As a whole, my experiences working behind the concession stand have been both stressful and deeply rewarding. As an avid cinephile, I have a certain level of respect for anyone who goes to see a critically-acclaimed film instead of the newest “Transformers” film or “Daddy’s Home Two.” However, impatience is a personality flaw which afflicts far too many people in contemporary society, especially late-arriving movie theatergoers.
When viewers go to see an Oscar-nominated film during the holiday season, they might not appreciate the hard work of the employees behind the concession stand. During Truman State University’s 2017 winter break, I was one of those concession workers, attempting to keep up with sometimes overwhelming swarms of hungry and thirsty moviegoers.
I worked at Plaza Frontenac Cinema, a small movie theater in St. Louis. Frontenac shows many under-the-radar movies that are not shown in large multiplexes.
The cinema is located in an upper-class mall, surrounded by stores which only generally attract the ultra-wealthy.
Despite the niche location, the cinema attracts a wide variety of visitors who can bond over their love, or hatred, of cinema.
The variety of movies shown and the massive array of concession items separate Plaza Frontenac Cinema from other cinemas in St. Louis which is both a blessing and a curse for the employees.
Plaza Frontenac not only has the traditional selection of edible goodies like popcorn and candy, but also has a surprisingly varied selection of “gourmet” food items. This also includes espresso drinks and alcoholic beverages. If a moviegoer feels the need to eat an entire freshly cooked 12-inch pizza while marveling at Daniel Day-Lewis’ captivating performance in “Phantom Thread,” they can.
While the variety of concession items is reminiscent of a restaurant, it’s important to note that concession sales are the primary revenue for the theater — rather than ticket sales.
While I understand the importance of not missing the beginning of a film or the trailers before the film starts, working behind the concession stand is much more difficult than many realize. The variety of food and drink items for sale requires employees at the cinema to stay on their toes because customers are rushing to get food. On the unfortunate occasion when there’s technical difficulties with the popcorn popper or the espresso machine, employees face a large amount of pressure to remedy the issue as quickly as humanly possible. Especially during the holiday movie season when the theater often becomes packed with customers. As a result, any problem behind the stand becomes an emotional thrill-ride for unlucky employees.
Traversing the concession stand during a busy “rush” proves a sometimes harrowing adventure in its own right. I’ve had to physically run during a busy shift, grabbing water bottles from one end of the stand and hurrying to prevent a pizza from overcooking on the other side, while at the same time accidentally bumping into coworkers, who scoop popcorn and prepare the 200th Diet Coke order of the day. At some points throughout the December movie season, it seems as though thousands of eyes bear down on me as I hurriedly scoop popcorn into easily-rippable bags. Other common occurrences include customers ordering multiple “gourmet” food items at once, leading employees to scramble to cook everything quickly.
The layout of the theater also doesn’t facilitate customers’ kindness. While most movie theaters have restrooms located inside, Plaza Frontenac Cinema does not. Not a single shift passes where I don’t have to exclaim, “Restrooms are located to the left of Saks Fifth Avenue,” and see the solemn expressions of customers as they realize they must leave the theater and embark on an epic 40-foot quest to relieve themselves.
While working at the theater presented me with numerous challenges, the benefits and overall experience outweigh the negatives. I’ve developed meaningful friendships with all my fellow employees, as well as the theater managers. These bonds have been forged through our collective love of cinema, as well as through the bonds of traumatic, hectic shifts.
Working at a movie theater has given me a new perspective on theater employees. The majority of all theater employees are hardworking, diligent people who are making minimum wage salaries.
It’s important to us employees that you have a good movie theater experience, but it’s also important to take into account that we aren’t robots. We have feelings, we’re trying our best and we hope you enjoy the show.