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Case studies - Eating out

Can I refuse to pay for poor-quality food?

Our members often ask us questions about their consumer rights when eating out in restaurants. Typical questions include: “What are my rights if the food I buy at a restaurant isn’t up to standard?” and “Can I ask for my money back?”.

One member recently sought advice from Which? Legal on just such a subject while still in a restaurant.

While dining at a local restaurant, our member complained that the chicken she was served wasn’t properly cooked. Although the waitress took it back to the kitchen, when it was returned, it was still raw and completely inedible. She wanted to know whether she was obliged to pay for it.

Which? Legal advice

Our lawyer explained to her that under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 (or common law in Scotland) when you book a table in a restaurant, or sit down to eat, you enter a contract with the provider of the service.

Restaurants are obliged to prepare food – and provide service – with reasonable skill and care. If they fail to do so, it is your right to stop eating and tell the waiter.

In this case, our lawyer advised the member who was still in the restaurant that having complained to the waiter, if the restaurant was unable to get things put right, she could deduct a reasonable sum from the bill. In this case, she could deduct the cost of her chicken, and refuse to pay some or all of the service charge if the service was not up to scratch.

Another option pointed out by our lawyer was that she could either order something else as a replacement (and pay only for the replacement), or deduct the cost of the dish that she rejected from the bill.

Alternatively, if she didn’t want to make a scene, she could pay the full bill under protest and effectively reserve her right to make a claim later.