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September 16, 2008


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I never quite get the logic behind something like this. Does it mean that I am obligated to buy food at the concession stand?

I have actually never sneaked food into the movie theater. I have also almost never bought food at the concession stand.

To say that the concession stand "subsidize" the movie ticket price seems to say that not only should I not sneak food into the movie theater, but I should buy something at the concession stand as well! Is it unethical of me to just watch a movie without buying anything?

This almost sounds like the "advertisement" argument. "Without the commercials, we are not allowed to bring you this service." Does this mean it's unethical to install an ad blocker? Is it unethical for me to surf the web without clicking on ads? Are the ads clicker subsidizing my internet experience?

If I actually have to buy food at the concession stand in order to feel good about myself, well then, the movie tickets really aren't as cheap as I think they are. (By the way, movie tickets aren't really that cheap anymore)

I have always and will continue to sneak my own snacks into theaters. Why do I care if they 'want' me to buy their food and drink? The bottom line is that buying the theaters snacks and drinks is not a requirement to see the movie, so really its irrelevant to them whether I am going hungry or bringing in my own snack. Its an a la carte affair, the movie and the concessions.

As an aside, why do you think people sneak their own food into the theater? Because the prices for concessions are so incredibly inflated compared to the same product at a different store. If theaters really wanted everyone to purchase their concessions, maybe they should move to a lower-price, higher volume strategy on the concessions.

But then again, there are so many people out there who live way beyond their means and would not think twice about blowing $25 for a few drinks, some popcorn and candy.

There are other reasons people sneak food into movie theatres. Like HEALTH. It's gotten a *bit* better over the years, at least now I can pay $5 or $6 for a $1 bottle of water... but there's nothing else on the menu that can be eaten by anyone with a restricted diet. I've been known to sneak in air-popped popcorn with butter-flavored flakes because by George I wanted to eat popcorn while I watched a movie, but cannot eat that death-in-a-bag they serve at the theatres. And yes, I've given them feedback that healthy food would be appreciated, but it's apparently too small of a population to serve. I don't feel bad when I bring food in that they will not serve, and I am unable to eat what they do serve.

I'm a little surprised by what I think is a sense of entitlement here. The theater operators are in the business to make a profit, just like anyone else. They basically price the cost of the ticket as a loss leader so you're a captive audience for their real profit centers. It has nothing to do with them "wanting" you to buy anything, and to claim that it's your right to bring the food with you is absurd. "[B]uying the theaters snacks and drinks is not a requirement to see the movie, so really its irrelevant to them whether I am going hungry or bringing in my own snack." That misses the point.

The DEAL is that you get to see the movie and the theater gets BOTH your cash and the opportunity to sell you the snacks (at the exorbitant markups). You don't get to unilaterally decide which part of their benefit they don't get when you buy the ticket - not bringing food in is a condition to the deal (as we now know). You do, however, get to make the choice that FMF is making, which is to not go at all. The movie theater (leaving aside some of the "public forum" arguments in free-speech cases) is a private establishment. I don't let people in my house with mud on their feet; they don't have to let people in who sneak in food.

I agree that the food they serve is crap, but despite what many of us would choose as individuals, it's their right to pander to the least common denominator (most profitable customer profile).

The fact of the matter is, your ticket buys you admission on their terms - one of which is to not bring in food. Don't go at all if you don't like those terms and maybe that will get them to change their model. But don't act like you're entitled to choose only those parts of the deal that are convenient for you.

John - I tried that arguement in the original thread; most people claim to just ignore the social contract because it's inconvenient.

Yes, it is a lose lose proposition. But theater owners have the right to make bad business decisions. Let the market rule.

My local theater has a 1-item minimum purchase requirement for buying a ticket. They also have a full bar and dinner service in the theater so I'm guessing they operate as much as a restaurant as they do a movie theater. Still, I don't get the sense of entitlement people have about brining food into a theater either. Do the same people get outraged that they can't bring their own food or drink to a restaurant? Those cocktails restaurants serve are *way* marked up!

And to respond to what FMF said, it's not really a lose-lose situation if you weren't buying concessions in the first place. Although the theater does make a little money on your ticket purchase, they would probably much rather have your ticket go to someone who is going to buy concessions instead.

