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Consumer Rights.

Updated: 4 Mar 2021

Do I have to pay a service charge if the service is poor?

If you go out for a meal and receive poor service, you don’t have to pay the service charge. Read on to find out what rights you have in this situation.
Which?Editorial team

Do I have to pay service charge?

If you are told about a compulsory service charge, you must pay it, unless the service was particularly poor. 

If you don't get an acceptable level of service, the restaurant could be in breach of contract. Under the Consumer Rights Act it is legally required to use reasonable care and skill when providing its service. 

If the restaurant falls below this standard you can refuse to pay some or all of a service charge, depending on how bad the service actually is. 

Follow our guide on how to complain if you're told you have to pay a service charge, if you're unhappy with the level of service you receive in a restaurant. 

Expectations should be reasonable 

Bear in mind that the quality of service should match the type of establishment you are in. 

So you shouldn't expect the same quality of service from a fast food outlet as you would from a restaurant in a five-star hotel.

Compulsory service charge

Some restaurants add a compulsory service charge to your bill, and others leave it to your discretion. In essence you have the right to refuse to pay the service charge in either circumstance if the service falls below a reasonable standard. 

If a service charge is compulsory, the restaurant must make this clear before you eat. For example, by stating this on menus it has in the window or by telling you verbally. 

If the restaurant fails to do so, then you can argue that the compulsory service charge does not form part of your contract. 

Can I claim compensation?

If there has been a particular problem with the service, for example, the waiter tipped spaghetti bolognese on you and your clothing, you can claim the cost of having your clothes cleaned.