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Itemized Receipts

How many receipts do you get when you pay for a meal in a restaurant? One? Three? Five? It’s crazy, isn’t it? If you split the bill, it gets even crazier. Does anybody really want that much information?


Do you ever get more information than you want?  I asked my Grandmother one time, about her grandmother.  I was curious about how old they might have been and what the circumstances were regarding their immigration here to the U.S.  What I got was a full data-dump of family tree information that would have buried and killed me if it were printed in 8pt font on an endless sheet of paper.  I was impressed at her knowledge, but honestly… I didn’t care one single bit about the guy that my third cousin (twice removed, who died 168 years ago) almost married against the will of her strictly Mennonite parents.  Booooooooring…

How many receipts do you get when you pay for a meal in a restaurant?  One?  Three?  Five?  It’s crazy, isn’t it?  If you split the bill, it gets even crazier.  Does anybody really want that much information?  Before you know it, receipts will also contain the nutrition information about the food you ate, the alcohol percentage of the beer you drank, and some personal history about your waiter or waitress.  Boring.

The truth is, restaurants are just giving you options.  If you take a close look at the receipts, one of them is a simple receipt with just the total.  Another one has an itemized list of everything you ordered.  This is the bane of many corporate travelers’ existence.  Many companies today have begun to require their travelers to include this itemized receipt along with their expense reports.  I’m afraid I have to agree with them.  Just because your company sets a limit of $25 for dinner (for example), that doesn’t mean you should eat a cheap salad and expense a t-shirt from the bar.  If I own or manage the company, I’d like to see that on an itemized list of things you ate, and I’d prefer not pay for a t-shirt.

Unfortunately, it only takes a few bad apples to inspire such a policy.  My company will not allow the expense of alcohol unless customers are being entertained.  Reasonable travelers will pay cash out other own pocket if they want a glass of wine with their meal, a “bad apple” would conspire to find a way to classify a dinner companion as a “customer” so they could skirt the policy.  I know of one colleague who actually convinced a bartender to ring up his drinks in such a way that they appeared as “bar food” on the itemized receipt.  I don’t recommend that…

So, how do you handle this when you’re the one traveling?  If you and a friend go to dinner, should you ask for separate checks, and also a third check for your booze?  Why not?  If the waiter looks at you funny, just tell him/her that you’re on corporate travel and your company has some bizarre rules.  They’ll understand!  You can also take turns… You buy dinner one day, your buddy buys dinner the next, and you can split off the booze both times.  You can always buy a carafe of wine at the bar, pay in cash, and carry it to your table.  I see that happen fairly often. 

Another helpful tip is circle or highlight the items that are expensible, as soon as you get your receipt.  A week later when you do your expense report, you won’t remember what you ate, drank, didn’t eat, etc.  I always eat dinner against my corporate card, and I always make sure there’s one (and only one) of any of the following: Appetizer, Entr?e, or Dessert.  Anything and everything else goes onto a personal card or I pay cash for it.  If it bugs you, think about it this way; If you weren’t on travel, you’d be paying for food and booze at home out of your pocket, right?  Why does the company owe you a beer?  Free food makes me happy, if I have to buy my own liquor, then so be it.

EXTRA: If you have questions for Ken regarding business travel, hotels, airplanes, etc, please send an email!  Your questions will be recorded and Ken will answer the best ones in his Ask the Expert podcast show.



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