Dining Do’s & Don’ts: How to ensure great F&B service for your cinema guests

Cinemas Features

Established in 2000, Studio Movie Grill (SMG) modernized the traditional moviegoing experience by combining first-run movies with full-service, in-theatre dining. As director of organizational development, here are some of the things I’ve learned about creating the best experience for our guests.


1. One of the best pieces of advice I can give someone to ensure professional and efficient dining hospitality in the in-theatre dining segment is to develop a nurturing culture.

Start by putting your team members first by ensuring a positive and fun environment where your team members feel their voice matters. You will not only see less turnover and improved Net Promoter Scores, but also team members who are truly engaged and deliver a better hospitality experience to your guests.

Some of the ways SMG impacts culture is through our e-learning and social portal. On our e-learning social site, we routinely recognize our team members and our locations. We find reasons to celebrate our team and we tell their inspiring stories. We also give them a direct pathway to growth through courses that benefit them beyond SMG, whether it is expanding their language skills or improving their wellness. Simply stated, put your team first.

2. Another important lesson is to become consistent in your business processes. In our complex business model and large facilities, it is easy to get distracted or taken off task. Begin with a thorough training program with tools that are readily available for your team to access and apply. The days of tacit knowledge cannot sustain us in the fast-paced environment we work in. It takes detailed, specific instruction and simple tools to deliver a memorable experience. The key is for every team member to know their role and their contribution to the team. Through these defined processes we can get narrowly focused in delivering the best guest experience.

3. No conversation about best practices would be complete without discussing quality. Food and service quality are key to any organization’s long-term success.

Being your toughest critic is healthy in driving the absolute best service and food quality. Having accurate training materials and assessment tools to measure performance is key to understanding the “pain points” of service and food execution. By routinely assessing products and service, you can provide “coaching in the moment” to both managers and team members to quickly correct any misses. By consistently assessing your performance and coaching to reach excellence, everyone improves their eye for detail. There must always be a check and balance in ensuring you are delivering what you say you are and having tools to do so should be a vital part of your quality assurance.


1. One of the biggest mistakes an organization can make is to not listen to their people. Listen to everyone at every level, from the dishwasher to the area manager. The best ideas typically come from those closest to the guest experience. I recommend that every organization administer timely surveys from home office to the field, which will ensure that your team feels they are heard and have the support they need. This offers feedback to your team members at multiple levels and keeps the organization informed of any common misses. What is equally important is to take action on the information collected and remove obstacles team members experience in achieving the best guest experience.

2. Another area to avoid is misunderstanding the detailed competencies and behaviors you are looking for in management candidates. Managers impact a multitude of levels in an organization and can have broad differences in their people and financial results based on their management philosophies. It is easy to hire a manager. However, when a manager’s behaviors and competencies don’t align with your company’s, you will probably experience mixed results in performance. This can have devastating effects on your business and reputation. The management selection process is one of the most important decisions an organization can make. Identify what behaviors and competencies really matter to your organization and frame up an assessment that identifies individuals who align with them. Benefits include reduced turnover, more developed managers in the promotion pipeline and improved hourly team member development, to name a few.

3. Don’t have meetings to plan another meeting. Everyone has a story about a meeting where nothing was accomplished and another meeting was scheduled to determine next steps. All meetings should have an objective, a set of committed actions with carved-out time for each attendee and time planned for questions. Consider using meeting templates that align KPIs throughout the organization. This keeps both field and home office teams driving for the same results and initiatives. There is always something happening in the in-theatre dining segment, and keeping the messaging coordinated is critical to making an impact in desired areas.

Finally, here are some basic “tips” and “misses” to bear in mind when delivering in-theatre dining service:


* Select team members who have great attitudes and train the skill. You can’t train happiness.

* All things that can possibly make noise will. Have service staff remove all change and keys that can make noise.

* Always repeat the order. Always repeat the order. This ensures accuracy.

* Dropping off the check should be done with ninja-like precision and efficiency. Map a course and follow it rather than making multiple trips and being a disruption to the guest.

* As a service team member, be present when the film ends. If guests need anything at that time, be there to ensure their needs are met.


* Everybody wants to win, but not everybody is willing to train to win. If you shortcut training, expect mediocracy.

* Never underestimate the power of feedback from your team members. They will tell you what the managers will not. A lot of organizations don’t conduct 360 assessments. It will cost you in attendance and long-term business vitality.

* All complaints should be looked at as an opportunity to learn. Seek to understand why complaints happen—don’t just appease guests with a coupon or pass. Fix the root of the issue. Ask questions.

Studio Movie Grill has 30 locations in nine states, with further expansion planned. SMG was named to Inc.magazine’s List of “Fastest Growing Private Companies” two years in a row. Its legacy programs include Special Needs Screenings, the “Chefs for Children” program, and their annual “Opening Hearts + Minds Award,” which strives to help families and acknowledge local heroes.