Using food to boost a salary

If you are planning to employ a member of staff who travels a lot – even if just to local clients or suppliers – you can pay for their food allowances. This allows you to boost their salary without having to contribute more IRPF (income tax) on their salary.

If the habitual duties of one of your members of staff involves them travelling to other municipalities for work purposes on a regular basis, the company is entitled to issue them with food cheques (cheques restaurantes) or a subsistence allowance (dieta de manutención). These food cheques are an effective way to increase their salary at a lower cost to the company.

How food cheques work

Food cheques issued by a company do not tribute on the IRPF (personal income tax) portion of the employee’s pay cheque (nómina). And as your company will not be paying the money directly to the employee, their cost is less than paying the equivalent amount in case to the employee. Yet they still count as a «top up» towards the employee’s salary, and your staff member receives the same net amount monthly, plus the savings on the tax.

Different food cheque networks accepted here

But bear in mind:

  • You need to issue the cheques in an ordered and numbered fashion. They cannot be redeemed for cash, but instead used in participating establishments in exchange for food and drink.
  • A single food cheque cannot exceed €9 in value, and the company must keep a master record of them.
  • The employee can only use the cheques on a work day.
  • The employee must be in a position which requires travel outside of the village where the workplace is sited (even if the travel does not take place). Generally speaking, they cannot be used as a substitute for a canteen allowance. However, it can be used in the municipality of the workplace.
  • Depending upon your work sector, employee conditions may stipulate guidelines upon the daily subsistence allowance. Check with your collective workplace agreement (convenio colectivo) for more.

For example, imagine a worker who uses their €9 a day on 20 working days, 11 months of the year. They will have spent €1,980 but saved themselves €396 on their IRPF tax, assuming they pay 20% IRPF. However, the total amount still counts towards the base salary for social security purposes.

The costs are fully deductible for the company, assuming all conditions are met.

Many companies will sign up to a dedicated cheque restaurante management service rather than try to manage the service themselves. The service will issue your designated employees with a simple debit card redeemable in many restaurants across Spain, and will handle the issuing and control of the daily allowance.

Subsistence allowance alternative

Another alternative with which your travelling employee can save on IRPF (and which also is exempt from social security payments) is a subsistence allowance (dietas manutención) for those days in which your employee is travelling. The allowance varies depending upon the destination of travel. As a guideline:

Overnight stay: In Spain: €53.34 / day   International: €91.35

No overnight stay: In Spain: €26.67 / day   International: €48.08

However, the subsistence allowance is for travel within the habitual duties of the employee when the employee is physically absent from the municipality of their workplace.

Combine the two

It is perfectly possible to combine the two, assuming the convenio colectivo, circumstances and work contract of the employee permits it.

However, the two cannot be used on the same day. If they are used on the same day, then both become a contractual improvement (ie, a bonus paid to the employee) and all liable taxes must be paid on the total amount used.

As an example, it is perfectly feasible to issue restaurant cheques for the days in which the employee is not travelling, and a subsistence allowance for the days in which the employee is travelling.

Let us assume your worker has 225 workdays in a year. Of those, 75 days involve travelling to national destinations with no over-night stays, and on the remaining 150 days they stay in the workplace.

For example. Assuming a base salary of €45,000 on a standard work contract, give your employee 150 restaurant cheques with a face value of €9 each plus an annual subsistence allowance of €2,000 (€26.67 for each of the 75 days spent travelling).

Under the best circumstances, taking the net amounts into account, your employee will enjoy an effective gross salary increase of €5,762 and your company will save €3,731 in tax!

Maria Luisa

María Luisa Cervantes is a chartered accountant who graduated from the University of Granada in 2002. Founder of Cervantes Alarcón Consulting, she is an experienced accountant and financial advisor who is a member of the Almería guild of economists. With more than 15 years of experience in business administration and international trade, she is also a subject matter expert in the UK - Spanish bilateral agreements which cover the rights of expats to live, work and retire in Spain.