Monkey --

"My local theater has a 1-item minimum purchase requirement for buying a ticket."

Really? That's certainly unusual.

"They would probably much rather have your ticket go to someone who is going to buy concessions instead."

I'm sure they would, but I don't think it works that way. My decision not to go is a lost ticket sale to them and there's no guarantee that there's someone willing to buy a concession waiting to replace me.

Movie theaters aren't restaurants. Now, I don't normally either bring food into the theater or buy food at a theater, I eat at home before or after. But it is silly. Also, what if somebody is a diabetic, for example? He or she may need to eat while in a theater, but not the type of food they serve.

I understand when the theaters (regular, not movies) don't allow food inside the auditorium to keep it clean. But nobody would prevent me, for example, of taking a sandwich to a Broadway play or a Metropolitan Opera performance and eating it in a hallway or even near their food stand during the intermission - as long as it is outside of the auditorium. Dinner theater is another matter, but if you go to a dinner theater you know that you are going to eat and watch, not to just watch.

What if somebody has some diet requirements, health or religious? It's not like movie theaters stack a whole range of foods for all religious/allergies/other health restrictions. I am yet to see anything I'd care to eat at a movie theater concession stand even if they give it to me for free, and I don't have either religious or health restrictions. In fact, I have to be literally dying of hunger to find anything at a concession stand appealing.

They already make additional money by making us seat through 15 minutes worth of commercials before the movie. And I don't find movie tickets cheap either.

Actually, I haven't really seen anybody being prevented of taking his or her own food into any of the theaters I've been too.

"Do the same people get outraged that they can't bring their own food or drink to a restaurant? "
A movie theater isn't a restaurant (or a dinner theater). People normally go to a movie theater to watch movies, not to eat.

BTW - I did have to bring my own food into a restaurant once, but it was a special situation. We had a group dinner at work for some guy leaving. The lunch was paid for by the company. The guy chose an Indian restaurant. I cannot stand Indian food, so much so, that the only thing I could probably eat there is a cucumber and a glass of mango juice, but this was what the person really wanted. I wasn't in the mood of going hungry, so I took my own lunch. My manager at the time had food allergies, so he brought his own food as well. The restaurant didn't seem to mind - I guess it was a special situation because they got to sell food to a large group of people not paying out of their own pocket.

We had a theater that allowed outside food for a while. In fact, it was right by the food court in the mall so you could order a whole meal and bring it all in. I'm sure this resulted in a lot of messes for the theater to clean up and obviously must have hurt concession sales and this policy didn't last long.

They really need to come up with a better business model if they rely so heavily on concession sales. I go to maybe 2 movies per year. Since I go so rarely I splurge and buy the overpriced food, but that isn't something I would do regularly.

"My local theater has a 1-item minimum purchase requirement for buying a ticket."

Wow, that's quite shocking! I guess it must be quite a busy cinema. Do they also sell apples? I'm not going to eat or drink that garbage just so I can watch a film.

Kitty -- although movie theaters aren't technically restaurants they are most certainly food-serving establishments. By entering their establishment you are agreeing to follow their in-house rules and policies. A lot of your justifications sound dangerously close to the justifications people use to shoplift or pirate music. Just because you don't like the food or think it's too expensive doesn't give you the right to break their rules, it gives you the right (as FMF said) to just not go.

I'm not against taking your own food into theaters . . . only against people breaking a theater's rules in doing so. If you ask, and they agree, by all means take it in.

Guinness -- it is a strange policy but, as I said in my original post, it is a full-restaurant in addition to be a movie theater. Restaurants nearly always require customers to purchase at least one item so I don't have a problem with them requiring it as well.

I find it hard to believe that the concessions stand is the difference between profit and loss. If that is the case, maybe they need to make some changes in their operations.

@Mo - then you obviously know very little about how the industry actually works. There are still a few major public theater chains left (most have gone out of business or been taken private by private-equity companies). Go read their financial statements. How does that change the thought process anyway? That's their business model and that's their deal. Live up to your part of the bargain (don't bring in outside food, don't talk during the show, pay for the ticket, etc.) or don't use their facilities. I'm all for bad businesses going out of business, and I think we should vote with our feet as FMF will, but I don't condone not abiding by the terms offered.

