Food and Beverage Expenditures
University Policy Number 2102
Responsible Office: Fiscal Services
Related Law & Policy:
- Policy 2101: Travel Authorization and Reimbursement
- Policy 6: Student Organizations and Activities Financial Policies and Purchasing Procedures
The policies and procedures provided herein apply to all George Mason University organizations, faculty, staff, students and all organizations and individuals that intend to provide food and/or beverages and any related services to Mason faculty, staff, students or their guests at university expense.
The provisions of this policy do not apply to:
- Events or functions at which food and beverages expenses are paid solely from participant fees
- Residence hall events that cost less than $100 per event
- Intercollegiate Athletics (ICA) pre/post game meals within per diem maximums related to home competitions
- Student-focused events that cost less than $2,000 per event that are within per diem maximums and primarily benefit Mason prospective students, students and student athletes
- Meals within per diem maximums provided to students who are required to be on campus when Mason meal plans are not available
- Meals within per diem maximums provided to performers and other visitors in conjunction with contractual requirements.
II. Policy Statement
As an Agency of the Commonwealth of Virginia, George Mason University has a public obligation to ensure that all expenditures are essential and reasonable and that they support the mission of the university. As such, state rules prohibit expenditures for employee personal expenses, including meals, snacks and refreshments. There are limited circumstances in which it is considered appropriate to provide food and beverages to personnel who are not in travel status. (See University Policy Number 2101, Travel Authorization and Reimbursement, for rules regarding meals and other expenses while on overnight travel.)
Approving Officials for departmental funds and organizations to which food and beverage expenditures are charged have the responsibility to determine that such expenditures constitute a proper use of state funds and that they meet the provisions of this policy.
The Associate Vice President and Controller has the responsibility to administer and oversee the provisions of this policy as they pertain to the proper use of university funds.
Food and beverage expenditures must be approved in advance of the event and/or purchase.
IV. Guidelines for Appropriate Food and Beverages Expenditures
The functions or events at which it is considered appropriate for food and beverages to be served to university personnel are limited to the following:
- Business Function.
Food and beverages may be provided at business meetings that involve substantive and bona fide business discussions with an outside party or parties in attendance. The primary beneficiaries of such functions are the non-Mason attendees. As such, the ratio of Mason to non-Mason attendees must be appropriate to the circumstances of the event. Meals at which interview candidates are hosted are included in this category. (See section IX of this policy.) Business meals are not an allowable charge on federally sponsored funds.
- Student Academic Function.
Food and beverages may be provided at student functions that contribute to the academic mission of the university. Current and prospective students are the primary beneficiaries at such events. Food and beverages provided at the commencement ceremony are included in this category.
- Student Club Function.
Food and beverages may be provided at functions that are approved in accordance with the University’s Administrative Policy No. 6, Student Organizations and Activities Financial Policies and Purchasing Procedures.
- Student Athlete Function.
Food and beverages may be provided to recruits, qualifying traveler(s), current student athletes and athletic staff as approved by Mason’s Compliance and/or Senior Athletic staff.
- Internal Training Function.
Food and beverages may be provided to participants of a formal training session that lasts all day when business is conducted through the time of the meal. Beverages only may be provided at a training session that lasts at least half a day. Departmental retreats may be included in this category provided they are conducted primarily as training functions, are held at a Mason-owned facility, do not require overnight lodging, and do not occur more frequently than annually. (See section IX of this policy.) University employees are the primary beneficiaries at such functions.
- Other Internal Function.
This category is generally reserved for university recognized events, such as the annual university-wide holiday party or events supporting university-wide initiatives.
V. Requirements and Limitations
This policy establishes the following requirements and limitations regarding appropriate expenditures for food and beverages:
(1) Food and beverages may be provided only at functions or events that meet the criteria listed in section IV of this policy.
(2) The actual cost per person for food and beverages, including any related service fees or gratuities, may not exceed the per diem amount allowed for business meals as established under Commonwealth of Virginia regulations. These meal rates are available at the Fiscal Services website. The per diem rates are listed by locality and include individual components for breakfast, lunch and dinner. These individual component meal rates may be increased up to 50% for all functions allowed under this policy.
(3) A listing of the names and organizational affiliations of each person in attendance at events at which food and beverages are provided must be submitted as documentation to support payment. If a listing is impractical to provide, a written explanation to that effect must be submitted.
(4) Food and beverages may not be provided to promote goodwill or boost morale. This restriction is based on current tax laws and is intended to avoid the necessity of including the value of such meals in an employee’s taxable income. This restriction, however, does not prohibit the university from providing food and beverages of minimal value to employees at occasional events such as the annual university wide holiday party.
(5) Food and beverages may not be provided at planning meetings, regularly scheduled or routine meetings, or as a perquisite.
(6) Documentation to support food and beverage expenditures at functions that are training retreats must include a description of the type of training provided.
(7) Reimbursement requests for business meals must be supported by an original itemized receipt.
(8) Alcoholic beverages and flowers may not be provided at university expense.
VI. Required Approvals
All expenditures for food and beverages require the approval of the official for the departmental fund or organization to which the expenditure is charged.
VII. Ratio of GMU to Non-GMU Attendees
For business functions at which outside parties are in attendance, the appropriate ratio of Mason to non-Mason attendees may vary depending on the facts and circumstances of the event. Consideration of the following examples may be useful when making such determinations.
Example 1 – High Ratio Appropriate
The interview process for a high level position, such as dean or director, frequently includes a meal at which the candidate is hosted. An appropriate ratio of Mason to non-Mason attendees at such a meeting might be five-to-one or higher, depending on the organizational level of the position and other factors. Mason representatives at these events typically include other deans, directors, vice presidents, or other officials. This ratio would be considered appropriate and consistent with current recruitment practices at other public universities.
Example 2 – Low Ratio Appropriate
Outside speakers are sometimes guests at a meal at the university’s expense following their lecture or presentation. The appropriate ratio of Mason to non-Mason attendees at such events would typically be no higher than two-to-one. In these circumstances, a higher ratio would be difficult to support in a public scrutiny test.
VIII. Training Retreats
The determination of whether a departmental retreat is an appropriate internal training function at which food and beverages may be provided will require consideration of the factors surrounding the event.
Departmental retreats must be conducted primarily as training functions. The type of training provided will depend on the particular department involved. Retreats that are essentially planning meetings, however, regardless of the location or other factors, cannot be considered to be training events, and are not appropriate functions for food and beverage expenditures.
In order to limit expenditures for rental facilities, retreats should be held at properties owned or leased by Mason. Retreats held at other locations require advance written approval by the Chief of Staff, Senior Vice President, or Provost.
Retreats involving overnight lodging, regardless of any other factors surrounding the event, are not permitted unless approved in advance by the Chief of Staff, Senior Vice President, or Provost.
Training retreats may not be held more often than annually.
A. Effective Date:
This policy will become effective upon the date of approval by the Senior Vice President for Administration and Finance and the Provost and Executive Vice President.
B. Date of Most Recent Review:
X. Timetable for Review
This policy, and any related procedures, shall be reviewed and revised, if necessary, annually to become effective at the beginning of the university’s fiscal year, unless otherwise noted.
Senior Vice President
Date Approved: February 10, 2003
Revision Approved: October 18, 2010
Revised: August 1, 2012
Revised: February 11, 2013
Revision Approved: February 22, 2017*
Revised: March 13, 2020
Revised: September 18, 2020
* Revision effective upon date of approval.