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Five things restaurants don’t want you to know

Esther Shaw / 29 April 2015 ( 05 December 2018 )

Know your rights and avoid getting ripped off by bad restaurants. Esther Shaw shares five things that your waiter is unlikely to tell you.

Empty table at a restaurant
If the service was unsatisfactory, you can refuse to pay a service charge even if the restaurant says it is compulsory

Eating out should be an enjoyable experience, but if it doesn’t live up to expectation, you need to know your rights – and how to make a complaint.

The restaurant industry is service-based, and there are laws that dictate that you have the right to a decent standard of service. The food you eat should also meet certain standards.

Here we take a look at five things restaurants might not want you to know – but are well worth being aware of as a consumer before sitting down to dinner.

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1 You can claim compensation if there’s a problem with your booking

If you’ve made a reservation, you are entering into a contract with the restaurant.

If no table is available, or if you’ve been double-booked, you can claim damages for breach of contract.

You can, for example, claim for travel costs, as well as for the distress and inconvenience caused.

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2 If a restaurant serves alcohol, it has to provide free drinking water

Any establishment which is licensed – and which serves alcohol – is obliged to give free tap water.

However, restaurants which do not serve alcoholic beverages are not required to do so. If they do, they can actually charge for it as the provision of water includes an element of service.

The good news is, most restaurants will now happily provide free drinking water.

Read our tips on getting the best deal in restaurants. 

3 You don’t have to pay the whole bill if the food isn’t up to scratch

Food in a restaurant should always be of “satisfactory quality”, it should also be safe and match its description.

If you feel your meal fails to meet these standards – if, for example, your food is burnt or undercooked, or if you find the proverbial fly in your soup – you are entitled to claim a full or partial refund.

First off, you should stop eating and report the problem to staff. You should also ask for the dish to be replaced or order something else.

Alternatively, you can ask for the rejected meal to be deducted from the bill.

Read our guide to using the small claims court.

If a restaurant reacts badly to this, you should write on the back of the bill that you are “paying under protest” and leave your name and contact details.

This will help further down the line if you decide to take action against the restaurant.

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4 You don’t have to pay the service charge

If you are not satisfied with the level of service you experienced, you should report this to the staff or manager right away.

You can then opt not to pay the service charge.

You can argue this on the grounds that the service was not provided with “reasonable care and skill” or “in a reasonable time”. This might, for example, cover the waiter being rude to you, or having a lengthy wait before being served.

If the service was unsatisfactory, you can refuse to pay a service charge even if the restaurant says it is compulsory and states this upfront.

If the restaurant is not prepared to accept this, state that you are paying the charge “under protest”.

Once again, this will help if you decide to escalate things further at a later stage.

Get great ideas for saving money, plus information on your consumer rights, pensions, tax and much more in our Money section.

5 Generally speaking, restaurants should have toilets

Restaurants are required to provide toilets for their staff, and should also try to provide facilities for customers as well if possible.

Equally, establishments which are open after 11pm – or which have a licence to serve alcohol – are obliged to provide toilets.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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