411 on the QSR: Quick Service Restaurant offerings expand at cinemas


Many changes have been occurring in cinema food and beverage and many more have been tried. Some ideas work and some don’t. The demand from the consumer has supported the staying power of expanded offerings beyond traditional concessions. The right offering for a particular venue is the goal. We have reviewed many of these choices in this column, from gelato to full-service dining. One path that seems to be demonstrating staying power is the presentation of fast food at the concession counter. The cinema Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) is working.

Pizza has been successfully served in the cinema for many years now. Some of it is uniquely branded and some of it is through national brands such as Uno. But pizza has a high profit margin, has an extended hold time after preparation, and can be prepared in single or multi servings. Traditional fried food, on the other hand, has been a greater challenge. Chicken tenders, hamburgers, wings or fries have been successful for some and not for others for many years. But some changes in both equipment and food product have changed that.

Equipment has improved in cook times, space requirements, product demands, and end result. Some of the top-line equipment in use today, such as Turbo Chef and Amana, have recognized the cinema industry as a viable market for their products and have produced equipment with our unique needs in mind. Yes, in a QSR you have to have quick turnaround times. But the cinema industry must have quick serving done in very short windows with no do-over. Faster cook times and space-saving designs are some of the features that equipment companies have baked into their product, no pun intended.

The product itself is also a big part of the picture. The improvements in ingredients and food preparation before the product is cooked have resulted in higher quality in a short cook-time window straight from frozen. Companies such as ConAgra, Brakebush, Armour and Tyson have invested heavily in their quick-prepared chicken products, as an example. The introduction of sliders has also become a fun way to offer hamburgers. Boneless wings have come onto the market as well as a wider variety of sausages and poppers. Just looking at the top three chains in the country, all three offer hot, quick prepared meal combos that include some version of chicken, sliders, pizza, poppers, gourmet hot dogs or french fries.

The crown jewel to the rate of success for these products is the consumer. I don’t mean their acceptance of a quality product. That is a base requirement. I am referring to their changing habits that get them to the cinema just a little earlier to buy the products, demand variety, and actually push the cinema to deliver. When you order these types of products, you do not get them as fast as a box of candy. The consumer has to come to the cinema willing to put in the time and effort to buy them. This has been the cat-and-mouse game with many products over the years, and no more so than with quick-service hot foods at the concession stand itself.

The acceptance of the in-theatre marketing program has also helped this along with engaging content on the screen to accompany the consumer when they sit down with their food. The business of select ad content in the theatre prior to the previews has increased the time window that the concession stand has to work with. The total screen time of content to entertain the consumer can be anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes, which helps with the perception that you could come a little earlier, get a quick meal, and enjoy more than just the movie.

Most theatres do enforce a policy of no outside food. Most consumers do need to eat dinner before or after a movie. The QSR offerings in the theatre serve a percentage of the population who want to combine a quick meal with their movie. Product quality and serve time have greatly improved the theatre’s ability to deliver this simple yet powerful concept. There are many places and venues that have a varied offering of this experience. Alcohol and full dining experiences are also growing. But the spot in the middle, between traditional concessions and full dining, is a successful play that has established itself in the industry. Consumers are beginning to expect this offering at the movie theatre and it is something that most theatre operators around the country are either offering or considering. McDonald’s and Burger King better look out, we can do it well too and we have more to look at than just a kids’ playground. Playing to our strengths and getting the most out of our captured audience is what we can, and must, do. 

Send your comments to Anita Watts at anitaw@reactornet.com