Just curious (I don't go to theatres) -- What is the penalty if you sneak snacks into the theatre?

Are you banned for life? If so, how do they know who you are if you pay cash for a ticket later?

Do they have some kind of rent-a-cop escort you out of the building?

Is this a city ordinance, or something the theatre makes up on its own?

I haven't been to a theatre since the Return of the Jedi/Star Trek IV era, so I have no idea... :)

But this could be part of the war on terror - the rent-a-cop has to search everyone for possible terrorist weapons and confiscate all candy bars, food, etc. Maybe amusement parks could do it, too. Air shows? Fireworks displays? Where will it end? :)

Mo Money, I find it very EASY to believe that the concession stand is the difference between profit and loss. I don't know the exact numbers, but I know that a pretty small portion of the ticket sale actually stays with the theatre. A bit chunk of it has to get sent up to the studio. That doesn't leave a lot for paying the employees, utilities, keeping the place clean, etc. There's obviously a huge mark-up on the snacks so it would stand to reason that there is money to be made there. I'm not sure how they could shift operations to where ticket sales are profitable enough to sustain operations, without raising prices to $15 or $20 per ticket, in which case they'd just lose customers.

Here's what I do: we generally do take something snacky in, usually some gummy bears or something. But, we will buy a soda from the concession stand. I guess I feel like I'm allowing the theatre to make money on my experience, but also being somewhat responsible with money at the same time. Plus, they don't sell the gummy bears that we enjoy eating for 'sweet snacks'!

Frankly, why does everyone feel entitled to eat in a movie theatre anyway? Personally, I can't stand the sound of crunching and slurping from the stranger next to me when I'm trying to pay attention to the plot of a film. It's a disgusting habit and one I wouldn't mind disappearing altogether. If you don't eat in a symphony or live theatre, why eat in movie theatre? Bring back drive-ins!

FMF, and anyone else who will wait to see a DVD at home: Of course, that's your prerogative. However, I watched Dark Knight on an IMAX theatre last night, and there is no way to replicate that sort of experience in a home theatre. It was incredible and awe-inspiring. I have taught my children to sit quietly in a theatre, speak only in whispers, and not eat anything. The food is terribly unhealthy anyway, and I want my children to understand that food is to be enjoyed and savored, not shoved in your mouth in the dark out of habit and not hunger.

Why they don't simply charge more for the tickets is beyond me. They get away with almost $20 for IMax tickets, you'd think that they could charge $12 for the normal ones if it's not profitable. It really is bad business. The independent theaters in my town (we're lucky to have two) manage to stay afloat without charging $10 for popcorn somehow. I'm guessing it's because they actually have a viable business model for showing movies that isn't just "volume, volume, volume!" Perhaps they could move away from the "massive megaplex" model and really make it a more enjoyable experience than sitting at home with a DVD.

I'm baffled why people think its OK or their right to break the rules of movie theaters. If you don't like their food prices or quality then just don't eat there. Simple as that.

FMF, seems to me the theater will not lose anything if you stay at home rather than going to their theater and sneaking in food. Since they make their money off the food they aren't really making any money off you and won't lose anything from you. If the theater gains no profit off the movie ticket and you don't buy their concessions then they won't lose anything if you don't visit their theater. In fact they'll save a small amount of labor if you stay at home. Course I don't think the theater would really think of it that way and they probably want to keep your business in any case. I do think the reply from the theater you got was very well written and cordial and you can't complain about 2 free tickets.


Jim --

They will lose some contribution to overhead if I do not come. There's very little additional cost for one more viewer, but at $7 a pop there's some revenue. Multiply this ove a lot of people that feel the same as I do, and it can have an impact.


They probably do make something off your ticket but its not going to be too much. There is additional cost for each viewer. The theaters have to pay the movie studio based on the number of viewers. The theater pay a large % of their per ticket revenue back to the studio.

fivecent had an old article on the topic with a reference to a CNN article saying theaters pay 70-80% of their ticket revenue back to the studios:

The details will vary of course I'm sure. The % rate may depend on the film, the studio, the theater, etc. So who knows exactly how much your theater keeps out of your $7, but its probably not more than $1-2. But it could also be nothing. Course if they make anything off the ticket then thats still profit money in their pocket they won't get if you stay at home.


