Let’s All Go To The Lobby

Snacking, by its very concept in the US, is something we do as a reward. It’s a time of cramming stuff in our mouths in a moment of celebration (okay, or stress).

But when we do it in a movie theater, it’s a critical time of matching the consumption with the, well, visual consumption before us. The anticipation of how awesome, serious, scary, comedic, or sad a show will be determines the treat. Or at least it does for me.

Mind you, I am not a big Snacketeer. I often will go it dry or with only a bottle of water in a theater. Yet, there are times that warrant a treat. For instance, I require a cherry Slushie (determination of its Slushie or Icee-ness follows) for big summer tent-poles: the Harry Potter-Transformer-Star Wars-Guys-in-Tights films.

However, for something more contemplative like “The Help”, popcorn (no faux butter) does the trick for me [A quick lamentation here for the old Jean Cocteau Theater in town. They had corn with Brewer’s yeast and parmasean cheese as topping options. Le Sigh].

Other friends have other needs. My best friend David must have Milk Duds, no matter the show. And lucky for him, these little gluey, teeth extracting delights have lasted the test of movie theater concession time to still be available today. Other snacks have winked-on and off at the snack counters like a bad string of Christmas lights. Figure 1 illustrates a made-up data set for Relative Snacking between local theaters.

If one looks at the two most polar opposite theaters in town, that of the Regal-14 super stadium-plex out on Cerrillos and The Screen at the former College of Santa Fe (now SFUAD)—a super dressed down simple college theater—it is easy to note the snacking differences (yes, one is magma charged with lights and sparkle and zombie children serving you, and the other is psyched to have a glass front soda refrigerator behind the counter, but beyond that). Because they were so different in their wares, I focused mostly on boxed items, like Milk Duds.

Regal offers nearly 20 boxed items including snacks that have been at a movie theater counter for over 50 years, like Raisenettes, Junior Mints, Twizzlers (formerly Red Vines), and Milk Duds. But also new fangled items, like three flavors of Skittles, Cookie Dough Bits, and various Wonka products. And for the health conscious (because the movie theater is where I make good food choices) they have Welch’s Fruit Snacks. Soda-wise, they are beholden to the Coca-Cola Gods; popcorn is in the big machines with the grease pumps for sauce; and their Icee cum Slushies are branded by the chain as Regal Freeze Frame (this being of particular interest to me as I was edited in my first blog to say I prefer a Slushie over an Icee, which made me go out and survey to see just what in the heck I was actually ingesting, by theater and brand. Can’t help it. Scientist. Turns out I prefer Icees at the Dreamcatcher, other theaters either don’t have machines or carry their own brand. The use of the term “Slushie” being a US lexicon like “Kleenex” is for nose tissue).

The Screen has much more modest fare, largely because the lobby is about the size of half the women’s room at the Regal. Of the vintage fare they carry Red Vines, Snickers, Junior Mints, and Jordan Almonds. For the healthy, they have Snapea Crisps, Trail Mix, ABC Cookies, Pretzels, and Ginger Candy Chews. Beverages are by the bottle, including Coke; the rest are things like Ginger Brew, Pellegrino (in several flavors), bottled teas and still water. And the popcorn is Señor Murphy’s in individual bags.

There is an easy relationship to call out here: when the audience goes to Indy films at a smaller theater (say, a film festival) the higher quality the snacking options. As the pendulum swings toward tentpoles, pop culture, and I daresay the unwashed masses, the snacks are made of proportionally more artificial ingredients.

Antithetical to all of this is our European friends across the pond. In London, I went to a live West End performance (our B’Way) and they trusted the audience with glasses of beer or espresso. “Pish posh,” says our US theaters (both live and film), “Americans are too rowdy. They will get drunk and fling things at each other if we allow them nice drinks.”

So while neither film experience can be said to be better than the other, it is interesting to see how we culturally drive our snacking preferences when settling into a darkened theater.


Editor’s Note: The Screen was selling a local brew during the Santa Fe Film Festival as a test.