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Claiming a Refund for an Unsatisfactory Restaurant Meal

By: Lorna Elliott LLB (hons), Barrister - Updated: 7 Jan 2018 |
Claiming A Refund For An Unsatisfactory Restaurant Meal

No one books a table expecting to be disappointed, but if it happens to you this guide explains how to get a refund from a restaurant. If the food and drink at a restaurant is not of satisfactory quality or not prepared and served with reasonable skill it is up to the customer to bring this to the attention of restaurant staff. So if you've already paid, how do you go about getting your money back?

What to do at the Restaurant

In most cases if there is something wrong with the meal you should bring it to the attention of the restaurant staff and explain why you are not willing to pay for it. However, there are some instances in which it is not possible to do this, either because the problem only became apparent after you left the restaurant, as would be the case with food poisoning, or because payment was required at the time food was served.

While attending a special occasion or dining in a large group it can seem impolite to make a scene or to ruin the atmosphere. If this happens, it is possible to pay 'under protest' and seek a refund after the event. In this situation discreetly tell the restaurant, preferably a manager or other person in charge, what it is that you have found unacceptable and why and say that you are unhappy about paying for it. Remember that this does not mean that you are entitled to have the whole of the meal for free. If the restaurant is insisting that you pay or you don't want to make a scene settle the bill 'under protest' informing them that you will be seeking redress at a later stage. Write clearly on the back of their bill "I am not satisfied with this meal and have paid under protest" and sign and date it, and retain a copy of the receipt as proof of payment. Find out what to do next below.

Getting Your Money Back After Paying the Bill

If the food was bought at a fast food restaurant, approach a member of staff or the restaurant manager to explain why it is unsatisfactory and ask for a refund. If they event that they refuse write to the head office explaining how you were treated, the problem with the food and request a refund. Send a copy of this letter to the branch manager. However, as fast food is generally low cost, consider whether it's worth the effort to claw your money back through the small claims court.

Sometimes food can make you ill with food poisoning, and it might not be until some time after the meal that the problem becomes apparent. For this reason it can be difficult to prove the source of the food poisoning. However, you should still write a letter to the restaurant requesting a refund, stating what was eaten, when it was eaten and the cost of the bill. If a restaurant is serving unsafe food, it's a matter for investigation by the local Environmental Health department.

When writing to a restaurant, remind them that by law the goods and services they provide must be of satisfactory quality and prepared with reasonable skill. Provide details of why you found the experience unsatisfactory. State the cost of the food and explain why you paid for it, for example, "Despite protesting at the time I was left with no option but to pay the bill of (£)", or "I was refused a refund despite bringing the matter to the attention of your staff" or "Due to the nature of food poisoning I had already left the premises by the time I became ill. I am therefore requesting a refund of (£)."

When asking for a refund, provide a timescale within which the cheque should be received for example, "within 21 days of the date of this letter." In all cases, include a photocopy of the receipt retaining the original yourself. If the restaurant does not reply, it is possible to take the case to the small claims court to recover the cost of the meal (and compensation if appropriate.)

Finish the letter with the following paragraph: "Please note that if payment is not forthcoming then I will have no alternative but to commence proceedings in the small claims court without further notice."

To recover the full amount of the cost of the meal at the small claims court it would be necessary to argue successfully that the whole experience was unsatisfactory or that the unsatisfactory elements destroyed the experience to such an extent that it is reasonable in the circumstances not to pay any of the bill. Although most mistakes are unintentional, restaurants rely heavily on reputation to keep their business afloat. Remember, if you're not happy about something say so!

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@Jo - your next option is to either send a letter yourself or one via a solicitor warning you will take the matter to the small claims court if the matter is not dealt with in a specific amount of time (usually three weeks to a month). Keep any evidence of correspondence. At £89 per head - it's worth taking the matter further, especially if the dietry requirements were not followed. How sad your special day was ruined :(
KateB - 8-Jan-18 @ 10:41 AM
Is this worth takiing to the small claims court? My father died last year and to make Xmas dinner different because of his absense, my sister ,her husband and my family decided to go out for Xmas dinner. We booked the restaurant ,and paid the money upfront , which was the restaurants policy. On Xmas day we arrived at 12.30pm. The ambience was lovely , we were greeted warmly and shown the table. The first thing I noticed was the table was not laid properly, plates were missing, but that was a small point. We had been told that there would be free non alcholic drinks provided in the meal for the drivers . There were none. One of our party is allergic to nuts and eggs. The chef was told of this. Food would be provided that he could eat. When the messe bouche arrived My relative asked if there was egg in it. The waiter went toask the chef.He returned saying there was. No substitute was offered. The starters arrived. I had prawn cocktail . There was limp lettice and no bread with it. So far nothing too major , I just had an uneasy feeling. We waited along time for the main course to arrive . My husband asked for cranbury sauce, none arrived eventually I went in search of a waiter to ask for some. My son looked in horror at his meal.He is a vegetarian. The filo parcel was well and truly burnt, he attempted to eat it and gave up ,his vegeatables were luke warm too. We returned his meal to the chef. The manager came back with a bottle of prosecco but not another meal for my son. After 30mins the empty plates were still on the table. My sister went to ask if they could be cleared. Eventually desert came. Nothing special but at least it could be eaten. We then waited for the cheeseboard. and port to arrive . We waited and waited , My brother in law went to ask where it was and was told it was on it's way butnothing came. Eventally we gave up and left without the cheeseboard. I Felt terrible because this meal was supposed to be special. When I got back I emailed a complaint to the restaurant but heard nothing until I sent a second email.I then wrote a letter stating all the problems and asking for a refund . I got a most strange email back from the owner of the restaurant saying he would not be blackmailed and would not give a refund. There were spelling mistakes everywhere and it was completely unprofessional. Do I take this to the small claims court or just walk away. The meal cost £89 a head. The restaurant has very good reviews on trip advisor.
Jo - 7-Jan-18 @ 2:00 PM
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