I should also point out that the cut of the ticket sales that the studio gets decreases over time. SO it is a higher % in the first week or two and then goes down over time.


@MonkeyMonk: "A lot of your justifications sound dangerously close to the justifications people use to shoplift or pirate music."
An entirely different situation - both shoplifting and pirating is taking something that belongs to others without paying for it. Since movie theaters' official business is showing movies, and they already sell tickets for the movies, they aren't restaurants. People who don't like particular food or cannot eat it for some reasons, can choose other restaurants. But the only was to see a new movie on a big screen is to go to a movie theater.

Taking food into a movie theater - and by the way I did mention that I don't do it, I prefer a hot meal at home - is not taking the stealing their food. But people may have legitimate health or religious reasons for needing to eat something other than what they serve, so unless movie theaters start stocking food for all religions - kosher, vegetarian, etc. or for people with food allergies - then their requirement of not bringing their food may in itself be illegal and discriminatory. Sure most adults can eat at home, as I do, and then go to the movies. But I believe some health condition may require that people eat more often. Some movies are long and unlike drama or music theater they don't have intermissions.

"I'm baffled why people think its OK or their right to break the rules of movie theaters. If you don't like their food prices or quality then just don't eat there."
What if you or your child is a diabetic on insulin and is at risk of hypoglycemia? If I am mistaken they need to carry special snacks with them just in case.

I would be surprised if a theater would take issue with a diabetic who brought in their own snack. Even if they lack genuine concern for their customers health, I doubt they would want to risk the bad publicity or a lawsuit from having forced a diabetic to stand in a long line while having a low blood sugar.

Most businesses do not allow dogs but exceptions are made for seeing eye dogs.


Would you be willing to follow-up with the movie theatre on what their policy is when they do discover somebody that has "broken the rules" and already paid for a ticket and is inside already? What do they do? Kick the person out? Do they offer a refund? Do they "steal" the contraband...if so, do they give it back after the movie has ended?

Everybody Else -

What about when the movie theater steals from us? It is called time theft. They pick an artificial start time of the movie, so when we show up on time, we are forced into watching commercials and previews for other movies without being compensated for the time they just wasted. Sometimes it can be excessive (20+ minutes of advertising). If I pay for a ticket to see a movie at 8:10 - I want to see a movie at 8:10. Starting the movie at 8:30 amounts to theft, fraud, and deception on the part of the movie theater. Over a lifetime of movie watching, that can really add up.

I have no problem with showing the previews before the scheduled start time, just not after it.

Also based on the statement found here:

“Any time someone brings in outside food, that hurts their bottom line,” he says. “The more they enforce a no-outside-food policy, the better they’ll be from a financial perspective.”

This is only true if they assume that all people that bring in food now will start purchasing their food at jacked up prices from the concession stand INSTEAD of losing those customers all together along with the ticket revenue they generate.

Mike Z --

Not at this point. This post is over a year old and I've since moved on.

Most of these comments are baffling to me. It's indicative of the type of reasoning that gets our society into trouble. I see it in political discussions all the time - both sides...We tend to focus on irrelevant pieces of information that appeal to some sense of fairness or entitlement that are not actually reality.

First - the business model of the movie theater is irrelevant. Whether they make money or lose money on ticket sales and food sales has no bearing on whether or not you, as a customer, are allowed to bring in food to the theater. Vote with your pocketbook and they may change, but stop complaining about how they are trying to make money off of you - this is called capitalism, and it is their business, not yours.

Second - the healthiness of the food is irrelevant - last I checked, there was no law that said a food establishment had to serve healthy food. Be thankful you can fill up on something you'd prefer to eat before or after the movie.

Third - the cost of the food is irrelevant - as with any product or service you purchase, as long as you are aware of the price before being charged for it (as dinner theater customers are), then there is nothing to discuss

Fourth - what you and other customers have done in the past (bringing in food to the theater) is irrelevant. Policies change and behavior must follow. Only the sick/diseased need to eat something during even the longest movies (and I'm sure movie theaters should/will allow diabetics and others to bring food in, if they don't provide an acceptable food option - if they don't, you might have a lawsuit).

