Sneaking In Movie Theater Snacks

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We love to go to the movies and probably catch a showing every other week (in addition to movies at home).  Increasingly, we catch shows on $5 Tuesdays. This past Tuesday, we caught the original White Christmas (in VistaVision!) on the big screen at the theater near us that features the reclining, first class airline-style seats.  Tomorrow, we’ll be back to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

While I love the big seats and big screen, I don’t love the movie theater concessions prices.  While I will break down for a big tub of popcorn now and then, increasingly I just sneak in my own Coke and snack.  I brought a ziplock bag with some walnuts in it and a Coke Zero as we watched Bing Crosby croon on the big screen yesterday.

While I realize that this is an ethical issue to many, my view is while I’m happy to pay them for the movie, I am not obligated to pay for the outrageously priced concessions are an add-on cost to the movie I already paid for.  If your concessions are good enough – like movie theater popcorn – then they need to justify their cost independently – through great taste or the convenience of buying them on-site.

Randy Cohen, author of The Ethicist column in the New York Times Magazine agrees, saying: “You can’t subvert the primary action of a business, like bring booze to a bar or a doughnut to a bakery. But when you buy a movie ticket, all you’ve agreed to do is to watch a movie. You haven’t agreed to buy their food and you shouldn’t be subjected to popcorn-sniffing dogs or the cola detectives.”

Similarly, I sit on the Board our Metro Zoo and we invite guests to bring in picnic lunches and family snacks. Unlike movie theaters, we don’t have a policy that expressly prohibits outside food.   In fact, we have a number of beautiful, shady picnic areas for them to utilize when they bring their own food in. Oftentimes, people want to bring in food that they see as healthier or fits a special diet for their family anyway.

What is your view on sneaking food into the movies?

Image Credit: Pixabay

15 thoughts on “Sneaking In Movie Theater Snacks

  1. We bring our own snack to the movies all the time. What pay $4-5 dollars for the same candy I can get for $1 elsewhere. The whole family is heading to The Last Jedi tomorrow night too. We had to buy tickets back in October.

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    • As often as we go to the movies, I’m sure it’s more than a hundred dollars of savings a year. That buys a lot of $5 Tuesday tickets and keeps us coming to the theater, instead of watching at home.

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  2. It’s an interesting point about subverting the primary action of the business because while the theaters primary action may be showing movies, I’ve actually heard they make pretty much nothing on the tickets (goes to the companies that made the movies) and all of their money on concessions. This may be one of those common stories that’s not actually true, but if true it makes the ethical question a little more interesting.

    Personally, I have no problem not paying them crazy high prices for snacks and am totally happy to bring my own food. A friend at our last movie paid $20 for a giant pretzel and while it really was GIANT, that’s just an absurd amount to charge. I think more theaters need to take the luxury approach like the ones that have the leather seats and sell meals and alcohol.

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    • Yes – the studios have them over a barrel, so they try to do the same to movie goers with their concession prices. That said, I don’t feel ethically obligated to follow every policy that a business puts in place – at a store, on an airline, or at a movie theater – especially one as weakly enforced as this one.

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  3. I will definitely bring in my own candy. It’s interesting that Wal-Mart, Walgreens, etc. call these “movie theater boxes,” and have them located conveniently up front–they’re in on the scheme!

    The one exception was the Michigan theater in Ann Arbor–it is a historic, nonprofit theater, and while the seats had no modern luxury, when they had movies there (often classic movies, or the Bugs Bunny marathon) we viewed the concessions as further donations to keep the theater going.

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    • Yes – I always think that, too. If some place is a non-profit, then you shouldn’t complain too much about the cost of concessions. I suppose, it would be better still to give them a donation that is tax deductible for you 🙂

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  4. I have a nice big purse! Like you, I like the movie theater popcorn. But in the purse go the candies, or Twizzlers (unwrapped from the rattling packaging and placed in Ziplocks) and even my own salt shaker for the popcorn! ~ Lynn

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  5. I’ve always brought my own snacks to movies, not wanting to fill my child up with sugar, salt and fat — I brought juice boxes, fruit, cheese, granola bars, etc. If they sold healthy snacks at movie theaters, I would have bought them there. My child never complained as he had his favorite snacks in Mom’s purse so he was content and it was fun to pick out snacks at home before leaving. I myself don’t eat at movies, we just out either before or after the show for a snack. I like going out after to discuss the show.

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    • We were at the movies last night and I looked to see if they had ANYTHING relatively healthy or wholesome to snack on, but I didn’t see one thing. If they did, it would be $3 for a 25 cent granola bar, anyway.

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  6. We were fairly poor growing up, and we used to sneak snacks in all the time. However, two things happened 1) I really don’t like popcorn and sugar water anymore and 2) I understand the economics of movie theaters better. The problem is that studios and distribution companies really screw movie theaters: they rarely make money selling tickets because of rapacious deals where they make money on tickets for a particular movie only after several weeks (and after the distributors take almost all of the profits and the show is ready to leave theaters).

    So, while I agree some snack prices are outrageous, I would rather have my local movie theater in business than have them close up shop because they can’t make a profit. Ethically, I really think it’s a rationalization to say that you can circumvent one business’ model (sneaking snacks into a theater), but it’s not OK to circumvent another (bringing donuts to a bakery).

    Fortunately, theaters near me have realized they aren’t making as much as they could on snacks… their prices are still high, but they offer much better quality snacks (cooked Pizza, higher end candy, ice cream, etc.). So, I don’t have a problem patronizing the snack bar and paying the price if I’m getting something that’s better than popcorn and waxy cheap candy.

    I think the only real choices are either to get your local theater to offer snacks you want at a slight markup, or chose to not eat during a movie (I’m not sure why people feel the need to eat in a theater anyway… most movies aren’t so long that you can’t go without food or drinks). If you insist on bringing your own food into a theater, don’t rationalize it as “saving money”… you’re basically disobeying the rules of the business, and the eventual result is another type of business gone from our landscape.

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    • Fair enough – I understand your thinking. That said, I wouldn’t ever pay for their candy at those prices, so I guarantee that for me to bring in a candy bar won’t effect their financials in any way.

      Additionally, if the movie theater is getting screwed by the studios – that doesn’t make them any less the villain for trying to screw me at the concession stand. Economics demand if they weren’t making 90% margins at the concession stand, they would have to renegotiate with the studios to stay in business, or the studios would have no place to distribute their movies. That shift in the business model would likely extend all the way up the value chain to the highly paid actors, actresses, directors, and producers. I’m guessing some of those folks think the economics of the industry are a bit absurd for the consumer, too.

      As it is, we went to the Star Wars movie last night and I counted the number of families that had bought concessions. I thought it would be less than 50%, but was surprised that 80% had bought something. Star Wars is a big movie and Most families bought a LOT. I like movie theater popcorn, and bought a big tub and a big soda pop for $16.

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  7. I once witnessed an almost-violent confrontation when a staffer had a meltdown over a someone trying to walk into the Music Box in Chicago with…a…banana! He actually kicked the guy out, claiming “it’s illegal to bring outside food into a theater.” I told the theater guy that his reaction was completely out of line, but he simply responded that the guy had provoked him. Though the whole thing would have been avoided if the guy had hid the banana in his coat pocket instead of walking in while holding it in his hand.

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    • Wow – a banana!! This became a thread on Reddit and their were few confrontations reported. 99% of Redditors had never been stopped, even when it was clear they had their pockets full. I took a can of pop and a ziplock of beef jerky to ‘Downsizing’ over the weekend (but I did buy my son a jumbo popcorn). 🙂

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