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Booked a restaurant table? You've just entered a legally binding contract

The Belgian Beer Cafe Torenhof which was let down badly by a big group booking.

A Christchurch restaurant owners' anger at losing money over a big booking that shrank, highlights that many people don't realise booking a table is entering a legal contract.

Belgian Beer Cafe Torenhof owner Mark McGuinness lashed out in a Facebook post about a booking for a group of 50, that was confirmed the day before for 40, then only 20 turned up - and they were 15 minutes late.

McGuinness hired extra staff and prepared platters for the group of 40. He was annoyed he hadn't insisted on a deposit.

Restaurants have a right to not be left empty handed.

Technically, McGuinness could demand compensation from the group if it was clear it had breached his booking conditions.

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Restaurants can be hit hard financially by calling in staff for a big booking which lets them down.

Restaurants Association of NZ CEO Marisa Bidois says the association has helped some restaurants go after compensation from big groups that let them down. 

"In the cases we have been involved in, they have usually been settled before they reach the court stage."

She says it's common for restaurants to be let down by big groups and many charge a deposit of 20 per cent and even up 50 per cent to be paid before the day.

She says the restaurant has already invested in extra food and staff so it's too late for big changes or pulling out on the day. Ironically, new employment laws mean restaurants now have to pay staff cancellation payments if they are rostered on then not needed.


Bidois says 48 hours would have been fairer notice for the McGuinness restaurant's booking changes.

In an online article summarising restaurant and diner rights, Consumer NZ says making a booking creates a contract that places obligations on both parties. 

If you don't turn up, the restaurant can claim you broke the contract and caused it to lose business. 

Belgian Beer Cafe Torenhof took to Facebook to complain about customers in this post on Saturday night.

On the other hand, if you book and turn up and the restaurant doesn't have a table, then the diners can claim expenses for the broken contract, such as travelling costs, which can go through the Disputes Tribunal.

If you turn up "significantly late" a restaurant can give your booked table to others, Consumer says. "Significant lateness" is a broken contract, but it would take lawyers to work out exactly where that line is crossed.


When it comes to turning people away, restaurants can enforce dress codes and codes of behaviour. Under the Human Rights Act they can't discriminate on sex, sexuality, religion, race, disability, and age.

Consumer says restaurants can ban people under 16. So they can ban babies - except where the baby is under the care of adults responsible for it. In that case the babies are covered by no discrimination allowed on basis of family status clause in the Human Rights Act.

But if the baby or children cause a disturbance, restaurants can ask for them to go.

Restaurants can kick out people acting offensively (like swearing, shouting or breaking things) or committing an illegal act.

Diners can complain if noise from a nearby table is ruining their evening. If they have specifically asked for a quiet area and the restaurant accepts this condition, it is forced to act to keep the noise level down. 


Consumer says food must be acceptable for the circumstances. Food from a cheap place doesn't have to be as good as from a three-hat restaurant.

But a hot meal should be hot. Complaining immediately is the first step to give a restaurant a chance to fix it. If that doesn't work, diners can refuse to pay.

Diners can't moan about portion sizes unless the restaurant promised a certain amount of food and didn't deliver that.

The Food Act says food must be sound and fit for human consumption.




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