Food Engineer: Roberta Correa guides Cinemark’s F&B in Latin America

Cinemas Features

This month it is a pleasure to introduce to our international readers a Latin American superstar: Roberta Correa, who is in her 18th year serving as the VP of food and beverage at Cinemark International.

Born in Natal, Brazil, and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Correa today resides in São Paulo. She has become a visionary for Cinemark International and leads the entire Latin American team as a developer of talented managers, overseeing foodservice in 15 countries.

Correa’s father was a member of the Brazilian Air Force; hence she traveled with her family often in her early years. She earned her first degree in electrical engineering from Pontifica Universidade Católica, followed by a Master’s degree in production engineering, and worked as an engineer at Embraer, an airline enterprise

“My father was a pilot in the Brazilian Air Force,” she remembers. “It was so much fun, as he would always take us for rides in his plane since he had to earn flying time. My brother, sister and I always loved being with my father in his planes. My dad was a huge influence in my life, so professional and educated in aeronautics. I think this is why I wanted to be an engineer.”

After working for a local brewing company building and constructing new facilities, Roberta approached her supervisor about finding other employment since she had just had her first child—she wanted something a little stressful. She was elated when he suggested a job in the cinema industry. “My boss was very kind and referred me to Cinemark. I was so happy,” she recalla. “It seemed like an excellent idea to work [in] the entertainment business and help make the world a happier place.”

Correa began her employment at Cinemark in 2000, when they operated seven locations in Brazil. “My first interview was with Maria Angles, the vice president of food and beverage at Cinemark, who presided over the international concessions operations. Maria was very special and became my mentor. I cannot thank her enough.”

Through her tenure, the number of locations has grown to over 85 cinemas in Brazil alone. After Angles left her position at Cinemark, Correa was chosen to guide the Latin America concessions operations. Currently, she oversees food and beverage for 201 Latin American cinemas. In November, Cinemark will open its first self-serve concession operation in Costa Rica. “I am so proud of how we can improve our offerings to the Latin American communities. This will be a big step for us, not only for Cinemark International, but for all the people in Costa Rica.” This endeavor may become the model for future developments.

As for the future of foodservice in the Latin American countries, “I believe we must listen to the customers and provide the provincial snacks and beverages that meet local preferences,” she contends. “Each country has distinctive fare and I think we should deliver those unique snacks to our patrons.” She admits she cannot do it alone. “I try to give a lot of autonomy to each country head. So I develop very clear guidelines for each F&B model/project that Cinemark offers; this includes looking for trends, recommended presentations, training and product mix.”

Correa believes her success stems from multiple styles of management. “I think I am a prognosticator in that I attempt to foresee the future, yet I try to be a sculptor in forming plans. I know I am an engineer, since we build paths to reach the intended goals.” She also enjoys developing her team’s individual aptitudes. She admits sometimes she has to be a magician to bring it all together.

“Our great challenge will always be training [our] staff. We know that technology has changed a lot the way we sell tickets and popcorn, but it cannot replace the service provided by a well-trained staff when accommodating the guest or delivering their order. Service is the DNA of our business.” In a time when most operators are dealing with the challenges of bigger menus, adult beverages and in-theatre dining, she believes service to the guest will always be the number-one goal.

Roberta enjoys telling a story about her children’s visit to her workplace. “I had to take the boys to work with me one day—after all, they want to see why Mommy goes to the office. I let them see the paraphernalia and things while I worked on my computer. At the end of the day, the youngest asked the oldest, ‘So what does mommy do?’ The eldest responded, ‘She makes popcorn on her computer.’” Ah, if only it were that simple.

Roberta confesses that while she tries to maintain a healthy diet, she does enjoy popcorn (with lemon pepper topping) and candy at the movies. And not a small amount, “only the biggest sizes,” she laughs. When she is not at the movies, she enjoys tennis, swimming in the ocean and running—she competes in at least one half-marathon each year. She also affirms that she will watch E.T. anytime it appears onscreen. Her favorite actor of all time is Robert De Niro.

Roberta Correa has engineered a terrific career and shares her life with her two sons, Miguel, 18, and Rafael, 16.