The ultimate guide to complaining when eating out

Cancelled bookings? Poor service? Unsatisfactory food? Your rights to redress on table with dinner on a plate

We all love eating out, but sometimes it doesn’t always go as expected. What to do when that happens:

Booking meals

A booking for a meal should be honoured. If it is not speak to the manager and try to come to some agreement perhaps a free drink while you wait for the table. If this cannot be done then ensure you inform the manager that you will be taking the matter further to claim compensation. If the booking was for a special occasion then this could be reflected in any compensation claim. Make sure that the establishment knows that the booking is for a special occasion and what that is. You can claim for loss of enjoyment and disappointment. You can also claim for out of pocket expenses such as travel. In theory you could take the matter to court but I would advise only do this where you have clear evidence that the establishment was aware of the occasion and there was significant inconvenience, otherwise it is very subjective and risky but yes of course I would and I would win!

Do try to find an alternative place to eat and evidence your attempts when complaining at the time and follow up. Remember a booking works both ways and whilst an establishment is in breach of contract if it fails to keep a booking it could, in theory, charge you for not keeping a booking!

Don't eat it and complain
Don’t eat it and complain


Unsatisfactory food – your rights

When it comes to unsatisfactory food or drink many of us, me included feel awkward complaining. Well, I never feel awkward complaining, more specifically I mean never knowing what someone may do to your food if you send it back! Before the many good restaurant, café and pub staff throw their arms up and say “Not me” we have all heard of stories where staff have spat on food and worse. Many have been on the media telling us what they do so it is a difficult decision. However, you must complain at the time to be taken seriously and to be able to follow up. Quote the Consumer Rights Act 2015 which entitles you to food and service that reflects the establishment. i.e. compare  a similar place serving similar food. You do have the choice of refusing a replacement course and deducting the price of the unsatisfactory item from your bill. If you are made to pay under protest complain in writing later and if possible write “Paid under protest” on the bill and take a photo of it. If you refuse to pay for anything and the establishment does not agree with you or wants to take the matter further you must leave contact details otherwise it could be considered theft!

Do not eat the food that you are complaining about.

Now most of us have our mobile ‘phones with us it is possible to take photographic evidence of food which can be used as evidence. Ensure that the photo clearly shows that it is from the establishment. You can of course, if technically savvy enough, get the location and date and time on it. Bear in mind that one person’s view of what is satisfactory may be very different to another, so be sure of your claim to redress.

Service charges – your rights

You are legally entitled to not pay the service charge if service was poor. If the charge has been absorbed into the meal then you can deduct a reasonable amount e.g. 10%. Again, use the Consumer Rights Act 2015 which entitles you to services to be carried out with “reasonable skill and care”.

Here’s an example about complaining about poor service in a café.

Food poisoning

If you believe that you have received food poisoning from an establishment where you have eaten then contact your doctor immediately. Proving that the poisoning was caused by the trader may be difficult, obviously it is made easier if more than one of you was affected. Under the Food Act 1990 it is a criminal offence for a business to serve food unfit for human consumption. You should therefore also inform the local Environmental Health Department.

Depending on the severity of the illness and your out of pocket expenses (such as loss of earnings) you may want to take legal advice regarding how much compensation to which you are entitled. In the first instance you can write directly.

Water when eating out

Personally, I object to paying for water. I am lucky to live in a developed country and therefore do not need to have bottled water. In addition I pay water rates therefore the water IS paid for! It is perfectly safe. People who drink bottled water for “health reasons” confuse me as there are no proven health benefits whatsoever. No independent research nothing. In fact many tests show that in a blind testing people prefer tap water too.

The reason for including this here is because licensing conditions came into force in April 2010 ensuring that pubs, clubs and bars are obliged to provide free water where reasonably available. Annoyingly this does not include restaurants. Ridiculous. However, it is illegal for a restaurant to try and pass tap water off as bottled water.


Top 20 Tips for complaining effectively.


And for more advice, tips, information and templates for complaining effectively GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!




How to complain in restaurants discussed on Jeremy Vine on Radio 2

Complaining about customer service Complaining about faulty goods Laws

7 Common fob offs that companies use to not give refunds!

Many companies and individuals will try and fob you off in order not to give you a refund or redress. Below are some common ones of which you should be aware and know how to deal with.

Know the rules

“We do not give refunds”

Signs like this are illegal and you can report them to Trading Standards. Traders do not have to give you a refund if you have simply changed your mind about a purchase or the jumper didn’t fit for example, but if the item is faulty you are legally entitled to a full refund, (unless the fault was pointed out at time of purchase) until the time that you are deemed to have “accepted” the goods. “Accepted” is generally thought to be up to 4 weeks after that you are still entitled to a replacement or repair. If you put up a fight though you’ll usually get a refund, I always have!

“You/we will send it back to the manufacturer

Your contract is always with whoever received your money. If you buy a kettle from store A which was made by company B and that kettle stops working you are entitled to the repair, refund or replacement from company A.

This is a classic fob off often used by the likes of Curry’s. Renowned for trying to sell unnecessary warranties and denying people their consumer rights for many years.

“You will need to contact the delivery firm”

That kettle you bought from store A was delivered to your house and the delivery driver dropped it, or left it on the doorstep and it was stolen. Store A is wrong to tell you to contact the delivery firm. Your contract is with store A and you claim your refund from it. It can claim from the delivery firm! More here.

“You should have taken out a warranty”

Warranties are rarely worth the paper they are written on in my opinion! Items should last a reasonable length of time, a washing machine should last more than 6 months so it is wholly irrelevant whether you have taken out a warranty. So, even if your washing machine is a few years old you can still get that free repair or replacement.

Currys is a big culprit for this.
story post from LI about standing in Currys demanding replacement laptop


More on What is a warranty, a guarantee and my consumer rights?

“We don’t take back items bought in the sale”

Unless the fault was pointed out at time of purchase (and therefore contributed to the sale price) your legal rights remain the same as if the item was sold at full price.

“You caused the fault

If an item breaks up to 6 months from purchase then it is up to the trader to prove that the fault was caused by you and was not there at time of purchase and therefore you are legally entitled to the full refund, repair or replacement.

If you reject the item within 30 days you need to prove fault was there at point of purchase and are entitled to a full refund. After this time the above applies for a repair or replacement.

“You don’t have the receipt so we can’t give a refund”

The law states proof of purchase so this could be a credit card bill, easier to find online now than an old receipt.

“It is over 6 months so we do not need to give a refund”

As a general rule this is correct. You are entitled to a refund 30 days after the point of purchase. But if you can still prove that the fault was there at point of purchase and/or the item has not lasted ‘a reasonable length of time’ then you can and should get a replacement or free repair if not the refund. More at The Consumer Rights Act 2015.

book Logo cartoon cow at a laptop of book cover. How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!


For help with consumer laws, tips, information and template letters GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!




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If you want to take the effort and time out of looking up the laws and compiling an effective letter of complaint you can also Purchase downloadable templates to gain redress


5 top tips for complaining effectively