Licensees can turn the tables on lost diners

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Gastro pub, Restaurant, Breach of contract, Contract

I have a friend who runs what he would like to call a "gastro pub". He is complaining about the careless attitude about bookings in his restaurant,...

I have a friend who runs what he would like to call a "gastro pub". He is complaining about the careless attitude about bookings in his restaurant, where people think it is okay to book and then not turn up. So he asked me whether being a pub made a difference ­ was it something to do with being innkeepers? No, the law is just the same. There is increasing activity in the restaurant trade over this issue and there have indeed been successful claims (rather than prosecutions) against vanishing diners. In a recent example, a restaurateur pursued her claim for damages for breach of contract in the small claims court, where she was successful, albeit for a modest sum. However, what the case does do is to highlight this area of contract law, which applies just as well to pub restaurants or rooms let for hire as it does to ordinary restaurants in the course of business. We make a number of contracts every day of our lives, but very few of them are written down as such, on deeds or documents. There is no requirement, for a contract to be valid and binding on the parties, that it should be written down. All that is required is an offer and an acceptance, in the first instance. A telephone booking to a pub restaurant is just such a form of contract. The customer, in fact, makes the offer of the contract, and the restaurateur or his agent accepts by confirming the reservation. Thereafter, there is in existence a valid legal contract, which may be held to be binding on both parties. Usually it is the customer who seeks to end the contract before it is fulfilled, because circumstances make it impossible for him or his party to attend. Whatever the reason, he is obliged to communicate with the restaurant in good time to cancel the booking. Failure to do so is not only very unfair, but as we have seen in this case, can result in court action. From the point of view of the restaurant proprietor, legal action is only likely when he has suffered a specified loss. If a customer cancels on a busy night, and he immediately fills the available space with other customers, then there can be no real grounds for action. If, on the other hand, he holds a table for six people in reserve for a party in the middle of a busy Saturday evening, and turns people away from the restaurant because of this reservation, there is clearly a loss if the booked party fails to turn up and also fails to notify him. In accordance with the contract, he has made the table available, as he is obliged to do, and allowed a reasonable time for the party to arrive. Their failure to attend, or to communicate with him in any way, is a breach of the contract, and an action for damages will lie. In the past, restaurant proprietors tended to regard such behaviour by customers as one of the knocks of the game. However, in recent years restaurateurs faced with increasing overheads and missing diners have taken a more positive stance on the issue. Such a claim would be less likely to succeed in the case of a large restaurant with a high turnover, where tables were constantly available and constantly filled. But if the restaurant is small and the empty table represents a sizeable loss, then the courts will clearly be disposed to favour such a claim.

Related topics: Licensing law

Property of the week

Follow us

Pub Trade Guides

View more