Legal Protection while Eating Out

When dining at a restaurant does the law offer you protection?  

When you eat in a restaurant, you are protected by laws and regulations. Let us go through some examples and understand them better. 

Examples

Wrong information about ingredients

You are allergic to nuts and suffered an allergic reaction after eating out in a restaurant, even though you asked about the ingredients beforehand. This is a case of dishonesty. You have been mislead about the food you ordered and suffered as a result. In such a case you can seek compensation using the small claims track in the county court.  

In order to win a case, you need evidence. If you have an immediate allergic reaction to the restaurant food, you may be able to obtain a sample of the food and take it to your GP the next day for analysis. You can also take it to the environmental health office for the area where the restaurant is located.  If you were with another person, that person may agree to act as a witness to your conversation with the waiter and to your allergic reaction.

Not wanting to pay for poor service

You enjoyed a good meal at a restaurant, but the service was very slow. You have right to deduce the service charge from the bill. You do not have to pay for service that is unsatisfactory, even if the charge is described as compulsory on the menu and included in the bill.

The manager of the restaurant cannot claim a service charge under the law (given that you pay the full bill for a meal in all circumstances). You will have to be clear about why you are withholding payment of the charge.

If the menu states that a percentage charge is included in the meal price, you can reduce the bill by that percentage if the service has not been of a ‘reasonable standard’. If the percentage was not specified, anything up to 15 per cent would be expected as reasonable in law.

If pressure from the restaurant staff inhibits you from deducting the service charge, make it clear that you are paying ‘under protest’. Write this on the back of both your and restaurant’s copy of the bill and/or on the reverse of the credit card slip.

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For more information on:

  • When a vegetarian dish contains meat products
  • Taking a legal action
  • Contacting the local trading standards office
  • Making a small claim