Legal Protection while Eating Out

Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, the food and service you receive in a restaurant must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described.

Unsatisfactory quality

If the food you receive in restaurant is of unsatisfactory quality – eg, burnt or undercooked – stop eating it straight away and complain to a member of staff. You are entitled to a replacement meal, a different option or to reject the meal altogether.

You shouldn’t have to pay for the bad meal although you’ll need to pay for anything else you ate or drank and for any replacement if it was up to scratch.

If the restaurant refuses to accept your complaint you can pay, but make it clear you are paying ‘under protest’. Write this on the back of the restaurant’s copy of the bill and your own and on the reverse of the credit card slip. Later, write to the restaurant manager and ask for compensation. If the manager refuses, tell him if the matter is not resolved by a stated deadline you will make a claim using the small claims track in the county court.

Wrong information about ingredients

If you have an allergy and suffer an allergic reaction after eating out in a restaurant, even though you asked about the ingredients beforehand and informed the restaurant of your allergy, you can seek compensation using the small claims track in the county court.

To win a case, you need evidence. If you have an immediate allergic reaction to the food, try to obtain a sample of the food and take it to your GP the next day for analysis. You can also take it to your local environmental health office. If you were with another person, they may agree to act as a witness to your conversation with the waiter and to your allergic reaction.

If you order a dish labelled ‘vegetarian’ in a restaurant, but it actually contains meat products you have the right to reject it as it is not ‘as described’. You could also report the restaurant to your local trading standards office.

Not wanting to pay for poor service

Even if your restaurant meal was good, but the service was slow, you have the right to deduct 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.

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 you are paying ‘under protest’ as described above and take your case to the small claims court.

Taking a legal action

Contacting the local trading standards office

Every local authority in England and Wales has a trading standards office whose job is to enforce the law relating to commercial trading. It has the power to investigate restaurants and, may bring legal action against it. Contact your local office for information about your rights as a consumer, and advice on any problem to do with buying and selling.

Making a small claim

To make a small claim in the county court, fill in a claim form (available from your local county court). Provide details of who you are suing and nature of the problem. Give an account of what took place. You must also state what, if anything, you have done to try to resolve the problem. Include the sum you are claiming with an explanation of how you arrived at the figure.

Take two copies of the claim form to your local county court or send it by recorded delivery. Alternatively, you can file your claim online by going to the Court Service website. The court will send a ‘summons’ to the person or body you are claiming against.

The defendant has 14 days to reply to the summons by filling in a defence form. If there is no reply, the court may enter judgment in default and award you compensation. If the defendant defends the claim, the court will set a date for a hearing, usually before a district judge. You must send the court any relevant documents no later than 14 days before you see the judge. If both parties agree, the judge can deal with the claim without a hearing.

Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A non-practising solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.