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Submitted by lorne on


 I am looking for some advice on how to handle a situation.

First some background:

I own a small specialty consulting company and have a contractor working with me on a project for a key client. The client has a travel policy with regards to meals while travelling for them which lists an amount per day that is considered reasonable. The consultant travels for that client and submits his receipts to me which I then pass on to the client. I have a good relationship with the client and want to maintain that. 

The facts:

The consultant when travelling (by himself) on the client's business tends to buy a lot of snacks and will have several meals back to back the totals of which are within the recommended limits. For example, arriving in the evening at the client's city to work the next morning he went to Burger King at 2237h and had a burger and fries and then was at McDonalds at 2255h for Chicken nuggets and a Chicken sandwich. This is just an example and there are more like this. 

My concern:

While I certainly respect that people should have a choice as to how and what to eat; I also feel that when working for a client that this should be reasonable (obviously my personal judgment here is that having two meals back to back is not reasonable). I am concerned about the optics of this with my client as I pass through these receipts to them. The client hasn't said anything but I also want to make sure they don't either. I feel like I want to say something to the contractor but these expenses are within the policy however the optics don't sit well with me and they are my client. 

Look forward to suggestions on how to handle this situation. Thanks!

dmb41carter36's picture

Our company (large) has a policy of meal reimbursements only. They will reimburse you for only 3 receipts (meals). "Snacks" are not reimbursed. This was a recent change. Some people grumbled. Nearly all though, recognize that it's for the greater good the company. People quickly adjusted. It really helped to have an up front rule.

In practice I have found that often breakfast is provided. Either by the hotel in some form (continental or hot) or by the site where the event is held (training, meeting etc.). What ends up happening is that the person buys 2 real meals (lunch & dinner) and 1 snack (mid -afternoon latte).

Of coarse this only works in my small little world. You already have a relationship going with your contractor and client. I'd be interested to see what others thing.

Quick question: Do you have to provide itemized receipts to your client? Can you just bill for "Meals" as one lump sum? Even if you have to provide a breakfast, lunch and dinner amount, is it possible to consolidate the different expenses into one of the buckets? In this way, you can let your contractor proceed as they already do and your client is none the wiser because the total amounts are within the specific limits.

lorne's picture
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Thanks for the comment.

I like that policy myself and this is what I usually do anyway as I feel extra snacks are my own responsibility. In this case, the client's policy is not that clear.

I do provide itemized billing to the client but I guess I could go to a categorized billing although they might ask questions about that if I suddenly change it. I know that they do check the items as I have had some questions in the past. 

mike_bruns_99's picture
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 I don't see anything wrong with the optics.  There are lots of good reasons for back-to-back meals.

  • He likes Burger Kings's burgers, but McDonald''s chicken.  
  • The burger was bad
  • He was still hungry
  • He got the chicken to-go, to heat-up in the morning.   
  • He has a medical condition where he has to eat frequently
  • etc.

For a food expense account, the only things that typically matter are:

  1. Total cost
  2. Alcohol 
  3. Venue (strip-clubs, etc)

Frankly, if he's only getting fast-food after a long travel day, he's being more than reasonable. For me, as long as he's following the policy, if he wanted to spend 2-3 times that amount and have a beer with dinner, that's fine.

I'd let it go.

lorne's picture
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Thanks for the comment. At this point I have let it go. Still have a nagging feeling in my gut about it. Maybe that is me which is partly why I put it out here for comment from the group here.  

Gk26's picture

Respectfully, I don't see this is a big deal.  If anything I would be concerned as to why he is eating at McDonalds and KFC instead of something healthier, though I sometimes do so myself overseas.  Out of curiosity, can you give us a percentage of daily expenses versus the typical allowed amount?  I speculate from my own travels that these types of meals are typically less expensive than the typical business dinner.  By way of comparison, I try to shop at supermarkets when travelling.  My expenses are reasonable, though are not meal specific as I buy cucumbers, apples, canned fish, containers of soup, a whole cooked chicken from the deli, etc.  This only works if you have a hotel with a little kitchen.  I really try to eat healthy and don't consider restaurant food to be in my body's best interest, but that is a topic for another day.











timrutter's picture

As a 'D'  I'll be the one to say it:

" Burger King at 2237h and had a burger and fries and then was at McDonalds at 2255h for Chicken nuggets and a Chicken sandwich"

I'd be concerned that he's bin diving for receipts too. To me, it doesn't look good either when you have multiple meals twenty minutes apart. It's something we regularly see in the FIFO industry that people will bin dive a receipt then go and eat at the frequent flyers lounge.

 Shot across the bows maybe?


naraa's picture
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 I would not dismiss the gut feeling you are having.  I would keep my eyes opened.  Perhaps even asked directly if he had had those two meals.  Just mention it seems odd and since the reimbursements are for meals actually have had only, you just want him to confirm it, and watch for how he responds.  Don't argue with him, but he will know you are checking him.  If it is once in a while there is no problem but if all meals are like that it is odd. We had an employee that always had the expenses to the maximum amount covered, and high petrol bills.  It turns out he was getting receits that weren't his expenditures.  I regreat not having used the umbrella story with him on the first expense report he brought me.  Here is the story:

My first boss used a joke to bring the issue on being truthful on the expense report that I have never forgotten.  To the first expense report I handed her she asked me: "Where is the umbrella?"  And then she told the joke.  This guy went on a business trip and it rained.  As he hadn't brought an umbrella he bought one.  He put the umbrella in his expense report.  The boss saw the umbrella and asked him to explain.  The boss said he would not pay for it because after all it was his umbrella now.  The employee corrects the expense report and brings it back to the boss saying: "I want to see you find the umbrella now!"  Moral of the story from my boss:  "put the umbrella in and we will discuss it and find a way that is fair, but never ever disguise the expenses or report something untruthful."