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Friday, July 12, 2013

Confessions of a Movie Theater Employee: Tips and Tricks

If you are among the awesome people who take part in listening to our podcast each week, it may not surprise you to learn that I am a former movie theater employee.  I believe I have made mention several times of my experiences working at a movie theater, but each of those moments has been rather brief.  Here at GeekRex, we have been working to create a website which provides more than just reviews, but also features.  Enter: Confessions of a Movie Theater Employee, or COAMTE for you twitter users.  Taking my experience of spending time working at one of my hometown's local movie theaters, I have decided to bring a series of feature articles which will be published from time to time.  Do not expect this to be a weekly thing by any means, but don't be surprised if 1-2 pop up each month.  This will be a series for me to share my experiences, rant about things that happen at the movie theater I find annoying, maybe tell a funny story or two, and, in the case of today's posting, offering tips and tricks for making the most of your time at a movie theater.  I hope that you all get a lot out of this and enjoy it as much as I have had fun working on it.  

DISCLAIMER: It is not my intention at all for this article or any that follow to make me seem rude, conceited, or superior about my experiences of working at the movie theater.  This is all in good fun.

From April 2007 to January 2011, I worked at one of my hometown's local movie theaters.  I began my experience of working at said theater at the tail end of my senior year in high school.  It was, frankly, a relief for me to finally have a part time job, something my parents had been bugging me about getting for some time.  Never would I have guessed that my experiences at this theater would be one of the greatest experiences of my life, creating memories I would keep with me to cherish forever and friendships I still hold dear to my heart.  Even though I have a love for teaching, it will be hard for any "real" job to top the time spent working at a movie theater.  For purposes of confidentiality and what not, I will refrain from telling you which theater I worked at.  The theater is now closed, but it was part of a chain of movie theaters that is very much so still in business.

Through my years working at the movie theater, I learned quite a bit about people and their general habits when it came to going to see a movie.  Let me tell you, most people are not as respectful inside and outside of the theater as you would like to imagine.  Many customers would tell me this was their first time seeing a movie in a theater for many years or that they had never been to a theater before.  It was great to see so many people enjoying their time at the movies, but many different...situations...would happen which showed me that it seemed a lot of people did not have a good handle on how to properly go see a movie (I know this sounds weird, but hopefully it will make more sense at the end).  Therefore, for my first article in this series, I have decided to give a list of tips and tricks to best maximize your time at the movies.  Every experience is different, so I cannot ensure this means you will have an amazing time, but I hope that some or all of these tips help your experience flow more smoothly.  

Before we get into the finer details of how to best maximize your time at the movies, we need to lay down one very important ground rule.  This is a rule which, if broken, will only ensure you are annoying everyone around you, including the employees of the movie theater.  Since this is such an important rule, and one which I will be referring back to often, we will simply call it Rule One.  It is as follows:

RULE ONE: Don't be a jerk.

I promise it is really as simple as that.  Sure, your local theater will have its own set of rules in addition to this, but, trust me, if you do nothing else when you go see a movie, follow Rule One.  Following Rule One will help you in places that aren't movie theaters as well.  If you feel you have a good handle on that rule, let's move on to the true tips.  They have been broken down into a number of categories...

Before Leaving Your Home

So, you have decided to partake in seeing a movie!  Whether it is a highly anticipated release, something you have been holding off on for whatever reason, or you are just bored or tired of spending time with your family on a holiday, you have decided to take part in one of the best forms of entertainment this country has to offer.  Before you embark upon your cinematic adventure, however, there are some tips to keep in mind:
  • Decide on a Theater: For some cities, this may not be a difficult choice at all.  My hometown used to have two theaters, but whichever one you went to really depended on what was playing (the theater I worked at would get some movies, the other would get the rest).  If you live in a larger city where you have plenty of options, it really does not matter which criteria you use for choosing your theater, but make sure you are aware of where it is located.  I had plenty of customers show up at our theater, only to realize the movie they wanted to see was playing elsewhere.
  • Decide on a Showtime: Again, another seemingly obvious decision, but, trust me, this is one that we would have many customers get wrong.  Not only is this a matter of knowing when you should leave to see the movie, but, if done correctly, it can also be a way of beating the crowds.  The best advice I can give on showtimes is this: If you are wanting to see a film which attracts a large audience of kids and you would like to avoid that mess, go see a later show (preferably after 9 or 10 PM).  If you are wanting to see a horror movie or something sure to attract a lot of teenagers, go see it at an early afternoon showing on a weekday.  Unfortunately, blockbusters and other genres are a bit harder to predict, so just go with whatever time works best for YOU.
Arriving at the Theater

