High-Risk Category: Meals, Food and non-Alcoholic Beverages

Policy Overview:  In January 2021, the University updated policies governing meals, food and beverages (non-alcoholic and alcoholic).   Included in the policy updates was the reclassification of meals, food and beverages (“food”) to “High-Risk” expenditures.   

High-Risk Classification Key Points:      

  • “High-Risk” expenses require increased scrutiny, fiscal stewardship, justification and cost-controls.  Additional workflow for approvals, system entry and in-depth compliance reviews must occur.    
  • It is critical to differentiate that only adhering to policy may not be the Business Purpose for warranting a “High-Risk” expense.  Reasonable judgment and common sense must be applied per specific nature or intention of event, and necessity for food being provided.       
  • Departments and end-users are accountable to validate:
    1. Updated University policies and CFAES guiding principles are met.
    2. The high-risk expense is necessary, justified and appropriate in conjunction with the University Business Purpose.       
    3. Avoids the appearance of impropriety and/or entitlement (e.g., employee perk, enticement to attend, long-standing practice, etc.). 
  • Inappropriate high-risk expenditures may require repayment by employee(s).    
  • Office of the President has issued guidance for “employee appreciation and recognition” events and expenditures.  The University observes a $75/ calendar year aggregate per person.  President’s guidance located at https://president.osu.edu/story/employee-appreciation-guidance.

CFAES Guiding Principles: 

  • Objectively Review “Food” Practices:  Departments objectively revisit past and present practices to determine if “food” events continue to be compliant and justified with updated policies and principles.  Some circumstances may no longer be allowable or acceptable.    
  • Explore Alternatives:  Minimize high-risk “food” expenses by using alternatives and workarounds such as virtual meetings, adjusting meetings to not overlap with meals, and not be used as an enticement to increase attendance, participation and/or perk for employees.   
  • Less Attendees:  If “food” is necessary then limit attendees to only those required, critical and pertinent to the University Business Purpose.  Some events require attendees and their affiliations be entered directly into Workday for compliance and Audit reviews. 
  • Confirm Allowability: Internal dialogue with CFAES fiscal staff is strongly encouraged prior to providing food at some events to verify applicable compliance and principles. 

Business Purpose Requirements: 

  1. Comprehensive and narrative explanation of the University business.    
  2. Justification (“why”) food is necessary.     
  3. Clear identification of the “Food Category” (see chart below).
  4. Any additional information or documentation further supporting the “food” and circumstances.       

“Food” Categories: 

  • Food was realigned into five (5) categories.  The applicable food category must be clearly identified in the “Business Purpose”.    
  • Each category has differing policy parameters for acceptability, participants, frequency, costs, supporting documentation, etc.  Below is a high-level summary of each.
  • Complete University policies available at policies.osu.edu


Brief Description

Key Requirements

University and CFAES Examples



Business Meal

“Working” meals with employees and non-employees to discuss official University business during the meal. 


All non-University guests that are present must be critical to the business discussion.


Business Meals commonly occur off-site at a restaurant. 


Occurs during overnight travel and locally.  

  • Narrative Business Purpose with “Business Meal” category identified.
  • At least one (1) non-University person must be present who is necessary and critical to the official University business discussion.  
  • Attendees without a clear and defined University business purpose must not be paid with University funds (e.g. spouse, family member, other employee, etc.).  
  • Attendees and affiliations itemized directly in Workday by department (no list attachments). 
  • Meal costs and tips be within University limits.
  • Standard itemized receipt/invoice requirements.

Advancement meetings with current or prospective donors.


Recruitment committees interviewing key faculty or leadership candidates during the meal.


Collaboration with non-University colleagues at conferences and seminars.



Meals served due to the scheduling of back-to-back meetings (e.g. multiple interviews on same day). 


Meetings specifically scheduled during mealtimes to entice participation


Meetings or discussions consisting only of University employees. 

Non-University Function

Employee attendance at a non-University conference or seminar and meal is provided.


Occurs during overnight travel and locally.  

  • Narrative Business Purpose with “Non-University Function” category identified.
  • Conference registration materials supporting meal was included with registration fee.
  • Standard receipt/invoice requirements.

Attend local community luncheon with keynote speaker (e.g.  Rotary Club, County Economic Development, etc.).


Attend an overnight conference and meals provided with registration fees.


On-the-Job Meal

Food (boxed meals, pizza, etc.) provided to staff during peak business periods if staff unable to schedule personal mealtimes or leave premises. 


  • Narrative Business Purpose with “On-the-Job Meal” category identified.
  • Attach list of staff requiring an “on-the-job” meal.
  • Standard receipt/invoice requirements.

Staff working at Farm Science Review, staffing displays at county fairs, etc.


Department staff hosting a seminar or conference and must remain on-site for conference logistics.

Same as above for “Business Meal”.



Brief Description

Key Requirements

University and CFAES Examples



University Function


This category encompasses a wide variety of business purposes.  Commonly are group-based events with employees, non-employees and/or students.      


Each specific scenario may have different policy and parameters based on Business Purpose. 


Given inherent complexities of this category it’s strongly encouraged internal discussion with fiscal staff occur prior to providing food.     

  • Narrative Business Purpose with “University Function” identified.
  • Some events may require a list of attendees and affiliations be attached in Workday. 
  • Must not be frequent or recurring (daily, weekly, quarterly, etc.)
  • College leadership (e.g. chairs, directors, deans, etc.) attending events must have additional approvals internally and externally to college.  Disclosure of leadership attendance is required so applicable approvals can occur.
  • Employee appreciation and recognition events must be tracked by department per President’s annual $75 aggregate spend threshold.
  • Attendance of spouse/family members is prohibited at some events.  Proactive discussion and pre-approved by SFO required. 
  • Standard receipt/invoice requirements.

Once-per-year all day staff retreats for planning, team building, training, etc.


Infrequent group-based meetings with external stakeholders, volunteers and/or students.   


Meals served when hosting conferences for non-University participants.   


Infrequent employee recognition events (retirement, annual holiday celebration, annual awards, etc.).  Expenses must be within President’s policy parameters.

Same as above for “Business Meal”.


Food or snacks stocked in offices for employee “sharing”.  Beverages acceptable (coffee, water service, etc.).


Recognition events or gifts for employees departing before retirement, student-employees graduating, etc.


Multiple recognition events or gifts for same employee (e.g., retiree having events on both Columbus and Wooster campus, multiple departments purchasing retirement gifts, etc.).

Overnight Travel Meals

Meals associated with overnight travel-status.



Refer to the University Travel Policy (policies.osu.edu).

Personal daily Per Diem meal allowances.


Conference provided meals where cost is included in registration fee.


Business Meals with non-University participants while traveling (see “Business Meal” above).

If multiple employees travel to same destination and opt to dine together this is a Per Diem meal (not a Business Meal). 


Each traveler will only be reimbursed the applicable Per Diem city and meal rate.