I’m not a lawyer or a restaurant owner, but I would think it might depend if you took one bite and then complained, or ate everything and then claimed it wasn’t acceptable. If you’re unable to eat your food you have a good case that they haven’t filled their end of the contract to provide you with a meal. On the other hand, if you finish everything off first and then claimed it sucked, it would be harder to justify stiffing them on the bill.
If you took one bite and then tried to walk out without paying (assume you paid for drinks, appetizers, etc. you already consumed, but not the meal) then I don’t think they could call the cops, or the cops would do anything to you if they were called. I don’t know for sure, though, hopefully a lawyer/police officer will weigh in on that question.
In my experience, restaurants want your repeat business, and will try to make you happy. Generally they’ll take your dish back and replace it, comp you on desserts, knock the offending item off the bill, or do something to make you want to come back.
If it’s just a matter of personal taste, you’d be obliged to eat it. Of course most restaurants will take it back if you just took one bite. If you ordered the steak medium rare and it comes medium well, there was miscommnication - a mistake of fact - and you didn’t get what you ordered, so you’re not liable to pay. Again, most restaurants, etc. If your order is not what you get but you eat the whole thing anyway, or substantially all, you have consented to the amended order.
If the meal is unfit to eat for a valid reason, such as being infested with worms, you obviously don’t have to pay and should run out of there as quickly as possible. There is an implied warranty of fitness. But this is not going to come up. No restaurant can remain in business that way.
You say “the food sucks.” You have to be more specific. Is it what you ordered and prepared the way you ordered it, but you just don’t like the way they prepared it? Any good restaurant will allow you to order something else, provided you took only a bite or two. Again, if you eat a substantial portion, you have consented to the presentation of the meal. If not, you may have a case of mistaken fact. You ordered something and what you got was not what you ordered. The restaurant’s idea of worms ala king was not the worms ala king that you had in mind.
But those are just theoretical possibilities. Any good restaurnt is going to replace your meal provided you didn’t eat it.
IANAL so this is a non-authoritative answer but: http://www.bbc.co.uk/watchdog/asktheexperts/food/week12_q5.shtml
says that if the food was unacceptable, then the restaurant has breached its’ contract and you can be compensated for the value of the price difference between what was acceptable and what was provided. I imagine US law is similar. I’d guess that if you don’t complain promptly and you do eat the meal then you will be compensated less if at all.
No real info on whether you can stiff them on the bill. My gut feeling is if you try just a bite or so and then tell them they will most likely oblige you. If you eat the entire thing I’m pretty sure you’d have trouble getting out of the bill.
One time I was eating out with my family at Marie Callenders (SP?) and my mom ordered something she absolutely didn’t like because of improper cooking (which may or may not have been how they normally cook it). The waiter offered either to exchange the food free of charge with something else or strike the food from the bill.
I don’t think whether you eat the food or not is material, except insofar as you have to take a bite or two to determine whether the restaurant provided what you ordered. When you place an order for food at a restaurant, that is an offer to the restaurant to provide you with said food. If the restaurant so provides, it has accepted the offer and the contract is consummated. You can now do what you want with the food.
The problem arises as to the terms of the contract. Was that the food you ordered cooked the way you ordered? Was it fit to eat? If it was what you ordered and fit to eat, the fact that you don’t like it is immaterial. As a matter of customer relations, a restaurant will take it back and give you something else if you don’t like it after you take a bite or two. But legally they don’t have to if they served you what you ordered.