So, you have arrived at the theater and are ready to see your movie.  Here are some tips for navigating the ticket booth (or box office):
  • Arrive Early/On Time: This is yet another tip which you would think would be obvious to many, but it seems to be a hard concept for many movie theater customers to grasp.  Extenuating circumstances aside, it is generally a good idea to arrive early or right on time (within 5-10 minutes) for your movie's showtime.  It is a simple way to ensure you get your tickets, concessions, and seats without much hassle.  This is also where deciding on a showtime before leaving can come in handy.
  • Prices: Look, let me level with you here, every single employee at the movie theater knows that movie tickets aren't cheap.  Yes, we get in for free, but that does not mean we have never had to shell out $8-15 for a movie ticket.  It is sad that prices have risen so much, but, unless your theater is privately owned, there is nothing the management or employees can do to ease the financial burden.  This is where Rule One is absolutely essential.  Note: The surcharge on your 3D or IMAX movie ticket is not you paying for the glasses, so don't ask.
  • Rewards Card: This ties into prices.  Many movie theater chains will offer a rewards card of some sort, which you can use at the box office (sometimes the concession stand) to build points towards free items like popcorn, candy, and movie tickets.  Take advantage of this offer.  It may be annoying to have employees ask you if you want a rewards card, but these things are incredibly beneficial if you are like me and see multiple movies a month.  The best part? These rewards cards are FREE.
  • Listen for your Auditorium Number: Depending on how your theater does things, you will either be told your auditorium number at the box office or by a ticket taker.  Please, please, please pay attention to this.  This is the biggest mistake most customers make, and they often find themselves lost because they did not pay attention.  If you can't remember where the employee told you to go, your ticket should also have the auditorium's number printed on it.  It's not rocket science.
Getting Concessions

If you are like me, you were probably raised on the belief that it is a cardinal sin to not at least get popcorn and a drink when you go to see a movie.  This is where most new hires at a movie theater start out.  Here are some tips on obtaining your snacks:
  • Prices (Again): Once again, the concessions employees are just as aware as the ones at the ticket booth that the prices are high.  Follow Rule One and don't make too much of a fuss to the employees over this, there is nothing they can do.  Concessions are how movie theaters make their money and stay in business, so think of it as you supporting your local cinema for giving you the gift of movies.  This is also a place where the rewards card can come in handy.  Ultimately, don't break the bank to get a tub of popcorn.  If you don't feel like spending the extra money, no one is forcing you.
  • Decide What You Want Before Reaching the Counter: This tip is pretty self-explanatory, but one that many people often forget.  It's fun to see a movie with your friends, but you'll have plenty of time to talk to them before and after the movie.  When you're in line at the concession stand, be looking over the menu so that you know what you want, and you'll be amazed at how much quicker you get through your time there.
  • Special Popcorn Tip: If you're a big fan of butter on your popcorn, ask to have your butter layered.  It means that the employee (or you depending on the theater) will put butter on the popcorn in the middle of the bag and on top.
  • Refillables: Much like a fast food joint, your movie theater probably does not have a margin of over $1 between drink/popcorn size prices.  If you know you're going to be eating and drinking a lot, go ahead and splurge for the biggest size that you can refill.  You'll be glad you did.
  • Cleanliness: In addition to being next to godliness, cleanliness at the concession stand will keep you from annoying the employees.  Sure, part of our job is to clean, but you can save a lot of time for us by making sure you aren't getting popcorn all over the counter and floor.
During the Movie

