Refusal to pay for a meal is not a criminal offence as commonly assumed. It is a breach of contract, considered to be a civil offence.
Restaurants agree to provide a service under the contract that diners will pay.
What should happen if I complain about a meal without finishing it?
As a food provider, restaurants should serve food as the menu describes.
If fruit is described as fresh or meat is described as local, it should be.
The restaurant is breaching contract for not providing the service they claim to.
If you start your meal then realise something is wrong, a waiter/waitress should be informed as soon as possible.
The restaurant should then offer to swap your food or reimburse you.
What if I finish my meal then refuse to pay?
This is when the situation gets more complicated for both parties.
If the food has been finished and plates are clear, the restaurant is to assume the food was as expected.
However if you then complain and refuse to pay, the only option the staff has is to take the names and addresses of all diners to start a case in civil court.
What if I'm taken to court?
Out of courtesy, most food businesses will inform you by letter before continuing to sue, giving you one last opportunity to pay the bill.
If this isn't taken, the company has every right to take you to civil court under a contract dispute case.
A 'Small Claims Track' can be applied for at county court and, if it can be proved that you breached your contract, it is strongly possible you will lose the case.