If you've had food at a restaurant that left a lot to be desired, watch our three minute video on what you should (and shouldn't) do -
1 Don't eat it!
If you're served food that doesn't match its description, is not of satisfactory quality, or hasn't been prepared with reasonable care or skill, then stop eating it straight away.
Complain immediately and ask for either a new portion (if the first one was burnt or cold, for example), or another dish. Or, if you prefer you could decide to go without that course altogether.
2 You could leave
If you've lost faith in the restaurant completely you might want to leave and eat elsewhere.
You shouldn't have to pay for the unsatisfactory dish, although you should pay for parts of the meal that were ok. Speak to the manager if the waiter or waitress can't help.
3 Pay 'under protest'
If the restaurant won't accept your complaint you can do either of the following:
Pay for some of the bill You can offer to deduct what you think is a fair and reasonable amount for the disputed dish. The danger with this approach is that the restaurant could argue that you're simply trying to get out of paying.
Leave your name and contact details with the restaurant, and show proof of identity to try to make it clear that this isn’t the case. It will be up to the restaurant to pursue you for the amount it says you owe.
Pay the full bill 'under protest' Write 'paying under protest' on your bill, and leave your name and contact details with the restaurant.
By paying under protest you reserve your right to claim compensation at a later date.
4 Gather evidence
Think about any evidence you could get, for example photos of your plate of food and photos of the menu. And, if other people are complaining see if you can get their contact details with a view to them supporting your claim.
But a word of warning, disputes about quality of food can be very difficult as one person's idea of what's an acceptable dish can be very different from another person's.
5 Write to the restaurant manager
If you paid under protest, write to the restaurant manager as soon as possible after your visit asking for a refund of the money that you're disputing.
Set a reasonable time frame for a response (say, two weeks).
Use our template letter to claim compensation for an unsatisfactory meal.
6 Consider the small claims court
If you're not happy with the restaurant's response, you could consider taking action against the restaurant in the small claims court as a last resort.
There is a Pre-Action Protocol which sets out the steps you should go through before starting court action.
Consider the value of the meal and disruption caused before taking your complaint to a small claims court.
If the judge thinks the case is frivolous he could actually make a cost order against you if you lost.
For more information, see our guide on how to use the small claims court.