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The Empuls Glossary

Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms

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Employee Meal Cards

Employee meal cards, also known as food cards or meal vouchers, are prepaid cards or digital accounts provided by employers to their employees. These cards are specifically designed to facilitate the purchase of meals or food items. Employee meal cards serve as a convenient and tax-efficient way for employees to cover their meal expenses, either during work hours or for meal benefits provided by the employer.

What are employee meal cards?

Preloaded cards provided by employers for the exclusive purpose of purchasing meals, often as part of employee benefits.

Listen, recognize, award, and retain your employees with our Employee engagement software  

How do employee meal cards work?

Employee meal cards are prepaid cards or vouchers issued by companies to their employees for covering meal expenses. These cards function like digital payment systems, allowing employees to purchase food and beverages at designated vendors or restaurants.

Here's a typical workflow:

  • Card issuance: The company distributes meal cards to employees, preloaded with a specific amount or with the option to reload them.
  • Payment method: Employees can use the cards to pay for meals at participating restaurants, cafes, or food delivery services.
  • Transaction processing: When swiped or tapped, the card deducts the purchase amount from the available balance.
  • Receipt and balance tracking: Employees can access their transaction history and remaining balance through online portals or mobile apps provided by the meal card program.

How are employee meal cards different from regular debit or credit cards?

Several key differences distinguish employee meal cards from regular debit and credit cards:

  • Purpose: Meal cards are specifically intended for food purchases, while debit/credit cards are more general-purpose payment options.
  • Restrictions: Meal cards often have limitations on where they can be used, restricting transactions to approved vendors within the program.
  • Prepayment: Meal cards are typically preloaded with a fixed amount or reloadable credit, unlike debit and credit cards linked to bank accounts.
  • Tax benefits: Depending on the program and jurisdiction, meal card benefits may be partially or fully exempt from taxes, offering advantages over personal cards.

How are the meal card balances managed and recharged?

Meal card balances can be managed and recharged in several ways:

  • Automatic reloads: Companies can set up automatic reload schedules to maintain a consistent balance on the cards.
  • Online portals: Employees may have access to online portals or mobile apps to monitor their balances and initiate reloads using personal funds or payroll deductions.
  • Company administration: Some companies handle all aspects of balance management and reloads internally.

The specific method of managing and recharging cards depends on the program chosen by the company.

Can employees use their meal cards at any restaurant or food establishment?

No, employee meal cards are typically restricted to specific merchants who have partnered with the program. These vendors may include restaurants, cafes, food delivery services, or grocery stores within a designated network.

Are there any limitations or restrictions on using employee meal cards?

Yes, several limitations and restrictions may apply to using employee meal cards:

  • Participating vendors: As mentioned above, usage is restricted to approved vendors within the program.
  • Spending limits: Daily or monthly spending limits may be imposed to control overall expenses.
  • Expiration dates: Some cards may have expiration dates, requiring the remaining balance to be used before the deadline.
  • Permitted purchases: Certain items, like alcohol or tobacco products, might be excluded from purchases.

Employee pulse surveys:

These are short surveys that can be sent frequently to check what your employees think about an issue quickly. The survey comprises fewer questions (not more than 10) to get the information quickly. These can be administered at regular intervals (monthly/weekly/quarterly).

One-on-one meetings:

Having periodic, hour-long meetings for an informal chat with every team member is an excellent way to get a true sense of what’s happening with them. Since it is a safe and private conversation, it helps you get better details about an issue.


eNPS (employee Net Promoter score) is one of the simplest yet effective ways to assess your employee's opinion of your company. It includes one intriguing question that gauges loyalty. An example of eNPS questions include: How likely are you to recommend our company to others? Employees respond to the eNPS survey on a scale of 1-10, where 10 denotes they are ‘highly likely’ to recommend the company and 1 signifies they are ‘highly unlikely’ to recommend it.

Based on the responses, employees can be placed in three different categories:

  • Promoters
    Employees who have responded positively or agreed.
  • Detractors
    Employees who have reacted negatively or disagreed.
  • Passives
    Employees who have stayed neutral with their responses.

Are meal cards taxable for employees?

The tax implications of employee meal cards depend on the program design and local tax regulations. In some cases, the employer's contributions to the meal card may be partially or fully tax-deductible. For the employee, there might be tax benefits depending on how the card is used and whether it qualifies as a "de minimis fringe benefit."

It's crucial to consult with a tax advisor for specific guidance on the tax implications of employee meal cards in your individual situation.

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