I save money wherever I can. I use coupons, never order soft drinks at restaurants and bring my own snacks to the movies — even though some places have signs saying it’s not allowed.
Sometimes I bring more healthful stuff that movies don’t typically sell, but more often I bring in exactly what I would buy at the candy counter — if I wanted to pay three times as much for my M&M Peanuts or Snickers bars.
Which I don’t.
I’m not alone in my illicit snack smuggling. Park in front of the movies in my town any Friday or Saturday night and you can watch cars making candy runs to the Rite Aid across the street before they pull into the theater’s lot.
But just because everyone is doing it doesn’t make it right, as I told my kids over and over when they were growing up. I know that movie theaters make most of their profits from concessions, not tickets, and the markups help make up for declining revenues. (Smart Money reported that movies make as much as 85 cents profit on every dollar spent on their popcorn, candy and soda.)
But still. Popcorn ethics — and popcorn prices — are a chewy problem.
While some theaters request no outside food be brought in, AMC Entertainment Inc., one of the country’s largest movie chains, has an outright ban. People who ignore the rule can be asked to leave.
“AMC recently reviewed its company policy regarding outside food and drink and will no longer be permitting guests to bring in these items, as is the case with many entertainment venues,” said Sun Dee Larson, vice president of corporate communications for Kansas City-based AMC Entertainment when the policy was announced.
In March, a Michigan theatergoer decided he was mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. Joshua Thompson — who was charged $8 for a box of Goobers and a Coke at his local AMC — filed a lawsuit charging the theater chain with price gouging.
In the suit, Thompson stated that he brought his own food to the theater until folks were banned from bringing snacks in.
Last week a judge dismissed Thompson’s suit without commenting on either the ethics of bringing-your-own or charging inflated prices for candy and soda.
Israeli moviegoers got a different outcome. In response to complaints about the cost of concessions, the legislature in July passed “The Popcorn Law.” The new regulation, an amendment to the country’s Consumer Protection Law, allows people to bring their own snacks to theaters, movies and sports arenas instead of being forced to buy overpriced food and beverages at concession stands.
Writer and humorist Randy Cohen, who wrote The Ethicist column in The New York Times Magazine from 1999 to 2011, says the question of bringing-your-own candy to the movies is as deep as a $10 tub of popcorn.
“On the surface, it seems simple,” says Cohen. “But when you really examine it, you see that it encompasses money and power and property rights and contracts.”
Cohen says he took the question up in one of his early columns — and got it wrong when he said the theaters were right to ban customers from bringing in snacks.
“It was one of the first questions I revisited and I amended my views,” says Cohen, who now does a show on National Public Radio called “Person, Place or Thing.” “You can’t subvert the primary action of a business, like bring booze to a bar or a doughnut to a bakery. But when you buy a movie ticket, all you’ve agreed to do is to watch a movie. You haven’t agreed to buy their food and you shouldn’t be subjected to popcorn-sniffing dogs or the cola detectives.”
In other words, what’s in your pocket is your business.
I’m think I’m going to go with that.