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


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

By Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow

Consultant | Author | Speaker | Blogger | Presenter | Journalist
Helping to make, prevent and deal with complaints

3 replies on “The ultimate guide to complaining when eating out”

[…] Various pages and posts you might find of interest I think, if they keep it in there was much coverage of using social media to complain. Here is my post about my full thoughts on that. Top Tips for complaining effectively 7 common fobs offs companies use to not give refunds! Your rights mail order, online and delivery Up to date information on changes made to consumer law earlier this year giving you more rights. How to take charge of your energy bills The ultimate guide to complaining when eating out […]

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