Did you know that peanuts are not actually nuts? You did if you think about it. Nuts grow on trees. Peanuts grow in the ground like potatoes. Except peanuts aren’t potatoes either. They are actually legumes. Kind of like lentils, I think.
Food is a big part of business travel. I’m spending this smonth travelling to all five our our locations. Sometimes I’ll be onsite with our client. Sometimes I’ll be with my boss. Sometimes I’ll be alone.
Food is not super important to me. I need it to live, of course. But, I’m typically not what you would call a “foody.” Still, having travelled to our locations in the past, I have my favorite restaurants in various cities. In Louisville, it’s The Brick Tap House and Tavern. In Shreveport it’s a little hole in the wall place called Crawdaddy’s Kitchen. In Richmond, it’s the Ale House.
And while I enjoy each of those restaurants for different reasons, after eating there once on a trip, I’d just as soon eat in my hotel room the rest of the time.
Most companies have two processes for business travel meals: reimbursement and per diem. Reimbursement is just what it says, you get reimbursed for your meals. There’s generally a limit. In my company that limit is around $40 per day. That’s a little low for most companies, but you can reasonably eat for that amount. Whatever you don’t use one day doesn’t necessarily roll over to the next day. Just because I spent $20 today, doesn’t mean I can splurge and spend $60 tomorrow. And I have to keep my receipts and turn them in to get reimbursed.
Per diem, on the other is a lump sum. If you are going to be somewhere for 10 days, you get a check for $400. Anything you spend over that you pay for yourself. Anything under that and you keep the difference. And you don’t have to keep any receipts.
Which one is better? That depends on if you are giving or getting the money. As an employer, you naturally want to limit costs. So, reimbursement is preferred. Your employees are probably not going to spend exactly $40 per day. So, that ten day trip will be less than $400 in food. If you are the employee, per diem is the one you want. There’s the fact that you don’t have keep track of receipts, but more importantly, you aren’t going to spend exactly $40, so at the end of that ten day business trip, you are going to have some cash left over.
I had another reason for preferring per diem. I don’t much care about food. When I was on per diem, I’d find a Marriott Residence Inn. They have a full kitchen. I’d go grab some frozen pizzas or whatever from Walgreens and throw them in the freezer. At the end of the day, I’d head back to the hotel, cook a pizza and not have to go out.
I haven’t been on per diem for years. I now find myself fighting agaisnt the “use it or lose it” mentality. After all, if I don’t spend that $40 for food today, I won’t get to use it tomorrow.
And yet, I get no satisfaction out of it, and it’s actually not a good deal for my company. So, find myself at a diner with a burger and fries: satisfying a coloric need and feeling better about saving the company a little money. In the grand scheme, it’s not a lot of money. Just peanuts, really.
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.
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