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Just How Big is the Markup on Movie Theater Food?

 

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We all know that movie-theater food is expensive: The concession stand employees should give you your large Coke before they ring it up, just so you can do a proper spit take when you hear the price. This is just a fact of life we have to accept, like sticky theater floors and shared-armrest jousting. But it’s worth asking: Just how overpriced is movie food? To find out, we turned to the guy who wrote the book on the subject: Richard B. McKenzie, professor emeritus at the UC Irvine Merage School of Business and author of Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies and Other Pricing Puzzles. Here are the markups for the biggest cinema staples:

Popcorn

  • $8.15: The average cost* of a large bucket popcorn (with free refill)
  • 90¢: The estimated cost of the raw goods needed to make it, per McKenzie’s research

That’s a markup of nearly 90 percent from kernel to consumption. Though for you bargain hunters with big appetites, if you get a refill, that margin drops to around 79 percent.

Soda

  • $6.31: The average cost* of a large soda
  • 40¢: The estimated cost of the raw syrup that goes into a 50.5 oz. large Coke.

Adding in the cost of cups (say from Costco, $.07 apiece), lids (half a cent each), straws (about a penny per), and soda water (about 2 cents a serving) it’d be more like 51 cents a cup. Tack on another 40 cents if the moviegoer gets a free refill, and it’s still an 86 percent markup.

Candy

  • $4.25: The cost of plain M&Ms at AMC
  • $2.08: The cost of plain M&Ms from Wal-Mart

All in all a (relative) bargain at a 51 percent markup.

Why is it so damned expensive? Well, it kind of has to be if you want movie theaters to exist. According to McKenzie, theater owners need these concessions profits to cover the dozens of hidden house costs — employee wages, installation of snazzy sounds systems, energy bills, for example — since most of the actual ticket money gets sent back up the ladder to the movie studios. “If movie theaters didn’t make as much off concessions, they’d want to charge more for tickets,” says McKenzie. But raising ticket prices is complicated because movie studios “put contractual controls on theaters in terms of prices they can charge.”

The theaters — much like expensive airport newsstands — capitalize on the fact that once you get into the building, they have a monopoly on your appetite. Where else are you gonna get popcorn, bub? (Don’t answer that: Yahoo does not wish to be an accessory to your snack smuggling.) So you only have one defense against these prices: will power. As McKenzie notes, you’re only in the theater for a couple hours. “[The theaters] have you to a degree,” he warns, “but if you have so little control over your consumption behavior then you’re just going to get caught.” In which case, savor every bite and try not to picture how much every kernel is costing you.

*Based on our survey of theater locations in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.

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I'd share this with WoKzoo but she would just smack me in the head.  She loves her movie theater popcorn.  Up until about a year ago we had a theater about 2 miles away.  Several times a year she would request that I go there just to buy her a bucket of popcorn.  One night I asked the young lady behind the counter if I was the only person who ever came in just to buy the stuff.  She told me that they have several customers each week that do the same.  Mind you that several years ago I bought her a twirler popper, flavored oil and flavored popcorn salt to be able to make it at home but you know - to her it just isn't the same.  No one else can tell the difference.

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I'd share this with WoKzoo but she would just smack me in the head. She loves her movie theater popcorn. Up until about a year ago we had a theater about 2 miles away. Several times a year she would request that I go there just to buy her a bucket of popcorn. One night I asked the young lady behind the counter if I was the only person who ever came in just to buy the stuff. She told me that they have several customers each week that do the same. Mind you that several years ago I bought her a twirler popper, flavored oil and flavored popcorn salt to be able to make it at home but you know - to her it just isn't the same. No one else can tell the difference.

your wife does this to give herself some time away from you. :O
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your wife does this to give herself some time away from you. :o

 

15 minutes tops??  She's much better than that.  And she doesn't need to send be out on a 15 minute errand -  she just needs to jump in her car and head to the mall.  That's good for several hours of Kzoo free time.

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Popcorn

  • $8.15: The average cost* of a large bucket popcorn (with free refill)
  • 90¢: The estimated cost of the raw goods needed to make it, per McKenzie’s research

That’s a markup of nearly 90 percent from kernel to consumption. 

 

I'm not very smart, but even I know how to calculate percentage of markup.  This example is approximately 800 percent markup, not 90 percent.

 

 

  • The mark up percentage M, in decimal form, is gross profit P divided by cost C.
    • M = P/ C
    • M * 100 will change the decimal to a percentage.
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I'm not very smart, but even I know how to calculate percentage of markup.  This example is approximately a 900 percent markup, not 90 percent.

 

 

  • The mark up percentage M, in decimal form, is gross profit P divided by cost C.
    • M = P/ C
    • M * 100 will change the decimal to a percentage.

 

 

What's a missing zero?  No big deal.

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I don't look at a movie as a reason to be a sugar-pig or popcorn pig, I am all cool like that. I pig out whenever the urge strikes.  It still freaks me out how seemingly normal people suddenly behave like cattle in the feed lot when they get to a theater.  Really, I just don't like to hear other people's gustatory noises, that just grosses me out.

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