TLC for bartering restaurants

There are a couple reasons why barter restaurants need special care. For one thing, absolutely everyone has to eat.  That means they can potentially trade with anyone which makes them very valuable in your barter network. Also because food cost percentages are are usually around 30 percent they have significant cash costs. The last little twist to make things complicated is that you are paying their staff directly in part through your tip.

So…with all that in mind, I have a couple suggestions to keep on your favorite restaurant’s good side and hopefully keep them bartering for a long time.

1) Be nice
If there is a mix-up about when they accept barter as payment, be nice. Gracefully pay in cash and talk to the owner later. When you talk to him/her, don’t complain. Express how much you like their restaurant and that you called because you want to help their business.

2) Leave enough cash
Most resaurants need the tax and tip to be paid in cash. When I dine on barter I make a special effort as an embassador for barter to be a good tipper. In most areas tax is somewhere around 10% and a good tip is 20% so you are doing good if you leave about 30% cash.

3) Post on yelp
It’s in your best interest for your favorite restaurants to stay profitable so do what you can to help them. Besides recommending the restaurant to your friends you can also recommend it to strangers. You can do this by finding the restaurant on and posting a glowing review. For those of you with smart phones you can download a free Yelp app to make this faster.

People who prefer to spend cash

A few times along my journey I’ve run into potential trading partners that have gotten lost along the way and would choose to spend cash over barter for the things they need.  As much as I love barter, I’d always prefer to receive cash.  And in turn I’d always prefer to make purchases on barter and preserve my cash.  It’s not really complicated is it?

A couple times now I’ve spoken with folks who have felt that the deal really didn’t fit barter and that they would rather just pay me in cash.  And to those people I would suggest that you always say:  “YESSSSS!!!  I would be more than happy to accept your cash as payment!”  It does beg the question though…what in the world was going on in these people’s heads when they decided that it was better to pay in cash?

I think these people break into two groups:

  1. People who just don’t understand barter
    I ran into this a while back with a laundry service I was talking to.  Because what I wanted from him was on-going and what he wanted from me was more of a one time thing, he didn’t feel that barter was appropriate and preferred to pay cash.  Ultimately the deal never happened.  He wasn’t motivated enough to go through with the deal on a cash basis and I could not explain barter to him well enough.  There are simply some people who WILL NEVER understand barter.  Probably it’s best to identify them early and move on.  I should do an article about that some time.
  2. People who think they will get into trouble with the IRS
    I had an interesting case recently when I offered to have my company build a $7k website for a potential client on 100% barter.  One of the client’s concerns was that they wanted to write off the expense of the website and were concerned that if they did that large of a trade that they would run into tax trouble.  I told them that I would be happy to accept partial or total payment in cash, however, I also report all my barter income to the IRS and that there is absolutely no problem with their claiming a large barter expense on their taxes.  Furthermore I told them that they should definitely send me a 1099 which would back them up on the legitimacy of the expense.

How much is too much barter?

So….how much barter really is too much?  Ultimately that is an indiviual question.  I’ve heard people in the industry throw out recommended percentages as rules of thumb… 5% of your total sales; 10%, 15%.  It’s nice to have a number to put out there for newbies but I really question the accuracy of any general number like that applied across the board.

First off I should point out that 99% of the traders out there that think that they can’t handle more trade are probably wrong.  It’s not that they have too much trade, it’s that they are not good enough at trade to take advantage of more trade than they are currently conducting.  I don’t mean this as an insult.  It applies to myself as well.  Right now I have more of one partcular barter currency than I need and I’ve (for the most part) stopped accepting that currency.  Does that mean that I have too much?  Maybe.  Or it could mean that I simply have not yet figured out how to use that currency to my advantage well enough.

Occasionally I hear a story about someone who supposedly lives on 90 to 95%  barter income.  Frankly I find this very difficult to believe.  As much as I love barter,  there are some things that you have to pay for in cash.  Taxes for example.  The IRS won’t take a chicken as payment.  Plus, trying to barter for absolutely everything you need would be a lot of work.  I’m not convinced that one person would have enough time to in  a normal work week to find all the trades they need to make it on 95% barter income.  I’d also point out that because setting up a trade takes a while, even if you have enough time in your week, that doesn’t help you with an immediate need you might have in the next hour.

I just checked over my records for 2010 and it looks like about 35% of my income was on trade.  I don’t know about you, but that number is a little scary to me.  I love to trade, don’t get me wrong, but it is unsettling to me that I am that dependent on barter.  It means I really need to be motivated to find good trades for things that my family needs.  If I don’t find those trades, my income goes down substantially.

Of course, it’s not like I’m decreasing my cash sales in order to take on barter sales.  All barter sales are in addition to the cash sales I was going to do anyway.  So from that point of view, the percentage doesn’t really matter.  Barter does not replace my cash slice of the pie.  It helps me have a bigger pie.

I realize it’s a somewhat personal question, but I would be very interested if folks would post back a comment on this article and let me know what percentage of their income is in barter and how they feel about that number.  Feel free to post autonomously.

Top Misconceptions about Barter

There are a couple recurring concepts that I’ve run into about barter that I’d like to address.  For those of you that have been around the block, you already know these.  That being said, I hope this article will still be valuable as you can refer the uninitiated to it.

  1. Barter is NOT a tax dodge
    The IRS does not mind if you barter at all.  That’s because all of your barter income is taxable.  You are expected to report all barter sales on your income taxes.  This on is a slam dunk as far as documentation goes.  Here is a direct quote from the website:
    Topic 420 – Bartering Income
    Bartering occurs when you exchange goods or services without exchanging money. An example of bartering is a plumber doing repair work for a dentist in exchange for dental services. The fair market value of goods and services received in exchange for goods or services you provide must be included in income in the year received.
    Generally, you report this income on Form 1040, Schedule C , Profit or Loss from Business. If you failed to report this income, correct your return by filing a Form 1040X. Refer to Topic 308 for Amended Return information.
  2. Barter is not illegal
    It may surprise you to hear that some folks out there actually think that bartering is illegal.  Usually this idea in some way is related to taxation.  I guess the belief is that some government agency has banned barter as a way to stop folks from skipping out on their taxes.  This is totally untrue.  Barter for any legal product or service that I’m aware of is totally legal.  What IS illegal is tax evasion.
    It’s not just income tax that can be an issue.  I once ran into a small farmer that I wanted to trade with that was convinced barter was illegal.  After asking some questions I figured out what the actual problem was.  Some years back they had traded produce for labor on their farm.  When this worker became unhappy with them they got into a lot of trouble for illegal labor practices.  The farmer failed to understand that the problem was not barter.  The problem was that this person was an employee, but they failed to follow local labor laws for this person.  It is perfectly legal to hire an employee and pay their net pay on barter, but you still have to pay state and local taxes and withholding in cash as well as have worker’s comp insurance ect. etc.
    I also find it interesting that even seasoned barter professionals often hold unfounded beliefs that certain industries are banned from barter.  I’ve been told by veteran barter professionals that industries like insurance, investment brokerages, and firearms sales all have special rules that limit or ban barter .  The problem is that every time I dig into the topic I can never find one shred of evidence either in statute or common law prohibiting or limiting barter in specific industries.  Of course I should point out that I’m not an attorney.  Please post back if you are an attorney and have some new information for our readers on this topic!

It’s important to understand these issues because part of your job as a good trader is to recruit new trading partners.  As you do that you will without a doubt run into the above objections and you need to be ready to answer them.  Of course now you can also give them a link to this article!