“Ah. So this is how it looks like before the customers rush in at opening,” I thought to myself. The area at the back of the cinema was still dark, obviously untouched by the first shift staff. I was sitting on a small wooden bench, tucked away on the corner of the left entrance. Even though this part of the Cinemark was a closed area, it smelled fresh and breezy with a hint of perfume sprays as each staff member passed by me. That was before I started hearing crackles from the counter, from a wide steel container. There it was too, an empty glass box on the concession counter, glowing with yellow light from below. It was like a treasure box waiting to be filled. As I smelled the scent of butter with shakes of salt, I saw golden-yellow bits trickle out of the steel container and into the glass box. The concessionist, my neighbor Forrest Gueterman, filled up the glass box quickly and the freshly popped corn shone even more, like newly polished golden coins, when it was all compressed into that gleaming glass box. How can anyone resist these temptations?
As I sat there, I saw people in black shoes, black socks, black slacks, black polo shirts, and some with black hair too, and all of them had an accessory. The ones in charge of the concession counter had black hats on, while the ushers had a black box on the entrance’s podiums, to place the other halves of the tickets. Then I started seeing people coming in, one by one they headed to the entrances to get their tickets ripped apart, but every one of them, I realized, would peek through the corner of their eyes, to look at the concession counter. I guess it must have been the light from that gleaming glass box. Most of the time; however, it was the children who would take action. They would tug on their parents’ arms while pointing to the concession counter with skips in their steps. “Mom! Mom! Look, look!” Knowing what those few words meant, some parents caved in, while some parents just continued walking to the entrance, dragging their reluctant child along.
The ones who made it to the concession counter had their faces squashed to the clear glass, eyes sparkling with joy, scanning every single treat there is to be eaten. I guess treats like those do mean a lot to the little ones, seeing how they gripped the candy bar so tightly in their little hands. However, it didn’t stop there, the mother would then purchase some snacks for herself, and maybe a drink for future thirst quenching. Her total snack bill was $12.46. “Wow!” I thought to myself, “The cost for the candy, snacks, and drinks, would have been less than a $3 investment for the theater. What a profit!”
As noon arrived, I walked out the back entrance, just as I had planned with Forrest. We were heading to the nearby café to have lunch when I noticed that he still had his black polo-tee buttoned up smartly even though he was on a break. Funny how work rituals can be stuck in you even after work, reminding me of the time I had my apron on the entire time when I drove home from my cooking classes. However, as we walked across the road he said, “Being a concessionist sucks!” Taken aback, and thought surely he was just a man who is tired from working the whole morning since 7A.M., I kept my silence and allowed him to rant. It turned out that he felt miserable not because of his weariness, but because he felt mistreated by the customers. There had been many occasions where customers arrived 5 minutes before their movie thinking they would have enough time to purchase their tickets and concessions too. Now when they got in late for the movie because of the long line for the concessions, they would take it out on the concessionist. With the customers speaking at the top of their voices, usually with the addition of rude words, the concessionists were usually attacked without any defense because in the service industry “the customers are always right.” Subsequently, I thought about the responsibilities of a concessionist. The work doen’t require much physical strength, but what it does need is steel-hard mental strength, to not melt whenever someone burns them with their words. It is an important aspect of their job, to stay cool despite their circumstances.
When asked about how the cinema sustains itself, Forrest simply said, “It’s all about the concessions,” and that made me doubtful. I had always thought that the main profit-generating segment of cinemas was their ticketing, but it hits me now that this thought would be similar to thinking that chickens can fly.
“How about the movie tickets? Does that not count in closing the profit margin?”
“The tickets might close the gap but it’s the concessions that we depend on for our daily profit. If we miss our target sales for one day, we will have made a loss that day.”
It is true. After further research, the concessions do contribute to a bigger portion of the sales. According to IBISWorld – the world’s leading industry research database – the concessions of a cinema give 25% of its total revenue, compared to just about any genre of films, which is highest at 21% for drama movies. Having that said, MergentOnline – competitive analysis specialists who catalog the annual reports of private companies – show that while admission tickets will earn an average of $635 million a year, the concessions earn an average of $544 million a year. That is a high-value segment in the cinematic world.
I went back to my bench after the lunch hour and I sat there watching the new group of customers in the late afternoon and into the evening. Most of the people who came at night were younger, mostly in couples or big groups of friends. Compared to the customers earlier in the day who mostly had children with them, these younger groups bought fewer snacks and drinks. More often than not, only 1 in a group of 5 would purchase something from the concession stand. I hoped that they have closed their profit margin by then as these transactions didn’t seem like they were going to increase any more than sand can be added to an overturned time glass. Realizing their situation, I decided to get in line and bought myself a bag of freshly popped corn, glistening even in the bag. As I held the warm paper bag in one hand and a movie ticket in the other, I walked to the movie hall wondering, “Will the cinema survive its days without the enticement of these golden coins?”