The Data and Analysis of Concessions: Studying the numbers really matters

Snack Corner

DNA is the biological frame that determines the characteristics of a living organism. Often when describing the framework of a cinema, we refer to the DNA that establishes the structure and procedures of the business. In cinemas, the structure is such that the film itself is the primary reason patrons are attracted to your business. But there are other traits that distinguish one theatre from another. Data aNd Analysis are vitally important to the success of a theatre, since they reveal what attributes complement the film. Equally important, data and analysis can determine the success of the concessions operation.

DNA requires RNA to deliver the right message to your employees. In this case, Results iN Analysis give the cinema operator reasons to apply changes or continue the functions and practices that work. Results will always determine how any future decisions about advanced applications are made. And results have no true substance if analysis doesn’t take place.       

Recently, a study by Dr. Radesh Palakurthi, dean of The Kemmons Wilson School of Hospitality and Resort Management, The University of Memphis, revealed data that in some ways is interesting and in others ways not surprising. Dr. Palakurthi proposed the question: Have modern approaches to foodservice in theatres had an effect on attendance? He collected data for a period of 30 days in April 2018. He used Qualtrics, a nationally known survey group, to qualify the respondents. The individuals had to qualify under very strict guidelines before their responses were accepted. After collecting 22,000 valid and impartial responses, he set about determining the influence of various factors in the decision-making process. He named 10 trade-off attributes/traits to consider when choosing a theatre to attend. They included theatre food and beverages, theatre proximity, ticket prices, seating options, reserved seating, movie excitement level, food-ordering options, theatre location, showtimes and theatre size/screens.

The research inquired: Why do patrons choose one theatre over another? Which amenities or options have the most impact on that decision? What subconscious trade-offs are made when making food purchases? Which amenities and options have the best ROI for theatres? The overall approach was to understand the complex interplay of theatre attributes that influence decision-making. The research also aimed at highlighting the relationship between demographics and concession food choices. This effort was made to deliver live data to help theatre operators make better decisions regarding foodservice. What attributes should cinema owners be focused on to be more attractive to the patron? What features are most valued by the patron?

An important question in the discovery process was: What concession items did you purchase on your last visit? Not surprisingly, sodas/beverage led the way. However, regular sodas bested diet sodas by a factor of three; bottled water purchases were half the diet-drink purchases. This is a reverse of trends from the past three years. 32% of the respondents purchased popcorn. Less than 1.5% purchased an adult beverage. Less than 1% purchased a salad or vegetables and dip. This detail may be skewed, since not all theatres sell alcohol or greens.

A complementary question was: What food and beverages would you be willing to purchase at a cinema? This is where it gets interesting. Sodas, popcorn, candy, were over 35%; however, craft beers, adult beverages and healthy food options were also above 35%. What this tells the examiner is that patrons would like to see options, a broader scope of selections, and yet they still may not buy them. This is why studying the individual theatre’s performance and sales mix is essential. Why spend thousands of dollars retrofitting a concession stand when 90% of the public wants traditional concessions with a slight twist or additions?

The results in analysis (RNA) of the data showed that patrons prefer extended menus over traditional concessions. In-theatre dining was plausible but not the preferred choice. Adult beverages are appreciated but not required to make the experience notable. The food and beverage ordering option most desired is in-person ordering, with the patron getting a pager. The least optimal choice was electronic ordering from the seat. (Please remember each of the categories had some positive responses and I am delivering the highest level of preference.) In summary, the results showed that moviegoers like extended choices, but they do not like the interference of food delivery in the auditorium. (There is more data that could contradict this result if the visit is a special occasion.)

After collecting the data, Dr. Palakurthi then furthered the analytical process by employing the firm, which weighed the importance of each factor in influencing a trip to the cinema. When the least valued options in the ten survey categories were applied, only 31% of the population would go out to a movie. However, when the excitement level of the movie rose from “not excited” to “very excited,” the probability increased by 53% to 84%. If the ticket prices are low or reasonable, there’s another 4% increase to 88%. When the best foodservice options were added, there was no change. The research then asked: What would the patron pay over the normal ticket price for any of these traits? Those “very excited” to see a movie were OK with an added $4 per ticket. Patrons were willing to pay an additional $2.75 per ticket for recliners. Finally, moviegoers were willing to pay an additional six cents if the theatre offered extended menus and adult-style beverages.

The results from the data are compelling. Good for a concessionaire, maybe not so delightful for a food and beverage advocate. For a complete review of the study, contact NAC’s Dan Borschke at

Larry Etter is senior vice president at Malco Theatres and director of education at the National Association of Concessionaires.