Fifth - you and other customers have no "right" to eat your own food in a movie theater. The movie theater has every right to prevent you from bringing in your own food. They can do so simply because they are the business establishment with which you are entering a contract, but they actually have other really good reasons (which are irrelevant, but I will list them because some people feel better when they have a sense of entitlement that is being challenged - the theater relies on food revenues, and they pay staff to serve food and clean up your food mess after the movie).

Really the only relevant argument here is whether you think a movie theater is legally allowed to forbid you from bringing your own food into the establishment. My guess is that if they have posted these rules prominently, they can do so. Perhaps they would be legally obligated to set aside your food for you to pick up after the movie or refund your ticket, I don't know. But either way, it's their business and their policy is not arbitrary (they actually sell food for pete's sake!). I'd be happy to listen to a legal expert here, but I can't imagine that theaters don't have this right as a business.

this is all really simple. sure it's unethical to break the rules, but it's also unethical to speed on the highway. nobody is completely ethical. everyone has to decide for themselves which rules they are willing to break and which one's they aren't willing to break.

that being said, i will continue to sneak food into theaters and i won't feel guilty. the theater should feel guilty charging 10 dollars to see a movie, and 6 dollars for a coke or some popcorn. me sneaking in food is no worse than them making ridiculous profits off of people too dumb to realize it.

This was fun to write - bonus points to people who read the whole thing (I had to split it into multiple sections to fit it in), even the last suggestion. And sorry, Corey for lashing out - it could have been several others on this thread, but you were the one to respond after me. It so irritates me that 1) our society seems to have lost rational thinking capabilities and 2) feels such a sense of entitlement that they can justify their own lack of ethics by essentially claiming "everyone does it" and/or it's OK to be unethical if I feel I'm being treated unfairly (oh, the hypocrisy!). I feel like an old fart when I say this (I'm 28 btw), but I truly wonder where has our sense of ethics and rational thinking gone?

Like many others in this thread, Corey again spews arguments that reference irrelevant information - what does speeding have to do with bringing food into the movie theater? Imagine making an argument to a judge in court for a speeding ticket - well, I bring food into the movies even though theaters say I can't, so it's OK to speed! The state is making ridiculous profits off of me speeding even though I'm not hurting anyone! It's SO UNFAIR (waaaah)!

I will give Corey credit for seemingly agreeing with me that it comes down to one's comfort with being unethical. I guess I take the high road by siding with the movie theater because it is their right to make the rules.

But Corey is special and doesn't feel like the rules should apply to someone as "smart" as he is (I say "smart", because he calls ethical moviegoers who pay for their food "dumb"). He doesn't feel guilty bringing in food because the movie theater charges too much and makes ridiculous profits off of dumb (but ethical) moviegoers. He actually believes the theater should feel guilty!

Now I hate doing this, because the argument is really purely about ethics, and Corey's readily admitted this. But Corey has taken another favorite tactic by those challenged by rational thinking. He's actually managed to agree with my premise (ethics/rules) against sneaking food into the movie theater YET come to a different conclusion about his own behavior with regard to this matter! Amazing! He feels justified in being unethical because 1) not everybody is completely ethical (which I would agree to, but which is irrelevant to this argument) and 2) he feels the movie theater is making ridiculous profits on him (my assumption is that he feels the theater is being unethical, even though he's a willing customer). Incredibly, Corey feels the theater should "feel guilty" for making "ridiculous profits", YET he refuses to feel guilty for unethically bringing in food to a theater that forbids it.

I'm going to attempt to set him straight by refuting the irrelevant argument he makes to justify breaking the rules. I don't know - maybe he'll see the error of his ways and support an industry from which he actually benefits (and by support, I mean purchase concession food only if he wants to or is hungry, but leave the personal food at home). But I doubt it...

