Cross is the word

Here’s another observation test for you. Does the pub pictured below sell food?

Not sure? Have a look at a different view of the same pub.

Still not sure? How about now?

One final picture in case you’re still dithering:

The answer? Well, I’ve been to this pub, the Cross Keys in Witney, a grand total of three times. The first time was with my husband and his parents on a Saturday at lunchtime. We were hoping to enjoy some of the “great value food” the signs keep banging on about, but it was not to be. We walked in and were told they weren’t serving food because the kitchen had just had a big delivery that would take hours to sort out. We went to a different pub.

The second time, I went with some friends on a different Saturday lunchtime and they did serve us food. Service was slow, but I can’t deny the food did eventually appear.

The third time was last week, again with my husband and his parents. We decided to give it another try and turned up on Tuesday evening, which was advertised as “Grill Night”. We walked in, ordered drinks, looked through the menus, decided what food to order... and were told they weren’t serving food. Why not? Because “the kitchen had closed early”.

None of the signs advertising food had been taken down or covered up. The sandwich board advertising “Grill Night” was still outside. Most of the tables still had menus on them. And nobody bothered to tell us that we couldn’t order food until my father-in-law had ordered and paid for a round of drinks.

So in answer to the question “does the Cross Keys in Witney serve food?” I can only extrapolate from my own experience and say that it serves food approximately one-third of the time you’d expect it to. I realise that three visits isn’t a statistically valid sample size; if I was doing actual research I’d want to visit it at least a hundred times. But I wasn’t doing research. I was just trying to have a meal. And two failed attempts is enough to make me give up on the Cross Keys for the foreseeable future – especially when the excellent Eagle Vaults is just across the road.

I’m not saying the people running the Cross Keys are deliberately trying to deceive customers. What I am saying is that the multiple signs advertising food and the absence of any signs to the contrary had the effect last week of tricking my family into going in and ordering drinks that we would not have ordered otherwise.

Inside, there was a sign on the wall asking us to give feedback on our experience of the pub. They gave the web address www.tellusandwin.co.uk and offered the chance of a £1,000 prize as an incentive. So a day or so later, I tried to give my feedback through the site, only to find that I couldn’t.

Before you can start giving feedback, you need to enter a code from an invite card or from your receipt. I didn’t spot any invite cards in the pub during our abortive visit, and I don’t think my father-in-law got a receipt when he paid for the drinks. (When did you last order drinks in a pub and get a receipt?) This is a common phenomenon with pubs seeking feedback: they want it within a few days of your visit, and they tend to demand proof of that specific visit. And of course it’s part of a wider problem with the concept of customer service: always seeking to narrow the customer’s comments down to the specific. Demanding a code from a receipt also has the useful effect of excluding all the potential customers who walked out without ordering anything.

If I did complain to the Original Pub Company, owner of the Cross Keys, they would no doubt read my complaint as “On Tuesday 8th November, the kitchen at the Cross Keys, Witney, closed early” and they would probably apologise for that specific instance. They wouldn’t be interested in the fact that two out of the three times I’ve been to this pub, the signs advertising food were not telling the truth. They wouldn’t be interested in the broader pattern and they certainly wouldn’t look into ways of making things clearer for customers in the future.

A piece of paper saying “Sorry, no food today – kitchen closed” tacked up over one of the signs outside, plus the removal of the menus inside, would cost pence and take minutes. But I know it won’t happen as a result of anything I can say to anybody connected with the Cross Keys. All I can do is tell other potential customers; hence this blog post.