Is Refusing to Pay for a Restaurant Meal Theft?

Can’t Pay or Won’t Pay?

When you go into a restaurant and order food, you are essentially entering into a contract. The restaurant agrees to supply you with food. You, on the other hand, agree to pay your bill. Furthermore, a restaurant is by law required to provide good and safe food as advertised and / or shown on their advertisements, flyers, menu and other media.

The customer, by ordering the food, is confirming that the prices are acceptable and that he has the means to pay for the meal.

Reasons for Non Payment

A diner can fail to pay his bill for several reasons. Some of these reasons may be valid by law while the others can result in being charged for theft.

Most restaurants grant some leeway to the diner and busy establishments will probably opt not to call the police as this would generate unnecessary attention and publicity.

Diner Cannot Pay

The first reason may be an indeliberate one. One example is when the diner lost his wallet or that his credit cards were suddenly denied. Most establishments observe a protocol when it comes to this. If you are a regular, known customer then you will probably be requested to forward payment at a future date without being asked for any guaranty beyond furnishing your personal details.  If you are unknown, from out of town or both, you may be asked to leave something of value.  This would serve as a surety for the establishment.  Others may simply get your personal details such as your driver’s licence number and other important personal data and ask you to sign some sort of promissory note.

In surveys made, restaurants as a rule do not make their diners wash dishes, contrary to what the movies would have you believe.

Supply of Goods and Services Act of 1982

In some cases a diner who is not satisfied with the meal may refuse to pay for various reasons. This is the rather delicate part as the Supply of Goods and Services Act of 1982 indicates that this is a contract involving two parties, the diner and the restaurant.

  • If the diner feels that the restaurant did not comply with their end of the contract then the diner can maintain that they are released from their side of the contract. This can quickly degenerate into finger pointing which may be useless if the matter for contention is premised on subjective impressions. After all, it is hard to quantify what delicious and distasteful is for all people so it becomes an unproductive discussion with no clear conclusion.

  • If the diner feels that the food was defective then it is important to keep that food in question and present to the authorities as soon as possible.  If the restaurant feels the food in question was not defective then they must likewise ensure they have food samples from the client’s food in order to back up their claims.

  • Normally it shouldn’t boil down to a matter of taste. After all, food is either spoiled or not spoiled and this can be determined easily.  What can be a little open ended would be claims about taste, size and other subjective matters that may vary with perception and personal taste. It is these areas that may be subject to the most frequent misunderstandings.

Legal Implications

Legally, the diner can make a case and so can the restaurant. The diner can certainly make a case based on the food quality, ingredients, taste, etc. This however is unlikely to result in a prolonged legal battle as it is certain that one or both parties would prefer a quicker settlement. So in this respect, it is likely to be settled without having to enter the court room.

Is it a theft not to pay?

If you don’t run away and you stay and make a case about why you should not pay then it is not theft. The premise here is that the diner had no intention to deceive and was merely calling attention to their perception that the restaurant had indeed failed to live up to their conditions.

However, the question of whether they will be allowed not to pay the full amount is dependent on the facts of the case.

If the food was indeed spoiled and below standard then they will not have to pay and may even be entitled to compensation in the event that they suffer some ailment from the food.  If it is a more subjective reason like the food not being delicious then they may be compelled to pay part or the full amount depending on the circumstances.

Final words

There are lessons to be learned here for both the diner and the restaurant.
  • Diners should remember their rights under the law. At the same time, they must be able to discern what comprises a failure to comply with the contract versus a plain misunderstanding regarding the quality and presentation of the food. Their rights are like a doubled edged sword that can wound them as well if wielded in an inappropriate and unfair manner.

  • Restaurant owners, on the other hand, have to remember that the diners do have rights and they are expected to provide as promised on all their promotional materials and menus. The diner has every right to question what may be perceived as false advertising which can render the contract between diner and restaurant invalid.

  • The bottom line is that, the law exists to protect two parties—the consumer and the restaurant. It was created partly to ensure that restaurant patrons get the food they expected based on the representations of the restaurant. It also serves to ensure that the restaurant owners get the payment they expect for the food and services rendered as promised.

  • In closing, all consumers and business owners should familiarize themselves with the Supply of Goods and Services Act of 1982. That way they can be confident about their rights, their obligations and can ensure that the product or service that is consumed or availed of is true to the contract between consumer and seller.