The Three-Martini Lunch

By Alison Gadoua, Prager Metis International LLC

The term “Three-Martini Lunch” was coined in the US during the 1960s and 1970s, when NYC executives would gather and claim that these libations made them more creative. The expense of these luncheons was deducted fully, despite efforts by former Presidents Kennedy and Carter to reduce the overall deduction. President Carter’s 1976 opponent, Gerald Ford, fully supported the tax break saying “The Three- Martini Lunch” is the epitome of American effciency. Where else can you get an earful, a bellyful, and a snootful at the same time?”

Over the years, the meals and entertainment deductions were reduced to 80% in 1987 and further reduced to 50% in 1994, as business meals were an easy target for regulators due to the perceived abuse of the Three-Martini Lunch. In 2020, Congress included the full deductibility of business meals for 2021 and 2022 for meals provided by restaurants as a means of supporting restaurants during the pandemic. Critics have stated that this move is bad tax policy. However, it should be noted that the Internal Revenue Code has substantiation rules for these expenses that are stricter than most other deductions. The full deductibility of meals is fair tax policy, as small businesses depend on these meals to grow their businesses. Unable to rely on Super Bowl advertising or stadium sponsorships, they build relationships one by one.

When Congress picks and chooses which legitimate expenses to allow, the system goes out of balance. The limitation of the deduction for business meals has always hit small businesses disproportionately. Full deductibility, even on a temporary basis, is a first step towards reinstating fairness between small and big business. The policy should be praised, not bludgeoned. In a post- COVID-19 environment, business meals will play an important role in the revitalisation of small business.

Alison Gadoua

Alison Gadoua

GGI member firm
Prager Metis International LLC
Advisory, Auditing & Accounting, Corporate Finance, Fiduciary & Estate Planning, Tax
More than 17 offices throughout the USA
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Prager Metis International LLC is a top accounting firm providing a full range of accounting, audit, tax, and advisory services to domestic and international clientele in a wide range of industries. With 17 offices worldwide, they have a level of expertise and a unique global presence that makes their clients’ world worth more.

Alison Gadoua, Tax Controversy Specialist, has over 20 years of experience in resolving IRS and state tax controversy issues and assisting clients in maintaining business and individual tax compliance. Alison loves traveling, boating, and spending time with her family.

Published: International Taxation Newsletter, No. 14, Spring 2021 l Photo: federico calvani/EyeEm -

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