Purpose Food banks have become the main response to food insecurity in many high-income countries, but it has been argued that they lack the capacity to respond consistently and fully to the food needs of the people who use them. This literature review set out to answer the question ‘how do food bank recipients experience food relief services and how does this impact their lives and wellbeing?’ Results A comprehensive search of electronic databases yielded twenty qualitative studies, conducted in developed countries, exploring user perspectives of food banks. From the studies reviewed, there emerged three main categories that represented the different aspects of the food bank process from the food bank user's perspective: the user's perceptions about the idea of being fed from food banks, the user's perceptions about food bank offerings and operations, and the socio-psychological impact of receiving food from food banks. While participants of these studies spoke positively of the volunteers and were thankful for the service, they also consistently report limited food choice, poor quality, shame, stigma and embarrassment associated with food bank use. Conclusions The food bank industry continues to expand despite there being little evidence that food banks are an appropriate response for those facing food insecurity. This is worrying as the results of this review indicate that although participants value the service provided by the food bank, the experience can be largely negative. These findings raise questions about the food bank model as a long-term strategy.