Behind the scenes: Backroom planning is key in concession operations


The movement toward expanded food and beverage options in the movie theatre continues to gain speed as the concession counter changes along with the addition of cafés, bars, and restaurants. We have reviewed many aspects of this trend including the consumer perspective, the wide range of menu options, the equipment, and the distribution challenges that accompany expansion. The view that an expanded food and beverage offering is benefiting the industry is widely accepted now and many companies only question the best method for doing so. One of the most basic places to start is with the design and remodel of an expanded menu offering. So we sought the expertise of one of the leading companies involved with making that happen, Proctor Companies.

The design has two dimensions: the public design of the consumer experience and the design of the service area that allows you to expand the menu. The consumer interaction with the concession stand, café or bar is important, without doubt. The goal of an expanded menu for the consumer is to enhance the overall experience within the theatre building. But this does not go well if the food or beverage being served is not of the highest quality. To make that happen, the service area behind the scenes has to be capable of actually delivering the quality experience. This is one of the areas that Proctor has placed special emphasis on, since the service of the food and beverage must dictate the satisfaction with the experience overall.

Proctor has created ProctorID™, its specialty design-build department for in-theatre dining. Proctor sees theatres—both new construction and renovations—being built around a new, multi-service, multi-product model where patrons visit not just to watch movies, but also to enjoy a meal, have some drinks, and socialize with friends. It’s essentially a theatre/restaurant hybrid. The goal is for patrons to spend more time in the venue—and more money. In the ProctorID model, the public portions of the theatre are more inviting, spacious and comfortable. Auditoriums support food and beverage service with dining tables and wait staff. But perhaps the greatest differences can be found in backroom ordering, food prep and delivery systems.

Proctor places special interest in the “invisibles” of in-theatre dining. The "backroom" fixtures and systems are critical to a successful ID renovation or new construction. Proctor’s ID designs focus on those backroom fixtures and systems that ensure that theatre owners don't experience a bottleneck in the production and delivery of food and beverage services. Cold food, warm beer and long wait times create unhappy customers, no matter how nice the bar stools are. This is something that often goes unaddressed until the service issues show themselves to be glaring problems. Offering a wide array of food and beverages is a great way to increase revenue. But you have to be able to serve it. If you can, it pays off. Proctor indicates they are seeing payoffs as high as $24 per capita with their build-outs. But what does it take to make that happen?

I asked Bruce Proctor what some of those key elements are among the “invisibles” that have to be present for an in-theatre dining operation to be wildly successful. He responded, “In typical in-theatre dining, the food and beverage order is taken by a server, entered into the POS system, processed at the cook line, assembled by runners in the expo area, and delivered to patrons by the servers. And the timeframe for food delivery is highly compressed. With a complex system such as this, there are a number of design issues that, if left unaddressed, will have a negative impact on the customer experience. At Proctor Companies, we have learned to consider these issues at the very beginning of the design phase.”

He continued, “We locate and size dry storage areas, walk-in coolers and freezers, keg coolers, food-prep lines, cook lines and expo areas to function efficiently even during peak demand. Dishwashing and trash-disposal equipment must also be designed to keep pace. We specify that hallways, often jammed with servers and runners moving in both directions, are wide enough for them to easily pass each other and are laid out with clear lines of sight to prevent collisions.

“Then there are the details. For instance, we will specify lighting that enables servers to function efficiently and for patrons to see and pay their bills in low-light auditoriums. If the theatre owner plans to use metal silverware, we may recommend finger-food menu items to reduce noise. We will even suggest ways to minimize the impact of in-auditorium spills and accidents.”

Proctor is focusing on a critical part of a successful expanded menu. Designing from the backroom first gives you the foresight, not hindsight, to create a productive yet efficient operation. Patrons have proven they will try the experience, they want the experience, and they love a fresh new approach to the way they can enjoy the social experience of a theatre. But we must make sure that the experience is good in the most basic form: offering great-quality food and beverages. That must start with the end goal in mind, and the flow of goods and services that go into it, not just the beauty of the chair that we sit in.

Send your comments to Anita Watts at