Legal Rights Dining Out
When you visit a restaurant you have certain legal rights when dining out, regulations which protect you as a consumer. These regulations are varied and they must be complied with by all restaurants.
The main regulations include:
Information about Ingredients
For some customers, it is absolutely essential that you do not come into contact with allergens. There are 14 allergens in total and if a member of the front of house team is asked about allergens they must tell you accurate information. If you are served food that contains an allergen and you suffer an allergic reaction you do have legal recourse. Restaurant staff should never advise you that a product doesn’t contain a specific allergen or tell you that they don’t know.
It is their duty to know or find out from the chef to make sure that the food you consume is safe. If you do suffer a reaction then you can pursue a claim through the county court. However for your case to be successful you need to provide evidence. If you have an instant reaction to the food you may be able to take a sample of it with you to your GP for analysis.
You are also able to take the food sample to Environmental Health in your local area. If you are with someone else they could act as a witness if they heard the conversation between you and the waiter.
If you have enjoyed your meal at a restaurant but the service was particularly poor you do have a right to omit the service charge from the bill for this. Customers of restaurants don’t have to pay the service charge for a service that has not been up to your standards, even if the service charge is compulsory.
The law states that a restaurant manager cannot claim a service charge but it is important that you are absolutely clear about why you are not willing to pay the service charge. In some restaurants there may be a percentage of the service charge that is included in the full price of the meal, but you can reduce the bill by a certain percentage if you believe that you have not received a reasonable service it is important to know your legal rights when dining out.
If a percentage was not stated on the menu, you are entitled to deduct up to 15%. Sometimes the attitude of the staff may deter you from reducing the service charge. If this is the case it is important that you state before you leave that you are paying ‘under protest’. This statement should then be written on the back of the bill, ensuring that it is on both your copy and the restaurants.
This will help you to develop your case. Finally, write a letter to the restaurant manager and state that you are aware of your rights and you would like compensation. If the manager dismisses your request, state that you are willing to pursue the matter through the small claims court if it is not resolved within a certain period of time.
Meat Free Products
If you visit a restaurant and you choose an item on the menu that has been described as ‘vegetarian’ but you later discover that it contains meat products, this should be reported to your local trading standards who will take further action.
Pursing Legal Action
There are several ways that you can take legal action against offending restaurants including:
There are many cases that can be reported to the local trading standards. Within every local authority there will be a dedicated trading standards team who are responsible for enforcing legislation in relation to business conduct.
Trading standards have within their remit, powers to conduct investigations into restaurants and if it is found they are in breach of any legislation, they may decide to take action against the restaurant in relation to the quality and/or description of food described to customers. If you are in any doubt about your rights as a consumer, you should contact your local office.
Trading standards will also work with businesses to ensure that they are fully compliant and they are aware of their obligations and rights.
If you cannot resolve an issue through speaking with the restaurant directly you may wish to take the matter further and make a small claim.
If you wish to take this route, you will need to complete a claim form which can be obtained from your local county court. You must provide a clear description of what steps you have taken to resolve the issue.
Finally you should state the sum that you are claiming and your reasoning for this figure. Once you have completed the claim form you will need to take two copies of the form to your county court and keep a copy for yourself. The court will them issue a summons to the restaurant or business that you are claiming against.
They will be sent a court bundle in order to file a response. After the summons has been issued the Defendant will have 14 days to reply by filing a defence. If the business fails to reply the court may decide to enter a judgment in default and award you full compensation. If however the defendant decides to dispute the claim and they file a defence they will set a date for a hearing which will be heard before a district judge.
You must send the court important documents to the court no later than 14 days before the hearing. In small claims the judge can manage the claim without a hearing if both parties are in agreement.
About the author:
This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers legal advice team and posted by Lloyd Barrett. Expert Answers provides online legal advice on all aspects of UK Law to users in the United Kingdom.