It's a hypothetical question:

Let's say you booked a table via an online reservation system (from the restaurant's website) for a romantic dinner with your partner from 7:30-9 PM. The online reservation form has fields for "time", "name", "phone number", and "message/special requests".

You leave a message under the messages section that you are going to arrive around 8-8:15 PM. The reservation is getting confirmed a few minutes after the reservation.

You are arriving at the restaurant at exactly 8 PM and the cashier says: "Oh, sorry, we closed the kitchen! We can't serve you today! Only take away!".

Do you have any right here to complain?

BTW, even though the case was in Sweden, I believe my question was a bit more general.

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    This doesn't seem really like a legal question. Sure you can complain, and the restaurant may or may not care. But what are you hoping to get out of this? To sue them?
    – user438383
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 17:16
  • Further to @user438383's question: usually legal remedies amount to you being paid damages (i.e., money) for any losses you incurred as a result of the other party's actions. It's not clear what your damages were in this case. (In rare cases a court can order specific performance as well, but I have a hard time seeing that happening here.) Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 18:04
  • @user438383 Good question! And that's exactly what has been asked here 👍 Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 21:34
  • @MichaelSeifert you are exactly right. E.g., the customer may book a "taxi" to reach the place. Or he/she cancelled several ocassion to be in that resturant. Also, it may cause a conflict between he/she and the partner which eventually may end up to emotional/mental damages. These are all hypotetical scenarios... Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 21:40

2 Answers 2


In general, "making a reservation" does not create a contract, except when it is obvious that you have a contractual agreement. That would be the case with an airline reservation, and one clear sign is that you have to pay for the ticket when you make the reservation; or, it you don't, then there is no contract, and they can cancel or change the price. You would look for clear signs of an agreement, such as a "agree to terms" button that you have to click. Paying a deposit is another clear sign. Then you would simply look at the terms of the contract to see what their obligation is, and what yours is. They may have strongly committed to providing service in which case you might have a cause for legal action if they break that commitment, or they might have made no specific promises about service in case of intervening events (such as if the chef has a heart attack, or the power goes out). If we do think of this as a contractual matter, you breached your duty as a customer, to be there by 7:30, so even if there is a contract, they didn't break it. The note that you added renegotiating the arrival time was insufficient – it is outside of the contract, and possibly something that they didn't see (they only look at the names and official time blocks reported by the web page).

In lieu of a contract, there could be some statutory obligation, i.e. a specific regulation in Sweden saying "if a restaurant accepts a reservation, they absolutely must hold the space available for the entire reserved time", which is an unreasonably onerous business practice that no nation requires.

  • Thanks for the answer. The message section was together with the reservation, my name, phone number and other stuff. So the fact that they didn't read the message is really not the customer's fault. Staff supposed to read the reservation details before confirming it, isn't it? Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 16:40
  • @MichelGokanKhan If there is any legally binding obligations here, the customer would have clicked or signed something saying that they have read the whole thing and agree to all terms as stipulated, which most likely includes clauses for your reservation being cancelled if you are too late. Your adding in a little note is not "as stipulated". You have to negotiate changes with the other party and have any agreed changes reflected in a new agreement which is then signed. You can't just unilaterally change a contract. Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 11:56
  • Cannot promissory estoppel apply here even where there is no consideration for the contract? Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 17:44

You booked the table from 7:30 to 9 in a Restaurant. In Germany, if you were not there by usually 15 minutes after the reserved slot started, your reservation is canceled. Some restaurants extend those 15 minutes to 20 or even 30, but general consensus is to be somewhat on time, and only to request the reservation for the time you expect to arrive.

Under German legal opinion reservation is not a contract for you to come and get a chair, as long as nothing is ordered: it is an offer of the restaurant and your offer to come. The actual contract happens only after you arrived and chose a meal. You are however liable for cost that happen from you not showing up, e.g. the cook started to make a meal you ordered or they had to send away guests he could have served instead of you due to your reservation and then not showing up.

As the kitchen reasonably didn't expect you to arrive at all anymore after 7:45, they closed and you have no recourse.

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    Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Law Meta, or in Law Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Dale M
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 22:17
  • It seems inconsistent to say there is no contract with a reservation, but also that the customer is liable if they do not turn up.
    – Steve
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 17:12
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    @Steve For a reservation no contract has been made (both parties are not liable). If you book a meal, then a contract has been made (both parties are liable). You cannot reserve a room in a hotel, you can only book one. You cannot book a table, you can only reserve one. For those who use the correct terminology, it is not inconsistent. Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 17:49
  • @MarkJohnson, perhaps there is more consistency of terminology in your jurisdiction. The main difference between restaurant tables and hotel rooms is not terminology used to arrange in advance for their use, but whether a price is quoted and charged in advance.
    – Steve
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 18:15
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    I suppose that if I really, really want to have a meal with a dozen friends + family on the night of my birthday then it is possible to create a legally binding contract. Which means I pay if I don't turn up, and they pay if the table is not available. It's just not what happens if you just call and reserve a table.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 13:27

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