Can I refuse to pay restaurants for lousy food or service?

Last updated on December 10, 2011

In Dec 2011, local news reported an incident where a newlywed couple refused to pay for their wedding dinner after being exasperated by the hotel restaurant’s sub-par service and food. After the police were called in, the couple finally relented and paid the bill upon advice from the police. In such situations, parties dissatisfied with the quality of the products or services provided can usually still seek legal recourse even though payment was already made.

Whether consumers have a case against service providers for lousy service depends on the terms of their contract. When the buyer agrees to purchase a certain good or service, such as a dinner package, from a seller, a contract is formed between both parties. The contract need not be recorded in a written document – the spoken word is also sufficient to bind the parties together via a legal contract.

It is unlikely that a written contract will expressly guarantee that the food served will be delicious and that the service levels of the staff would be excellent, since such standards are very subjective. However, it is possible for certain terms to be implied into a contract, even if the parties had not expressly stated them in the written contract. One example of such a term would be that the food served by the food provider would be, at the very least, edible.

In Singapore, the rights of buyers are protected in the Sale of Goods Act, particularly sections 13 to 15. Some relevant extracts are reproduced below:

  1. Where there is a contract for the sale of goods by description, there is an implied condition that the goods will correspond with the description.
  2. Where the seller sells goods in the course of a business, there is an implied condition that the goods supplied under the contract are of satisfactory quality.
  3. In the case of a contract for sale by sample, there is an implied condition that the bulk will correspond with the sample in quality.

In addition, if a supplier deceives the consumer or lies about his products or services, such deception may constitute an unfair practice, pursuant to section 4 of the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act. If so, section 6 of the same Act empowers the consumer with the right to sue the supplier for engaging in the unfair practice.

If an especially large sum of money is involved, aggrieved consumers or tourists should lodge a complaint with the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE), a non-profit, non-governmental organisation dedicated to protecting the consumer interest.

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