In Florida, food and beverages purchased in a grocery store for home consumption are not subject to state sales tax. This is not true of prepared meals and beverages served in restaurants. At the time of publication, the Florida sales and use tax rate is 6 percent, although municipalities may charge an additional percentage. Restaurant tax issues concern not only sales of food and beverages but tips for employees.
Under Florida statutes, relatively few sales are exempt from taxation. The Florida Department of Revenue warns that auditors may easily determine whether reported sales taxes are in line with restaurants of the same size and in various parts of the state. "A large number of exempt sales may provide good leads for future audits," according to the revenue department, so restaurant owners should be diligent in correctly reporting and paying sales tax to avoid auditing.
Meals served to restaurant employees as part of the employment contract are exempt from tax. Plain bottled water, non-carbonated and unflavored, is tax-exempt if separately priced on the meal invoice. Hotels providing complimentary food and beverages to guests, even if there is a restaurant on the premises, do not have to pay sales taxes on food and beverages included as part of package deal on the room. This exemption only qualifies if there is no separate charge for these complimentary food and beverages as part of the room rate.
Gratuities are taxable to the restaurant as part of the total price of the sale if the tip is not voluntary. For example, a restaurant may charge gratuities for parties over a certain number of guests. Tips are not taxable to the restaurant if given voluntarily by the guest above the amount of the sales price, or if the purchaser specifically states on the invoice that a certain amount of money is a gratuity. Under Florida law, such gratuities must be fully distributed by restaurant management to employees a minimum of once every six months with no amount kept by the management to avoid taxation.
Any eating establishment licensed by either the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services or the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Hotels and Restaurants must collect sales tax and pay such taxes to the Florida Department of Revenue. Businesses must complete and return form DR-15, the Sales and Use Tax Return, every collection period, even if no tax is due for that particular time frame. Taxes are due the first of every month and considered late if not received by the 20th of the month following the sales date.