James Walker: Know your rights when the bill of fare is unfair

Enjoying a good meal is a fundamental part of everyone’s lives, no matter whether it’s a Michelin-starred dining experience or grabbing a ready meal on the way home.

You should complain promptly at restaurants. Picture: Getty

However, in the last year, Resolver has seen a huge increase in complaints about restaurants and takeaways – over 60,000 cases – and complaints about supermarket food are edging ever higher too. So here’s a guide to your rights when things go wrong.

Buying food – your rights

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Shopping for food is such a part of life for us all that we sometimes don’t realise that the rights we have when buying a packet of cereal are the same as they are when buying a pair of shoes, thanks to the Consumer Rights Act.

The act covers loads of things, but the important bit says you have the right to reject something if it’s faulty within 30 days of buying it and receive a refund.

The one exception to this is goods that are likely to perish within 30 days, when the time limit changes to become the date the item is expected to perish. This is usually the use-by date for food.

If you find something unexpected (or disturbing) in your food then you can expect a written apology, a refund and some compensation. However, big businesses like supermarkets are stingy when it comes to dodgy items that have found their way into products. The normal compensation seems to be a voucher around the £10 to £20 mark, though higher amounts are offered where there’s negative publicity. But even then, it’s rare to receive more than £100.

Takeaways and restaurants – your rights

A good meal often comes down to the individual taste and preference of each diner. What works for some doesn’t work for others as any restaurant review will tell you. There’s nothing wrong with preferring a full English or a Cordon Bleu experience. You have minimum expectations and you want them to be met. But you can’t have your cake and eat it, so to speak. If you’ve consumed the meal, you won’t get far complaining that it wasn’t what you wanted afterwards.

The law that is generally considered to be the one that gives you most rights is the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982. The act states that you should expect the “services” to be carried out with reasonable care and skill within a reasonable time and at a reasonable cost.

The important thing is, if you feel you’ve not got the service, food, or anything else the restaurant led you to believe you would get, then in theory you can complain.

It makes sense to make your complaint at the venue and to tell the manager at the soonest opportunity that you’re not happy and why. Take a photo – you can escalate the complaint to head office if it’s a chain. But be reasonable about what you want to resolve the matter. If you just want to cut your losses and leave, then as long as you haven’t racked up a massive bar bill it’s reasonable to expect some or all drinks to be comped. If the meal is a big event then let the restaurant know how this has impacted on you – they may be able to come up with a solution that compensates for the event being spoiled. You can complain about restaurants and take-outs through Resolver for free.

Resolver can help you sort out complaints about pretty much anything. Share your experiences at [email protected]