Regal Entertainment Group (RGC) is the largest publicly owned theater chain in the United States. From the RGC 2008 (last year available) annual report: "We generate revenues primarily from admissions and concession sales." RGC makes about 27% of its revenues from food. That's a "healthy" (sorry, couldn't resist) portion of their revenues. In 2008, they made about $650K profit from food ($758K revenue on $106.6K expenses). Before you say how ridiculous this profit this is, consider that they would actually LOSE money if not for this $650K in profit (their operating income was $284K). You can argue that some of the labor overhead should be applied to concessions, but they would still be in the red - if they cut out concessions and kept ticket prices the same, they'd lose money.

Theaters can charge lower prices for movies to draw in more customers because many of these (ethical) customers purchase concessions. Alternatively, they could choose to charge higher ticket prices ($3 on average - the amount they make per customer on concessions) and sell no concessions (or some mix - like charging $1.50 more and cut concession prices, etc.). But if you took an economics course, you know that charging more for tickets is likely to reduce attendance. Will the drop in attendance be offset by the higher ticket price? I doubt it because if they raise the ticket prices by $3, the full $3 doesn't actually go to their bottom line (from the RGC annual report: film rental costs generally increase as the admissions revenues generated by a film increase). Studios take percentage cuts of admissions revenues so they would have to raise it even higher than $3 per ticket. On top of that, I doubt that demand would keep up - i.e., total revenues would decrease because attendance could not offset the higher ticket prices.

The bottom line is that theaters aren't going to cut concessions because it's probably the most effective way for them to make money. Ironically, the decision by theaters to sell concessions allows people who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford movie tickets the chance to see movies on a big screen. Facetiously, one could even make the argument that the movie theater is being "altruistic" by subsidizing tickets for moviegoers who are either too poor, too health-conscious (or too cheap or unethical) with concession sales. More likely, however, they are trying to maximize their profit by driving up attendance with under-priced tickets that they know they can offset with concession sales.

Seriously, it does come down to ethics, and despite the hypocrisy of what Corey believes, that means you shouldn't take food into the theater if they prohibit it. It is as simple as that. Beyond being diabetic or having some other ailment that requires you eat something the theater doesn't sell in the 1.5-3 hour time frame you're in the theater, there is not a viable excuse to break the rules (and I guarantee the theater would allow you an exception if you had such an ailment). Don't justify your lack of ethics with any other excuse other than the fact that when you bring your own food into the movie theater, you have a lower moral standard than those moviegoers who are paying the theater for the food they eat while watching the movie.

And after all this, I just had an idea - maybe the theaters should charge a fee to people who want to bring their own food into their theater - similar to a corkage fee at a restaurant. If they normally make $3 per person on concessions, you could pay $3 per person (i.e., $12 for a family of 4) to bring in food. Corey - would you pay $3 (per person eating) to bring in your own food?

It's unethical to sneak food in. Period.

That said, I have snuck food in before (Taco Bell and candy) and I have paid for food in theaters before (like the milk shake at the Movie Tavern yesterday when we saw Avatar or the large drink my husband buys all the time).

Why would I do it even if I know it's unethical? Because I'm cheap and have a sense of it's a little thrilling to break the rules once in a while.

But it is unethical.

Thanks Crystal - an answer that doesn't blame anyone else for your actions! It's sad, but I do appreciate it for the sheer honesty.

I am old fashioned. I believe that the customer is always right and that "he who pays the piper calls the tune." Rules? I don't give a damn about the movie theater's "rules"! I am the customer and I make my own rules! I don't want to cause a scene so I put a package of M&Ms in my pocket and my wife puts one in her purse. Is this wrong? What if a stick-up man points a gun at me and says" "Your money or you life" and I happen to have a $20 bill hidden on me. Is it wrong for me NOT to give that $20 bill to the stick-up man? In my estimation, theaters that charge $4.50 and upwards for candy and drinks worth no more than a dollar are no better than robbers without guns. I take DELIGHT in beating them at their own game. My next crusade is to protest to the theater companies that the smallest drink you can buy is 30 oz and costs $4.75! We share one in case we get a tickle in our throat during the move and won't cough and disturb others. (Or may they would rather have us cough!) Who can consume 30 oz (or even 15 oz.) of a drink and then sit through a two-hour movie without having to use the restroom? We can't! They should sell a NORMAL-sized 12 oz drink for about $2.00. That would be reasonable.

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