The great movie food racket
A Michigan moviegoer's lawsuit over the high cost of food and drinks at theater concessions has put a spotlight on a favorite consumer gripe.
Is a Michigan man a hero to moviegoers everywhere since he sued an AMC theater over the high cost of movie concession snacks?
Joshua Thompson of Livonia -- who paid $8 total for a box of Goobers and a Coke at his local AMC -- filed the lawsuit because "he got tired of being taken advantage of," his attorney said.
The suit accused AMC theaters of violating the Michigan Consumer Protection Act by charging grossly excessive prices for snacks.
The suit seeks refunds for customers who were overcharged, a civil penalty against the theater chain and any other relief Judge Kathleen Macdonald might grant.
Two experts interviewed by the Freep predicted the suit wouldn't stand up in court for legal reasons that aren't related to the snack markup. But the much-publicized lawsuit has focused attention on a favorite consumer gripe.
The Hollywood Reporter added to the debate:
Exactly how much do movie theaters make on concessions? According to one Morningstar equity analyst, of every dollar spent on candy and soda in movie theaters, 85% is pure profit. Another review of the business of selling popcorn reveals that $30 worth of raw popcorn is worth as much as $3,000 to movie theaters.
(Post continues below.)
Theater owners have said the concession prices are justified because they make so little from ticket sales. From a post we wrote after AMC banned outside snacks in 2009:
"You are not really paying for the movie when you buy a ticket. A certain percentage goes to the studio, and then we have to pay for the double-high ceilings, the digital equipment," Screenland theaters owner Butch Rigby told The Star. "Yes, it is more expensive to buy a candy bar in a movie theater, but you are paying for the experience. We do most of our profits, if not all, on concessions. You wouldn't take an entree into a restaurant."
Movie theaters have the right to set the price of snacks. Does that mean we have to pay those outrageous prices?
We have some suggestions:
- Bring your own, which means sneaking since many of the big theater chains have banned outside snacks. Lawsuit plaintiff Thompson, who is in his 20s, used to bring food with him until AMC posted a sign about the ban. It's up to your conscience whether this is frugal, cheap or even unethical.
- Don't buy the snacks. How difficult is this to do? If you value your health, you'll avoid buttered movie popcorn and a lot of the other unhealthy stuff they sell.
- Offset the cost of snacks with a discounted or free movie. Join the theater loyalty club or take advantage of other special offers, advises Kelli B. Grant in a post on SmartMoney.
- Stay home. And apparently many do. Movie attendance hit a 16-year low in 2011, with only 1.28 billion tickets sold.
- Suck it up and pay the price. We suspect many people will continue to buy the high-priced snacks and complain all the way to their seats.
Why? Brad Tuttle at Time offers one possible explanation:
So, um, is it smart to ask customers to pay $8 for something that costs less than $3 a short walk away? I suppose it is, so long as your customers are stupid enough to agree to pay up.
More on MSN Money:
Grossly overpaid actors. Overpriced tickets. Grossly overpriced concessions. I have no problem with sneaking in food/drink (usually healthy stuff) and sneaking into a double feature that "lines up" right time-wise.
Why don't theaters make more money on the films themselves? Because, like many professional athletes, today's under talented actors/actresses are being paid WAY too much for their so-called "talents."
I believe today's' thespians don't hold a candle to the likes of Cagney, Bogart, George C. Scott, Kirk Douglas and Burr Lancaster of the '40s, '50s and '60s.
I seldom go to the movies any more, but when I do, I almost never buy snacks. For those kinds of prices, I expect endless refills. Also, the trash needs to throw itself away!
Seriously, if movie theater owners/managers would charge more reasonable snack prices, more people would attend movies again. More attendees, more snacks sold, more profit for the owners. Win-win-win!
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