Delivering value: Do your food offerings match your presentation?


Back in 2012, Consumer Reports ran an article that featured outside packages of grocery foods that did not resemble the inside contents. It was a big hit with the readers and they ran a similar article in the June 2014 issue. It highlighted some of the biggest culprits. In the back of the magazine was a picture of a label for New England Clam Chowder that did not in fact contain any clams.

The article was spot-on, hitting a nerve with the consumer who is offered one thing and actually delivered something else. I thought about how this applies to the cinema industry. Are we ever guilty of this cardinal sin? We have been accused of many negative things, such as delivering food that has too many calories, drinks that are too large for any one consumer, and concessions in general that are too high-priced. But do we ever offer something and then deliver less?

This is an important question for us to ask ourselves, especially as we brace for perhaps a weaker box office in the second half of 2014. We must deliver strong on our additional products and services to keep our patrons coming in the door, even if the film product is not as enticing as it could be. The concession stand, the bar, the restaurant must all beckon to the customer to spend a Friday night with us anyway, and see a film they had not intended to because the theatre is a happening place to be.

So, starting with our concession stand food and beverage products, do they match the outside picture on the box? More importantly, do they match the new digital photos that are so front and center now with our new digital menu board systems? It might seem like a good idea to really embellish the photos on the board overhead, to create the impulse buy. But if that picture of the hot dog does not match what you hand to the consumer, be prepared for the backlash. Maybe even a refund. How about the pizza, or the chicken nuggets? Do they match?

Some products are easier to deliver an exact match. A picture of bottled water typically matches the bottled water. A fountain soda really does look like the bubbling soda in the picture, as long as the fountains are working properly. Popcorn is another one that should be easy to pull off, as long as you are showing a full popcorn bag, and actually delivering that.

What about candy? Do we deliver enough candy in the theatre box or the peg bag to match the consumer’s expectation? I have only had the bad experience on a few occasions of opening up a theatre box to the feeling that there was almost no product inside, compared to the size of the box. But that was all it took, one time, and I never bought that product again. Consumer perception of value is critical to create repeat sales, and critical to making the consumer trust you enough to try new things. If you want to move the consumer over to the bar or the new restaurant you have opened, you need to have their trust to try it.

Value goes hand-in-hand with price, and a review of price has occurred many times in this column. But delivering value encompasses price in a way that means the consumer does make a very quick judgment as to whether their purchase was worth it. At the concession stand, this means they will make a quick decision as to whether the box of candy they just purchased for $4.50 is worth the contents they received inside.

At the bar or the restaurant, the consumer will make the same decision as to whether the food service received was worth the money paid. For a beer, this is an easy formula; it’s a standard-size bottle or can, with a fairly standardized price range. Wine is much more subjective, with varying glass sizes, and hard liquor comes down to whether you have free pour or not. But at the restaurant, you must deliver the offered product the way it is described, and with good quality. I have ordered food that didn’t come close to the description on the menu. It’s frustrating and disappointing. I would prefer to know exactly what I’m ordering and getting every time instead of being upsold or advertised with a product that doesn’t come through.

You will not find many consumers who do not feel the same. Some are just more vocal than others. But all of them will make themselves heard through their actions, such as never returning. One of the products featured in the Consumer Reports article was a pastry product that I actually had bought. My experience was exactly what was described in the article: The picture looks nothing like the product inside. I have never bought it again. It was a good reminder that we are working in an industry where image matters, but so does quality. We might not be the ones delivering the film product. But when it comes to the food and beverage product in our theatres, we are absolutely in charge of our own destiny. Making good choices on product to sell, advertising them correctly, and delivering them to the consumer with pride are all in our power to do.

Send your comments to Anita Watts at