a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Friday, October 21, 2005

Sneaking Food Into the Movies

My friend Scoopy's current post about candy got me thinking about eating candy in movie theaters, and then got me thinking about eating candy in movie theaters that they don't sell there.

Yes, sometimes I sneak in food.

And I know that's probably a sin, especially because I used to be a movie theater manager. But if anything, my former job just makes me want to do it more. Because I can be appalled at the mark-up I know is taking place.

Popcorn costs them next to nothing, and they are selling it for 3, 4, $5 a bag. Soda, same thing. When bottles of water are $3.50 and $4.00, you know things are getting crazy.

So sometimes -- not all the time, but sometimes -- my wife will let me stash stuff in her purse before we go in. 20-ounce bottles of water or soda, and/or snack items that we pick up along the way. Because isn't that what your wife's (or your, if you are a woman or a metrosexual man) big-ass purse is for?

I'm not ashamed. Because I spend enough money at movie theater candy stands, and because if they are going to mark up prices that much, they deserve to turn a blind eye once and a while. Plus, I drink diet soda, and the Diet Coke you get at theaters often tastes like ass. So I can sneak in my Diet Pepsi, or Diet Dr. Pepper, and not only is it cheaper, it tastes better. Win-win.

Historical aside -- do you know why they call it a concession stand? Because they used to give away popcorn and drinks for free, to help lure people into the theater. True story.

Times have changed.

Most theaters really don't care if you sneak stuff in, if you aren't blatant about it. As a theater manager, as long as you weren't being an ass or irritating other customers, I didn't care if you snuck in anything, or slid into another theater and caught another movie., as long as you weren't a drunken lout or a chattering teen.

There are exceptions, though. There was a theater on Long Island that made the news (with coverage not exactly positive) after they kicked a man out of a movie theater for eating something that he had brought in with him.

It was a cough drop. Because he had a cough (which, ironically, is something that theaters should want people to suppress). But they had a zero-tolerance policy for outside food, and the guy got tossed.

I have a long history of sneaking food into theaters, even when I was a theater manager. If I was working a late shift, and got there early, I might eat dinner in one of the theaters, or sneak in some candy. I certainly wasn't going to pay my own theater's high prices (employee discount? Yeah, right.) I used to eat packages of those thin Andee's mints, that you could get at the supermarket across the street. Yum. One night, me and a friend snuck in some wine collers (hey, it was the '80s, what did I know) and I accidentally kicked one of the empty bottles over, and it rolled all the way down to the front, slowly and loudly.

Good times.

Of course, there were limits. I worked in one theater, where the brain-dead designers had the theater exit door going right into the parking lot. So customers would stash beer outside the door, buy their ticket, go in, and then pop open the door to retrieve their beer.

Except we had regular patrols of the parking lot. So when they were on line, me or one of my ushers was likely to find the beer, and cache it in the office. The ones who were shameless enough to ask for it back, got it back after the movie. Pretty much everyone was shameless enough; I can't remember any beers that were still in office at the end of the night.

My favorite story is when I was a camp counselor on Cape Cod one summer. On our nights off, a group of counselors would run into town (someone always had a car) and we'd grab some dinner, and catch a movie. This particular night, we got Chinese food, and had to bolt to make the movie (which I'm pretty sure was E.T.) .

There were 4 of us, and somehow, probably due to canny misdirection and the crush of the crowd, we snuck the whole, huge bag of Chinese food into the theater. The theater was packed; we finally found seats together, way up in the front, off to the side.

And then we opened the bag, in the near-dark (though the movie hadn't started yet), and realized that we didn't have any silverware at all, not even plastic ones. Just those paper containers of rice and food. No plates. Maybe napkins, maybe not. Can't remember.

So we ate out of the containers with our fingers, passing them around, the smell of the Chinese food spreading around us like a cloud, people already starting to look at us, we didn't care, we were hungry.

But finally an usher came down the aisle to check it out. He took one look at us, and just laughed.

Then he walked away, and left us to our dinner.


At 4:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are some theaters which have dropped the pretense and have an open door policy about food.

And most of the rest seem just not to care these days.

I still sneak food in,'s fun. It makes me feel like I'm sticking it to the theater owners after overcharging me for my ticket.

That's also why I "Movie hop" as much as possible.

At 4:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We had a theater that was, at first, lax on the whole outside food thing.

But one day they dropped the hammer - no more outside food.

The challenge was set. Each time we went to see a movie we now had to bring outside food. As time went by, the items became more and more outrageous.

I remember smuggling a pizza by putting the pieces in folders. Candy under my hat. Take out from the Chili's down the street. A 2-liter in my pants.

Eventually the theater let up.

At 4:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Movie hopping usually doesn't "stick it" to the theater owners unless the movie has been playing for some time.

At 7:17 PM, Blogger writebrother said...

I could strike it rich and never have to work for the rest of my life, but I'd still sneak in food and theater hop. If I ever get a movie into the theaters I'd probably sneak into the premiere just to keep my street cred intact. That's just how I roll. You'd figure I'd mature with age and follow the rules, but it never happened.

I worked at a movie theater the last 2 years of high school and one night we saw an empty large pizza box and a six pack of beer bottles. People will sneak in anything if they can get away with it.

At 7:25 AM, Anonymous Leif Smart said...

Sadly, I no longer movie hop. Not because I am no longer willing, nor because I have matured and think its no longer appropriate, but more because I can no longer find such a stretch of time free that I can see 2 movies in a row. Oh for the good old days of having so much free time.

At 7:27 PM, Blogger oneslackmartian said...

In college my roommates and I were way past sneaking in the conventional snacks. Our favorite was a steak and cheese sandwich from Subway with an oil can of Foster’s beer, and I don’t mean that new, slick can they have, I mean the old can with the rusty seam.

Our goal was to bring in a small hibachi and to start actually grilling. Unfortunately something came up . . . possibly graduation.

If someone kicked me out of a theater for a cough drop, I think I would return on another day, take a dump on one of their seats, and stick a cough drop in the middle of it. But that’s just me.

At 1:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I still sneak a pint of Stoli in and make myself a nice little drinkie

At 9:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was a great story on NPR about a guy who snuck a complete Thanksgiving dinner (turky, fixings, wine, and a table) into a theater one year.

By the way, love the blog.

At 5:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't believe some of the stuff people say they've snuck in. I usually take plenty of candy in the coat pockets. My wife took a bag of microwaved popcorn once but the cold sack was so crackling noisy at a quiet movie in a packed theater that we decided not to open the bag because of all the attention we were getting. That can be fixed by dumping the popcorn into a Ziploc bag. I usually buy their drinks which makes you look less supicious, you know.

At 11:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We enforce the policy of not allowing outside food or drinks. If someone brings in something in a purse or backpack, we do not search it, but the number of people who try to just walk in without hiding something is amazing.

Most of the time those people will say they are bringing it in because our theater doesn't sell the item. Do you go to an Italian restaurant and bring in egg rolls because they don't carry it on their menu?

To the people who complain about the prices, there are a variety of responses available. If you cannot afford the food, eat before you enter the theater.

Also, in case you think you are being funny when you are 30 and ask for a senior ticket, you are not. If you cannot afford to attend the movie for full price, then you need to look at your priorities. If $6 for a bargain show is going to make or break your budget, then stay home.

At 6:27 PM, Anonymous matt said...

to the anonymous at 1120 pm who is obviously a theatre worker, ahut up. you should kjow beter thatn anyone that the prices are way to high. and the truth is if your old enough to actually care about this then you really shouldnt be working a theatre but maybe going back to school and getting a degree. the truth hurts


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