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Restaurant bills – your rights

publication date: Apr 3, 2013
author/source: Dean Dunham
Dean Dunham boxingSo what are you rights if you are unhappy with the food that you have been served?

If the problem is the quality of the food rather than the service and it is so poor as to be a breach of contract, then you are well within your rights to reduce the bill or refuse to pay. However, if you are going to do this you need to tell the waiter at the time the food is served or when you first taste it. The restaurant is then entitled to have the opportunity of putting good the problem. However, if you feel that in fact the food is unsafe to eat (for example it is out of date or under cooked) then it is important to keep the food in question and present to the authorities as soon as possible. 

Is it a theft not to pay?

It is a criminal offence on your part to go into a restaurant and order a meal with the intention of not paying for it. Restaurants often wrongly believe this means you have to pay for a meal whatever the circumstances. This is not the case. So long as you have a genuine reason for not paying and you leave your name and address, you have not acted in any way dishonestly. However, the question of whether you will be allowed not to pay the full amount is dependent on the facts of the case.

What’s the law in relation to my rights?

The Supply of Goods and Services Act of 1982 is the relevant law that governs the relationship between a diner and the restaurant.

What can I do if I am unhappy with the service?

If a percentage charge for service is said to be included in the meal price, you are entitled to reduce the bill if the service has been poor by the amount shown to be the service charge, which is typically between ten and 15 per cent of the total bill amount. The important point to remember here is that the service charge is "discretionary" so you have absolutely no legal obligation to pay it.

What should I do after I leave the restaurant?

If you have been unhappy with the food that you have received you should write to the manager as soon after the date that you attended the restaurant as possible. Your letter should state i) the time and date that you attended the restaurant ii) the name of your server if you know this iii) what you ordered iv) what was wrong with the food and v) what happened at the restaurant when you complained. You should also state that you are well aware of your rights under the Supply of Goods and Services Act of 1982 and ask what action will be taken in relation to your complaint.

Can I claim compensation?

To claim compensation for anything you have to show that i) you have suffered a loss or injury and ii) someone is to blame for the loss or injury. If therefore you believe that the poor quality of the food at the restaurant caused you to suffer a loss or injury then you will potentially be able to claim compensation.

For more information about any consumer law or other legal matter visit Dean’s website.