Food blog

The Secrets Behind Movie Theaters’ Food Buying Tactics

Sneaky ways movie theaters get you to buy more food

We all love a trip to the movies, whether it’s to catch the latest blockbuster, for date night, or just as a break from the week. It’s a great way to escape for a few hours and get lost in some great entertainment. But the cost of going to the movies has gone up over the years. And it’s not just the ticket prices. If you’re like most people, the experience of going to the movies isn’t complete without a few snacks to munch on while you sit through a movie. Savvy moviegoers will have noticed that theaters use a number of clever techniques to get you to spend more money.

Movie concessions are expensive

Anyone who’s ever been to the movies knows how notoriously expensive concessions are. From popcorn to that giant box of Junior Mints or even a regular-sized soda, each item is marked up outrageously compared to buying the same snacks elsewhere.
But why do movie concessions cost so much? Here’s the skinny: It all comes down to profit margins. Theaters pay studios to show their movies, which means that most of the revenue from ticket sales goes straight back to the studio. These figures range from 60 percent to as high as 70 percent. To make a profit, theaters must look elsewhere. The answer? Food, of course. Unlike ticket sales, theaters keep 100 percent of concession sales, which can account for up to 85 percent of a theater’s profit.
You’ve seen it – a small popcorn and soda can set you back $10 or more. While the exact figure for how much it costs theaters to make popcorn remains a trade secret, Richard Mackenzie, a UC Irvine professor who wrote a book on the subject, suggested that it costs theaters less than 10 cents an ounce to make popcorn. There are other factors that go into pricing, such as the cost of cleaning up after a show and operating overhead.
While it’s undeniably annoying to pay more for cheap food, the profit margins theaters make on concessions actually help keep ticket prices down. Thanks to the money made selling movie snacks, the average theater can avoid charging sky-high ticket prices to cover its operating costs.

Theaters Discriminate on Price

Those giant tubs of popcorn and large sodas are another trick used by theaters to get you to spend more money at the movies. Price discrimination is selling a single product at different prices to different groups. Take ticket prices. Kids and seniors have less disposable income than the average adult. They’re also less likely to go to the movies than adults, so theaters can charge more for adult tickets. You’ll also see how movie theaters charge more on the weekends, or more specifically, offer discounts during the week – however you want to look at it.
This tactic carries over to the concession stand as well. Once they have you in the theater, they have a monopoly on how much they can charge. Theaters know that there will be people willing to spend more once they’re in the theater. Which brings us to the next tactic.

The lure of the combo deal

While a combo meal from a movie theater concession stand may seem like a good deal, more often than not, it’s not. Two-for-one specials, free upgrades and refills – if you spend a little more money, you can get a few extras with your combo. But despite the fact that combo deals may seem like a great way to save money, you’re probably not getting great value in the end.
Many combo deals include far more food than most people can consume in one sitting. Both food and money end up being wasted. Fast-food chains have had massive success with combo-deal promotions, resulting in higher profits. The same is true for movie theaters. While combo deals can save you some money, it pays to do the math. Often, the savings are minimal compared to buying the items separately, so if you’re not sure you’re going to eat everything, it might be worth skipping to avoid waste.

Movie theaters strategically place concession stands

There’s a strategic layout to a multiplex. As you make your way to the theater, you may pass no fewer than two or three concession stands. Bright neon lights demand your attention, while candy and snack stands and giant popcorn machines may make you think twice about your hunger level.
Thanks to its convenient location in the heart of the theater, many people will visit the concession stand before they settle into their seats. After all, it’s part of the moviegoing experience, and having all these stands scattered throughout the theater makes it easier to indulge. Making sure customers walk by several concession stands on their way to the theater is a clever way to entice people to buy snacks-the smells, the lights, the sheer volume of choices give patrons ample opportunity to indulge their cravings.

