/ Travel & Leisure

Can you survive a disastrous Valentine’s dinner date?

Have you ever had a romantic meal turn sour? What would you do if your table was given away? Or what if you were forced to tip even though the service wasn’t up to scratch?

St Valentine’s Day is upon us once again. And every restaurant, bistro, café and gastro pub across the country will be fully- booked for the entire evening.

My first question is, why not have a night in away from the crowds and try your hand at cooking a romantic meal?

But if you are one of the culinary incapable, or you just prefer to swerve the washing up, you should definitely make sure you know what your rights are when dining out at a restaurant.

What if they give away my table?

Nightmare scenario – you arrive with your date, on time, only to find the restaurant has given away your table. With everywhere else in town booked up, your only option is heading back to yours with a bottle of red and a tin of ravioli.

In this situation you may be entitled to claim reasonable compensation as it’s a breach of contract. As long as you weren’t late and you couldn’t have had a comparable meal elsewhere, you could claim back any expenses you may have incurred.

And be warned, if you fail to turn up to a booking then the restaurant has the right to claim compensation from you for loss of profit.

Do I have to tip if the service is rubbish?

You have to remember, Valentine’s is one of the busiest nights of the year, so make sure your expectations of service are reasonable.

Regardless of whether the service charge is compulsory or discretionary, you still have the right to refuse to pay a tip in either circumstance if the service falls below a reasonable standard. Plus if the service charge is compulsory, the restaurant must make this clear to you before you eat.

If you feel that the level of service falls below what is reasonable, we have produced a step by step guide on what to do if you don’t want to pay the service charge.

The food wasn’t great… do I have to pay?

Under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 you have a right to expect food of satisfactory quality and ‘as described’ on the menu. If it isn’t, the restaurant is in breach of contract and you don’t have to pay for it. In this instance you may even wish to report them to Trading Standards. Here’s a handy video to help you deal with the tricky situation of poor food:

Fingers crossed love is in the air tonight, and you don’t have to use any of this advice. Oh, some last final pearls of wisdom from my grandmother:

‘Watch your date’s reaction when things go wrong at a restaurant – if they are rude now, imagine what they’ll be like in five years when the spark has fizzled out and nappies need changing.’


My Valentine’s Day dinner could not have gone better. We went to a fantastic Indian restaurant that I had visited several times through work, and they made it a special and memorable occasion.

Things weren’t as impressive after the meal. We went to an All Bar One, as it was close to the Tube. Last orders were at midnight, and also at midnight the bouncers started aggressively telling everyone to leave and to take their drinks outside into the cold wet weather in plastic glasses. By 12:07, we were the only people left in a previously full bar. The bouncers locked the doors so that those who had complied and gone outside couldn’t get back in to use the loo. Of course I’ve experienced this kind of treatment many times before in various bars in London, but never to such an extreme and overtly unreasonable extent.

I understand that the concept of “drinking-up time” no longer exists since the Licensing Act 2003, and that even before this, it didn’t give drinkers an automatic right but merely allowed landlords to keep their premises open for up to 20 minutes after last orders. I therefore suspect that the right to finish one’s drinks peacefully would be a reasonable time governed by basic contract law rather than specific licensing laws. Maybe I’ll give Which Legal Service a call tomorrow to find out.

I’ve looked up this All Bar One branch’s licence on the council web site, and on Saturday nights it is licensed to serve until 1am and to stay open until 1:30am. Therefore the behaviour by the bouncers at midnight was even more unreasonable.

It’s probably because the bouncers were only contracted to work until midnight and weren’t being paid overtime and weren’t willing to work for no pay. Shortsightedness on management’s part, of course, because now you won’t go there again and you’ll be telling your friends about your treatment. You should also tell the bar manager what you think of their policy and how it will backfire on them.

All Bar One have just phoned me to apologise and to offer me a £25 voucher to spend in their bars. I am very pleased with this resolution.

The assistant manager explained that this particular All Bar One is scheduled to stop serving at midnight and to close at 12:30am, but the door staff sometimes try to coerce customers into leaving sooner whenever senior management are not around. It is a regular problem about which All Bar One has complained to the company that supplies the door staff.

It’s a shame that I forgot to ask the name of the company employing the door staff, otherwise I would have named and shamed them here, given that they, and not All Bar One, appear to be the root of the problem. I hope that the door staff have their pay docked for leaving work half an hour earlier than contracted.

I have even more positive news on this matter. The e-mail £25 voucher from All Bar One didn’t arrive, so I phoned them back. As I wanted to visit the same All Bar One, the management told me they would give us £25 off without a voucher. When we arrived, the management were fantastic and immediately found us a table on a very busy evening. By the end of our evening, I estimated that we had consumed around £48-worth of food and drink, and to my great surprise, when the waitress brought our third and final round of drinks to us, she told us that everything so far was on the house and that only subsequent drinks would be chargeable. So we enjoyed £48-worth of complementary food and drink. Thanks to the management, it was a very enjoyable evening and I shall look forward to returning to this All Bar One in future. It was an excellent outcome and All Bar One retained a very happy customer.

Seen in Edinburgh city centre yesterday on a black board outside the Queens Arms pub, “This weekend”, 3 hearts, “Valentine’s Day!!” scored out, “SIX NATIONS” below it, and “Remember… We love you ALL YEAR!”. Our sentiment exactly. We’re going out today (Sunday 15) instead for a “romantic” lunch (and taping the rugby).

Excellent idea, Sophie. I don’t like the commercialization of special days such as Valentine’s, Christmas and Easter. I’m sure we can all celebrate these days without following the herd.