Sunday, 2 December 2012

Restaurant Rights - Bad Service / Food, what can you do?


Restaurant Rights

Bad service/food, what can you do?


Whether it's Claridges, Pizza Express or Burger King with a voucher, you've got rights when eating in a restaurant.
So whether your question's can you get free tap water? Is the service charge a must?  How to split the bill?  Or what if the food isn’t up to scratch?... this quick Q&A should help.

What rights do you have in restaurants?


A restaurant is a service-based industry and, just like with banks, mobile phone giants or airlines, there are laws that dictate the level of service you can expect. The prime protection comes from the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982. This demands that any service provided in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (common law in Scotland has similar effect), should be carried out with …

Reasonable care & skill, within a reasonable time & at a reasonable cost

You may think this sounds a bit woolly, and indeed it is. The key term is "reasonable" and this is open to definition. The easy way to think about it is 'if you asked a sensible, fair-minded friend, would they agree it wasn't reasonable?'. Ultimately, if you can't agree with the restaurant, the final arbiter is the court. Yet specific rules have grown up for various circumstances.


Restaurant Rights Q&A

I made a booking but turned up to find I'd been double-booked. This ruined my night out, what can I do?
If you booked a table at a restaurant you created a binding contract.  If the meal is cancelled by the restaurant you can claim a reasonable sum to cover the cost of travelling and possibly for any disappointment or inconvenience eg, if the meal was for a special occasion.
If you pre-paid for the food, you are entitled to this money back too.
To claim, you have to write to the restaurant and ask them to refund your travel cost and your loss of enjoyment (if you think this applies). You should explain you're willing to take the matter further and consider legal action. If you do not get the response you hoped for you should file a claim with the small claims court. Yet if you book a table and don't turn up or bother to let them know, you've made a contract so the restaurant could, in theory, sue you for compensation. This rarely happens in practice though.

The food wasn't hot enough or tasted off, and I was ill later that night. Can I get my money back?
All food should be of satisfactory quality, including being at the right temperature when it's served. If it isn't, you can claim a full or partial refund depending on the problem. Although it can be hard to prove the meal that's caused your illness.
When food is poorly cooked, eg you tuck into a chicken breast to find it pink and semi-frozen, then complain immediately. Food must also be prepared with reasonable care and skill. It's one thing to allow food to stand and go cold, but another not to cook it! You should always bring up the issue within the restaurant and ask it to replace the dish.
If you're struck down with a tummy bug after a meal and can prove it's the restaurant's fault (which can be difficult), you can ask for compensation. You're entitled to claim for the cost of the dish, any pain or suffering, loss of earnings if you were off work and any other expenses incurred as a direct result of the food poisoning.
If this approach doesn't work you can file a personal injury claim of up to £1,000 with the small claims court. Be aware that the restaurant is only liable to pay individual dishes that were unsatisfactory.

What if I didn't get ill, but the food simply wasn't up to scratch?
It's totally legal to refuse to pay because you believe the food was not of satisfactory quality. You should explain the reasons to the restaurant and leave your name and address. However, many restaurants can become angry at this and may pressure you into paying. If this is the case you should write on the back of the bill that you are "paying under protest".
You should also report the establishment and incident to your local environmental health service, as this may pose a health risk and be a criminal offence under the Food Safety Act if the food is unfit for human consumption.
Great meal, but rotten service. I hated paying an extra 10 per cent but felt that it wasn't fair not to. Could I have refused to?
You could. The quicker restaurants stop being rewarded for poor service, the better. Even if the restaurant includes the service charge on the bill, you do NOT have to pay it – it is purely voluntary. So if you've had shocking poor service, or don't believe the amount set is appropriate you can reduce it or not pay it at all. If the service charge's already absorbed within the food cost, you are still legally entitled to deduct a reasonable amount (eg, 10%) if the service was not as expected
If they cause a fuss and say you have to pay, leaving you feeling forced into it, then pay 'under protest' and dispute the cost later to ensure you are protected against any action.
I'm sick of paying for expensive bottled water. Can I always get a glass of tap water for free?
Surprisingly the answer is no. Restaurants don't have to provide tap water to the public and if they do they can charge for it. However it is illegal for them to pretend it's bottled water. Luckily most restaurants don't have a problem giving tap water nowadays and the Consumer Council of Water is trying to promote this everywhere, so the problem should be rare.  New licensing conditions that came into effect in April 2010 mean pubs, clubs and bars are obliged to provide free water where reasonably available. Unfortunately, this doesn't include restaurants.
Should there always be a toilet in a restaurant?
All restaurants should provide toilets for their staff, and wherever possible for customers as well, especially if they have more than 15 seats. Premises that are open after 11pm or have a drinks licence must have toilets though.
What's the fairest way to split the bill?
If you're out with friends, this is a perennial argument, and there is no specific law to cover it. The two most common methods are either splitting it equally- which can result in unfairness especially to those who order less – or everyone going through the bill for their items, which can take an age and lead to arguments about who had what. One other option is Martin's 'easy honour' system, here's an extract of the explanation from his Money Diet book.

"At the end of the meal, everyone should contribute what they think they owe, including the tip. Most people get it roughly right, but of course when you total up you'll almost always be short; it's human nature.
"So divide the shortfall by the number of people - lets say there's £50 difference and 10 friends, everybody then puts in an extra £5. It may not be completely accurate, but it's a quick and easy way for people to pay near enough what they should. It helps you budget, without losing friends or looking too mean."
Where can I find out more on my consumer shopping rights?
For more info on your statutory shopping rights see the main Consumer Rights guide. Plus to find out how to protect yourself in advance and be aware of criminal actions by companies see the Consumer Protection guide.


1 comment:

  1. I blog often and I really appreciate your content.
    Your article has really peaked my interest. I will bookmark your blog and keep checking for new details about once a week.
    I opted in for your Feed as well.

    Review my homepage :: Smartphone Checker UK

    ReplyDelete

Please feel free to leave your comments, but please ensure that they are appropriate and not derogatory.