Okay, you're finally in the theater seeing the movie.  This was the entire reason you even left your house, so here are two tips for making your movie watching enjoyable:
  • Turn Off Your Cell Phone: This is perhaps the most basic movie theater rule of the past decade, but it is also the one almost everyone breaks.  It all goes back to Rule One.  No matter how dim you think your cell phone light is, I guarantee you are annoying at least one other person who is also trying to enjoy the movie.  You paid up to $50 or more in concessions and tickets to be in this seat, don't waste your time looking at your phone! WATCH THE MOVIE!  If that text message just has to be answered right now, leave the auditorium to answer it, and come back in once you have completed texting.  If you notice someone in the theater using their cell phone, feel free to report it to a movie theater employee or manager.  Or, if you are more daring, you could always take matters into your own hands and tell the person to turn it off.  Facebook and Twitter are fun, but you came to see a movie.  You can use your cell phone at home, but this movie is only playing here.
  • Stop Talking When the Movie Begins: I'm beginning to feel like a parent with this section.  No talking is perhaps the oldest movie theater rule there is, and talking during a movie is one of the easiest ways to break Rule One.  Your theater may be different, but the one I worked for was fine with light chatter during the ads and trailers, but talking during the movie was always strictly prohibited.  Once again, this is a matter of taking the time to enjoy something which can only be enjoyed in one place.  I promise your friends will be there after the movie, talk to them then.  If you can't stop yourself from talking during the movie, why did you even come?
Leaving the Theater

Alright, so the movie is over.  Whether you enjoyed the film or not, it's time to leave.  Here is one last tip to ensure your next time at the movies is a good one:
  • Throw Away Your Stuff: If you bought concessions prior to seeing the movie, or, heaven forbid, you snuck a few snacks in, please take the few seconds to throw these items away upon exiting the theater.  Popcorn and candy are going to spill in the floor sometimes, that's just the way they are, and we as movie theater employees are more than happy to sweep such items up for you.  Taking the time to throw away empty containers is just a sign that you are as respectful of the theater and its employees as they are of you.  It is the easiest way to follow Rule One without ever speaking to someone.  An auditorium without containers left in the seats and aisles is much quicker to clean up, allowing for the people ready to see the next show to be admitted sooner.  You wouldn't leave your trash sitting around at a friends house, so please don't do it here.

Okay, so I know this article is very long, but I hope that you can appreciate some of the advice that I have offered here.  I realize a lot of it may seem very basic to many of you, or something you already find yourself doing, which means you are a great customer and movie theater employees like me probably like you.  If you are guilty of not following any of the rules listed above, hopefully this has been more of an eye opening experience to you at how others view such behavior.  If you like what you see here or have any tips of your own for making the best of a movie theater visit, feel free to sound off in the comments below!  Know someone who is guilty of any of the above actions?  Share this with them!  Thanks for reading, and enjoy your time at the movies!
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  1. Might I add: Cupholders.
    Empty the blasted cupholders. You're not helping by leaving your trash jammed in this tiny space.

  2. I have been with people who have popcorn and soda and when we leave, they leave their containers. I've asked them why they don't just throw it out themselves and they respond with "Because that's what the people who clean the theaters are supposed to do. I'm making sure they have a job." I was not happy with that response and threw out the stuff myself. I just don't understand why people find it so hard to throw away a paper bag and cup.

  3. As a current movie theater employee, this is SO accurate! Thank you for sharing.
    Extra tip: if you don't like your movie or you realize that you have been sent to the wrong auditorium, PLEASE leave immediately and let an employee know. We are much more likely to accommodate you (refund your money, give you free passes) if you come out of the movie 15 minutes into it rather than after the movie is over. Why would you stay in the movie if you don't like it or it is the wrong one?!


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