How to complain about food

Helen Dewdney 16 June 2022

Usually we buy meals without any problems, but sometimes things can go wrong. What are your rights if you're served bad food, and how do you assert them?

Buying food from a shop

Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA) you are entitled to products that are of satisfactory quality, match the description and last a reasonable length of time.

If the bread that you have bought is mouldy, for example, you are entitled to a full refund, as clearly it is not of satisfactory quality. It is illegal for a retailer to sell products after the “sell by” date but not the “best before” date, as this is only a guide.

"You are entitled to products that are of satisfactory quality, match the description and last a reasonable length of time"

Take the item back for a full refund. If you bought the item through your supermarket delivery then contact customer services via email, so you have your evidence trail.

Often more efficient is a tweet with a picture of the item where the matter will go into Direct Messaging and the refund will be put into your account.

Buying fast food

Customer unpacks takeaway while on phone to fast food vendorIf you order a takeaway and it comes late, or you receive the wrong meal, then you have the right to a discount

You are entitled to services carried out with reasonable skill and care, under the CRA.

You can reject the order if it arrives late or not as you ordered, for example. You have a right to a discount on the order if you decide to keep it.

Take a picture of the delivery with the time, making copies of any evidence showing the delivery time. Always make a note of the time you placed the order.

Write to the company to which you paid the money. Your contract is always with the company to which you paid the money, so either the delivery firm (for example, Deliveroo or Uber Eats) or the food outlet if you ordered directly from them.

State that the company is in breach of the CRA and that if you are not fully satisfied with the response then you will take the matter further. This could include, but not be limited to, informing Trading Standards and detailing your experience on relevant review sites.

Eating out

A booking for a meal should be honoured. If it is not, speak to the manager and try to come to an agreement—perhaps a free drink while you wait for a table to be free.

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 and you told the establishment what it was, then this could be reflected in any claim. You can claim for loss of enjoyment and disappointment, as well as for out-of-pocket expenses, such as travel.

"If there is something wrong with the food, don’t eat it!"

Do try to find an alternative place to eat and show evidence of your attempts when complaining at the time and during the follow up.

If there is something wrong with the food, don’t eat it!

You do have the choice of refusing a replacement course and deducting the price of the unsatisfactory item from your bill.

You are legally entitled to not pay any service charge if service was poor. If the charge has been absorbed into the meal then you can deduct a reasonable amount, such as ten per cent.

Again, use the CRA in relation to services being carried out with “reasonable skill and care”.

How to complain effectively about eating out and in

Two customers complain to a waiter in a cafeWhen making a complaint, be clear about what you want, be it a refund, a discount or a replacement

It is always best to complain in writing, rather than phoning, so you have a record of your evidence. However, when complaining about food in the restaurant, takeaway etc, you’re most likely to be doing it in person.

If you are not satisfied with the response you can then put the complaint in writing to the manager, CEO of the chain and so on.

Always be polite and calm. Staff will not listen to you if you are being rude and aggressive.

In most situations complaining about products and services you should make it clear what it is you want. For example, a full refund, repair, replacement, apology. However, with meals this can be trickier.

You should explain what is wrong and the impact on you. For instance, if two out of five meals came out very late then that’s ruined your family meal together.

In these situations it’s best to see what the manager will offer and then negotiate. It could be a voucher or a full refund, for example. In most cases it will be something acceptable. If not, reiterate issues politely and request something more.

If the provider is unwilling to give you acceptable redress, then mention the law to show you mean business and know your legal rights.

For example, “Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 I am entitled to services to be carried out with reasonable skill and care. Serving five meals all at different times is not using reasonable skill and care.”

If a restaurant refuses to give you anything, and you feel uncomfortable deducting an appropriate amount, write “paid under protest” on the bill, take photos of any evidence and escalate the matter when you are back home.

Read more: 5 Future trends in dining out

Read more: How do I claim a refund for my summer holiday?

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