The power of visual and sensory appeal

Movie theaters know how to stimulate the senses and make their food offerings irresistible. They strategically design their concession stands to be visually appealing, with bright colors, enticing displays, and mouthwatering images of their food and beverages. The smell of freshly popped popcorn wafting through the theater lobby is enough to make anyone’s mouth water.
In addition, theaters often use sensory cues to enhance the movie-going experience. They may pump the smell of buttered popcorn into the air, creating an enticing aroma that makes you crave a tub of popcorn. The sound of popcorn popping and the fizz of soda add to the overall sensory experience, making you more likely to act on your cravings and purchase snacks.

Limited food options in the theater

Have you ever noticed that the food options in a movie theater are often limited? While you may find a wide variety of snacks and drinks at the concession stand, the actual food options tend to be limited to items like popcorn, nachos, hot dogs, and candy. This limited selection encourages moviegoers to choose from the available options rather than seeking alternative food outside of the theater.
By limiting food choices, theaters create a sense of convenience and urgency. If you’re hungry and want something to eat during the movie, you’re more likely to purchase one of the available options rather than leave the theater to find food elsewhere. This strategy increases the likelihood of impulse purchases and boosts concession sales.

Promotional tie-ins with blockbuster movies

Movie theaters often partner with studios and brands to promote blockbuster movies and related merchandise. You’ve probably seen special edition mugs, popcorn buckets, or collectibles featuring characters from popular movies. These tie-ins create a sense of excitement and exclusivity, making moviegoers feel like they’re part of the movie experience.
By offering limited-edition items that are only available at the concession stand, theaters create a sense of urgency and FOMO (fear of missing out). Movie fans or collectors will be more inclined to purchase these items as souvenirs or to show their support for their favorite movies. This marketing strategy not only generates additional revenue, but also enhances the overall moviegoing experience for fans.

In-Seat Delivery Services

Some theaters now offer in-seat delivery services, where you can order food and beverages from your seat and have them delivered during the movie. This convenience eliminates the need to wait in line at the concession stand and allows you to enjoy your movie without interruption.
While in-seat delivery may seem like a luxury, it also serves as a way to encourage more food purchases. The convenience factor makes it easier for moviegoers to order additional snacks and drinks without leaving their seats. It’s a way for theaters to meet the desire for comfort and convenience while increasing concession sales.

Bottom line

Movie theaters have mastered the art of enticing moviegoers to buy more food. From high concession prices to strategic placement, visual appeal, limited food options and promotional tie-ins, they employ various tactics to entice us to indulge in snacks and beverages during our movie experience. While it’s important to be aware of these tricks, it’s also part of the overall moviegoing experience. So the next time you find yourself at the concession stand, consider your options and make a choice that satisfies both your cravings and your budget. Lights, Camera, Snacks!


Why are theater concessions so expensive?

Movie theaters rely on concession sales to make a profit because they keep 100 percent of the revenue from these sales. This helps offset the cost of operating the theater and allows them to keep ticket prices relatively low.

Are movie theater combo deals a good value?

While combo deals may offer extras or discounts, they often include more food than most people can consume in one sitting. It’s important to consider whether you’ll actually eat everything in the combo before deciding whether it’s a good value for you.

Why do movie theaters strategically place concession stands?

Movie theaters strategically place concession stands throughout the theater to entice patrons to purchase snacks. The visual appeal, enticing displays and smell of freshly popped popcorn create an irresistible temptation for moviegoers.

Why are the food options in movie theaters often limited?

Movie theaters limit food options to create a sense of convenience and urgency. By offering a limited selection of snacks and beverages, they encourage moviegoers to choose from what’s available rather than seeking alternative options outside the theater.

Why do theaters partner with studios for promotional tie-ins?

Movie theaters partner with studios to promote blockbuster movies and related merchandise. Limited-edition items featuring characters from popular films create a sense of excitement and exclusivity, driving additional sales and enhancing the moviegoing experience.

What is the purpose of in-seat delivery services in movie theaters?

In-seat delivery services provide convenience and eliminate the need to wait in line at the concession stand. While enhancing the movie-going experience, it also encourages more food purchases by making it easier for moviegoers to order additional snacks and drinks without leaving their seats.

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