The Other Oil Companies

When a movie theater shows a movie, they are distributing a product from a company. The ins and the outs are complicated. I suppose I could do the noble thing and actually research how this process works, but I'd rather watch old episodes of Home Improvement on Youtube.

But I understand a modicum of the process. Upon a movie's opening weekend, movie theaters keep somewhere between 20% to 25% of the box office gross. If the movie theater in question is a franchise/chain, that cut of the cash is split between the individual theater and the home office. The other 75% to 80% goes to the distribution house and the production company.

So where do movie theaters compensate for all that unearned revenue?

It's an oft-forgotten fact, movie theaters generate an overwhelming amount of their profit from the sale of concessions. This leads to three truths of movie theater food:

  • Movie theater food is expensive.
  • Movie theater portions are large.
  • Movie theater food is unhealthy.

Let's examine these one at a time.

Movie Theater Food Is Expensive.

Think about your local cineplex. It's a giant complex, equal in size to commercial warehouses and storage facilities, but located in an area where realty prices favors small stores, shops and businesses. There's also the cost of operating high-powered electric projectors and multiple industrial HVAC units. Plus a staff of two dozen hard-working employees, and the added cost of maintenance and facility upkeep. Running a movie theater is an expensive, expensive job.

Normal restaurants price their menus in correlation with operations. Per meal, a restaurant typically charges three times the food cost, thus covering the cost of overhead and labor. Movie theaters are different. Restaurants are a fraction of the size of movie theaters. A busy restaurant will serve 300 people per night. A busy movie theater will have 300 people per auditorium, per show. Everyone at a restaurant will order food. Only 1/3 of people at a movie theater will order food. More profit per head means better returns.

Those large sodas contain less than 25 cents of sugar water. It's almost no real loss if you get a free refill or not. Theaters are getting a 2300% return on investment. It doesn't matter how big the cups are; the only reason they're not bigger is because otherwise they would not fit in the cup holders. If big is too big for you; get a small. If small is too big, are you really thirsty?
This leads us to point number two:

Movie Theater Portions Are Large.

Movie theaters aren't run by heartless bastards. They know you're getting very little bang for your buck on popcorn and soda pop. They try to soften the blow. At my local chain, a "Small" soda is 32 oz, a Medium is 48 oz, and a Large is 52 oz. A large is just a little over a liter and a half. And it comes with a free refill. A large popcorn and Coke clocks in at 2050 calories. The FDA considers 2000 calories a healthy daily average.

Movie theaters anticipate groups, pairings and families attending together. They predict you will divide these gargantuan helpings between several people. Believe it or not, that 16 cup-sized bucket of popcorn is not a single serving. Split the food, split the cost.

Or, if you'd really like, you can eat and drink the larges all by yourself. This leads us to point number three:

Movie Theater Food is Unhealthy.

Contrary to what American waistlines suggest, it is possible to go two hours without eating. The movie theater concession stand was not designed to provide nutritious sustenance for a balanced diet. It's simply there to provide a quick snack should the want arise. Hence why it's colloquially referred to as "The Snack Bar." It is not a restaurant. Stop treating it like a restaurant. Do not tie up the line because you erroneously believe this is an appropriate place to order chicken fingers and mozzarella sticks.

The Department of Health and Human Services requires my local multiplex to list calories next to every menu item. Many are in the quadruple digits. Soda and candy are pure sugar. Popcorn is cooked in oil and salt, then topped with more butter-flavored oil. What led anyone to believe any of this is remotely healthy? These are not meant to be meals. These are meant to be indulgences.

Consider your options. Consider your desires. Consider your health. Consider your wallet.

That's how a cineplex concession stand operates. Hopefully this has been informative and insightful. Now if you'll excuse me, Tim and Al are about to show off the Man's Kitchen.

1 comment:

  1. Nice article! Never thought of this. Theaters in my country don't display calory information or have free refills... well I think they don't. Might as well try ask for refills sometime :)