Ordering Food Online? Know The Consumer Rights Shared By Lawyer

In the hustle and bustle of life, ordering food online has become a lifestyle. Be it ordering groceries, raw fruits and vegetables, or a complete meal, you must have encountered a scenario where you received stale or bad-quality food. Such cases are more prominent as the shelf decreases due to the heat.

So, what should you do when you receive food that is not up to the mark? To get you the answer to the question of the hour, Slurrp did an exclusive interview with a lawyer, Hiral Nagori Sonigara. Holding an LLM in International Business Law, read on what Hiral Nagori Sonigara’s legal advice about exercising your rights. 

Know Your Consumer Rights

Which consumer rights are protected by law when ordering food online in India?

Quite a few key consumer rights are safeguarded by law when ordering food online in India, primarily under the Consumer Protection Act 2019 and guidelines from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

  • Firstly, consumers have the Right to Safety, ensuring they receive food that is safe for consumption. Online food platforms must adhere to FSSAI standards and maintain stringent hygiene practices during food preparation, packaging, and delivery.
  • Secondly, the Right to Information ensures that consumers have the correct details about the food, such as ingredients, allergens, nutritional information, and expiry dates. Transparency regarding restaurant details, menu items, and pricing is equally important.
  • The Right to Choose allows customers to select from a variety of food options. They also have the right to cancel orders and receive refunds according to the platform's policy, especially if there are delays or if the delivery is unsatisfactory.
  • The Right to be Heard ensures that consumer grievances are addressed promptly, with online platforms required to have robust complaint and dispute resolution mechanisms.
  • Under the Right to Redressal, consumers can seek compensation if they suffer harm due to unsafe or substandard food. They can also demand replacements or refunds if the delivered food is stale, of poor quality, or not as described.
  • The Right to Consumer Education emphasises informing consumers about their rights and redressal procedures through awareness programs by consumer organisations and the government.
  • Last but not least, the Right to Fair Trade Practices protects consumers against unfair practices like misleading advertisements, false claims, and hidden charges by online food delivery platforms.

How do these rights differ in the case of restaurants and delivery platforms?

When issues arise with online food orders, knowing which party is responsible is important. For problems like food quality or safety, the restaurant is accountable. For example, if the food is contaminated, undercooked, smelly, or not as described, the Right to Safety and Right to Information come into play, holding the restaurant responsible. Consumers can seek refunds through the platform, which acts as an intermediary.

On the other hand, delivery-related issues, such as delays or incorrect deliveries, fall under the delivery platform's responsibility. Here, the Right to Choose and the Right to be Heard are crucial. Additionally, the Right to Fair Trade Practices applies to hidden charges or misleading offers, which the delivery platform must manage. Popular online food delivery platforms like Zomato and Swiggy have policies to handle such issues, ensuring transparency and fairness.

However, there can be some cases where the responsibilities can overlap. For example, if food is not packed properly and you receive a package that has spillage issues, both the restaurant and the platform can be held accountable. Regulatory bodies like FSSAI and consumer courts can then be approached in case of unresolved grievances, ensuring comprehensive consumer protection.

Who should consumers hold responsible for bad-quality food? The delivery platforms or restaurants?

If you are not getting fresh food that is undercooked or overcooked, or the quality is compromised, restaurants should be held responsible. They should adhere to hygiene standards, use fresh ingredients, and ensure proper cooking methods. Therefore, if the food itself is subpar, the restaurant should be held accountable. They need to implement strict quality control measures, regular staff training, and routine inspections to maintain high standards.

You should note that delivery platforms, on the other hand, act as intermediaries between customers and restaurants. They should ensure that the food is delivered promptly and in good condition. If the quality issue arises due to delays or improper handling during delivery, these platforms should only be held responsible.

How To File For Refunds

What is the legal framework for claiming refunds or compensation in such cases?

Consumers can file a complaint with the Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission at the district, state, or national level, depending on the claim amount. The process begins with filing a written complaint, either in person or online, detailing the issue and providing evidence such as receipts, photographs, and communication records with the restaurant or delivery platform. Moreover, consumers can report violations to the FSSAI, which can lead to inspections, fines, and even shutdowns of non-compliant establishments. Delivery platforms usually have their helplines offering refunds for unsatisfactory experiences. Consumers should first go through these channels before seeking legal remedies.

The next best thing that consumers should do is:

1. Maintain all relevant documentation and evidence.

2. Report the issue promptly to both the restaurant's owner or manager and the delivery platform.

3. Use official channels like the National Consumer Helpline (NCH) for advice and assistance.  

What are the typical timelines consumers can expect for processing refunds and resolving disputes?

So, most delivery platforms like Swiggy and Zomato usually have a quick resolution system in place. Refunds or compensation are often processed within 24 to 48 hours after the issue is reported. If a consumer directly approaches the restaurant, the timeline for a refund can vary. Generally, well-managed restaurants resolve such issues instantly or within a few days, typically 2 to 5 business days. In case of legal complaints, dispute resolution can take anywhere between 3 months to more than one year, depending on the complexity of the case.

The Role Of Social Media

There are a lot of consumer complaints on social media platforms like X and LinkedIn against delivery services, but not as much against restaurants. Why do you think this is the case?

Delivery platforms have more visibility, and consumers interact with them directly. They serve as the immediate point of contact, and their branding stands out during ordering and delivery. As a result, customers naturally reach out to these platforms first when issues arise. 

People also expect delivery platforms to onboard only restaurants that meet quality standards. Additionally, delivery services often have better and more accessible customer service, making it easier for public complaints. In contrast, smaller or lesser-known restaurants might lack an online presence, making them less likely to be singled out on social media. 

What advice do you have for consumers to ensure their complaints are addressed effectively?

To ensure complaints are addressed effectively, you should document as much information as possible, including receipts, order confirmations, and photos of the problematic food. Pictures or videos of food are crucial when filing a complaint about bad-quality food. Visual evidence strengthens the consumer's case by clearly illustrating the issue, such as improper packaging, contamination, undercooking, or spoiled food.

Start by contacting customer service through the official channels provided by the delivery platform or restaurant, offering a clear and detailed description of the problem with supporting evidence. Follow up regularly if a timely response is not received. If initial attempts fail, leverage social media by tagging the delivery platform or restaurant to draw attention to the issue. It's also important to be aware of consumer protection laws and leverage your rights correctly.