Three years ago, if someone had told me we would be allowing patrons to take red wine into our theatre with its light colored seats and untreated concrete floor I would have called them crazy. Now I can’t imagining not letting our patrons wander freely with their beverages.
We currently offer beer and wine service only to our patrons. We then charge an extra dollar for a “reusable theatre cup with a lid.” Our staff and guests have taken to calling these “sippy cups” due to the leak-resistant lid we use on them. Our landed cost on the cups is around $2, so we are treating it as a loss leader. Our plan is to increase the price of the cups to at least recover our cost next season. We are currently using Whirley DrinkWorks and have chosen their P-series for our 10- and 16-ounce cups and their G-series for the 32-ounce cups. We then select images from our local art community and archives for the cups. We change this about every season and are on our third series of images for the cups.
With the increase in competition for the almighty “entertainment dollar,” many venues such as us have started to allow patrons to take food and beverage into the theatre. By all accounts, it has been a resounding success for us on several levels, such as customer service and satisfaction, revenue, and even safety.
On the customer service and satisfaction side, it has given our patrons the ability to enjoy their drink while attending the show, similar to the way they are able to in a movie theatre or in the comfort of their own homes. Although we still experience some resistance from some traditionalists, we have found that their disdain is often short-lived once they see that there is no real impact to the show.
As to revenue, we couldn’t have anticipated the boost we saw. Almost overnight, we saw our revenue double from this simple change in policy. From classical symphony all the way across the spectrum to rock shows, we saw a jump in overall revenue. We then installed “performing arts” cup holders from Caddy Products in our space and saw another 15 percent jump once patrons found they could take an extra drink in. They are discrete, as we wanted something that would not take away from the aesthetics.
One of our concerns in the initial program launch was over-consumption and the need for more security due a more inebriated audience. Surprisingly, we actually found that the crowd was better behaved with less incidents of “binge drinking.” Folks were now free to consume at their own pace rather than quickly finishing one (or three) drinks in order to race back into the theatre so to not miss part of the performance.
Another concern was of course clean-up and staff/volunteer reaction. We found that our clean-up was quite limited as patrons are quite conscientious and proud of the space so they tend to clean up after themselves. Our volunteers were (and still are) very protective of the theatre and had some opposition to the program at launch. As the program got under way, they realized that this would not have a negative impact on the space, and now all have their own collection of cups.
One surprise we encountered is that the number of patrons bringing back cups from show to show was extremely low, ranging in the 2 percent area. We also found that a great number of patrons simply threw their cups into the garbage following the show. Many of our volunteers were a bit upset about this and began to collect and wash them during and at the end of the performance. Due to health regulations, we are not able to reuse the cups with the public. We have been using them internally and trying to recycle as many as we can. After speaking with colleagues at the 2015 Performing Arts Managers Conference, we are going to borrow an idea from them and start saving cups whenever we can. We will then donate them to local groups and charities for their usage.
All in all, we have seen the program as nothing short of a tremendous success. We have seen significant increases in customer satisfaction as well as increasing our revenue. In my mind, any time we can accomplish both of these things, it’s something to be celebrated and shared! FM