Digital meal vouchers - Rules for employees

By Sophie Jordan  -  Feb 9,   2021



Demographic change has fundamentally altered the labor market in Germany. Just a few years ago, companies could choose from a large supply of suitable applicants. Today, this situation has taken a turn for the worse in some industries. Companies are increasingly dependent on active employer branding to attract and retain talent over the long term. 

Employee benefits

Employee benefits are key for employers to represent themselves as an attractive employer. Corporate benefits are specially added benefits and offers that employers can make available to their employees. If the applicable limits for non-cash benefits are observed, zero or very taxes and social security contributions are incurred on benefits. This means that they not only promote employee motivation and the company's productivity, but also employers can save money, as a salary increase in this sense is more favorable than an ordinary one.

Additional services in the form of benefits are proof that a company knows the needs of its employees, wants to meet them and considers an appreciative corporate culture to be important. Money alone has not been the focus for a long time. According to Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman and economist Angus Deaton, more salary alone doesn't make people happier; it's the factors that help them find and maintain a healthy balance in life. Exercise, more time for family and a healthy diet measurably increase employee satisfaction. Employees want recognition, personal appreciation and an overall positive work environment. In addition to fair pay, younger generations of employees in particular are looking for self-fulfillment and a healthy work-life balance. Benefits offer employers the opportunity to address these needs and make everyday working life easier for their employees. One particularly popular corporate benefit is meal vouchers. Companies that do not operate their own cafeteria can provide their employees with meal vouchers in the form of physical coupons that are accepted by restaurants or shopping outlets in the area with which a contract has been negotiated in advance. Paper meal vouchers also have the disadvantage that the employer must pay in advance and issue all available vouchers per month, whether they are redeemed or not.

Digital meal vouchers

Since 02.02.2016, digital meal vouchers have also been possible in addition to physical meal vouchers. Digital meal vouchers have the clear advantage since they can be used anywhere, whether at the supermarket, restaurant, delivery service or the baker around the corner. Especially when working from home, this is a benefit that companies can make available to their employees without restrictions. In addition, digital meal vouchers that are not redeemed do not mean any costs for the employer, because only what was actually consumed is billed. In addition to all the benefits for both employees and employers, there are some rules that employees should be aware of when using digital meal vouchers. In case of improper use, the employee is usually liable. The employer has a duty to report this. Therefore, in this article we're giving you an overview of all the rules that apply to employees for the proper use of digital meal vouchers.


Rules for employees

According to R 8.1 Abs. 7 Nr. 4 LStR the following requirements apply:

  • Food is considered a meal only if it is suitable for immediate consumption or intended for consumption during meal breaks - this includes beverages if they are consumed along with a meal. Alcoholic beverages are excluded.

  • Digital meal vouchers are to be used to purchase workday meals only. Meals from digital meal vouchers are intended to be consumed during the defined breaks. In the case of working from home or a daily working time of no more than six hours, they may also be taken before or after working hours.

  • The decisive factor in determining whether a meal is a breakfast, lunch or dinner meal is the time at which the meal is consumed.

  • The allowance may only be used for lunch and dinner meals paid for by the employee.

  • For each working day and each subsidized meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner), only one subsidy may be recognized at the official non-cash benefit value. If the employee purchases additional meals for other days in advance on the same day, the subsidies granted for this are to be recorded as cash wages and are therefore subject to wage tax and social security contributions. The same applies to the individual purchase of ingredients for a meal in stock..

  • If several meals are indicated on a restaurant or delivery service receipt, only one meal per employee is recorded. The employee must indicate the meals consumed by them on the receipt, e.g. by marking or crossing them out.

  • Receipts from different stores can be submitted for each meal if they are combined into one meal. The total amount will be reimbursed up to a maximum of the daily value of the digital meal voucher. The employee must mark or highlight the meals consumed on the receipt.

  • Non-food items are specifically not eligible for reimbursement. Examples include dishwasher soap, household items, alcohol and tobacco products.

  • The employee cannot submit a receipt more than once.

  • A receipt must be submitted by the last working day of the month of issue. Receipts submitted after the end of the respective month cannot be considered in the calculation of the benefit.


Requirements for the receipt

  • If several meals are shown on the restaurant receipt (including delivery services), only one meal per employee is recorded. The employee must identify the meals consumed by them on the receipt, e.g. by marking or crossing them out.

  • Receipts from different stores may be submitted per meal if they have been combined into one meal. The maximum amount reimbursed is the value of the digital meal voucher. The employee must identify the meals consumed by them on the receipt, e.g. by marking or crossing them out.

  • All submitted receipts must meet the requirements of § 146a AO in conjunction with § 6 KassenSichV and § 33 UStDV.


If these guidelines are followed, digital meal vouchers are a wonderful way to make work easier and to combine regular break times with a healthy lunch, even while working from home, when fixed breaks are essential for your health. Our tip: Schedule fixed break time slots in your calendar and take a short coffee break or get some fresh air. This will help you have a clear head and better balance between work and private life.


Circula is the ideal partner for your expense management. Circula's expense management app makes it easy to account for all employee expenses - per diems, cash expenses, travel expenses, and out-of-pocket expenses. The intelligent Circula corporate credit card adapts perfectly to your business processes and offers further premium benefits with attractive cashbacks. In addition, Circula offers companies tax-optimized employee benefits such as the digital lunch benefits and a flexible mobility budget with which employees can be supported.


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Sophie Jordan

Sophie ist seit November 2020 als Marketing Praktikantin bei Circula. Zur Zeit macht sie ihren Master in Marketing Management in Berlin.