisting of dinner, breakfast, lunch and snacks—were served in a room provided without charge by the hotel and to all employees of the Bruins traveling to the games.
Most businesses are well aware of the 50 percent deduction disallowance provided in Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 274(n)(1), which applies to meals provided to executives or other employees traveling for the business purpose of the employer. “De-minimis” meals (those which are provided infrequently and low in value), however, are excepted from the 50 percent disallowance. Also exempt are those meals provided at employer-operated eating facilities, (e.g., the company cafeteria) and meeting the following requirements:
- the facility is located on or near the business premises of the employer;
- the revenue derived from the facility normally equals or exceeds the direct operating costs of the facility; and
- the facility is available on substantially the same terms to each member of a group of employees that is defined under a reasonable classification which does not discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees.
IRC Section 119(a) allows an employee to exclude the value of any meals furnished by or on behalf of his employer if the meals are furnished on the employer’s business premise for the convenience of the employer. Generally, the expenses of IRC Section 119 meals can be used to satisfy the requirement that the revenue from the eating facility equal direct operating costs.
In Jacobs, the Tax Court concluded that the group meals served in the away-city hotel rooms provided at the hotels where the Bruins hockey team stayed for the games was an “employer operated eating facility,” which deems the rooms as the “eating facility” and “on the business premises of the employer” for purposes of the requirements. The rooms were also considered the business premises of the employer for purposes of the IRC Section 119 requirement. In light of its holding, the Tax Court did not need to address the taxpayer’s alternative argument that the meals were expenses for entertainment sold to customers under IRC Section 274(n)(2)(A).
Practice Point: The decision in Jacobs is seemingly expansive in permitting employers to deduct meals provided away from what has traditionally been considered an employer facility. The decision may provide an opportunity to employers to seek additional expense deductions.