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Munching Through Hamlet

I don’t usually go to plays, but in recent weeks I’ve been invited to two of them, both in smaller theatres in a relaxed West Coast town. Both theatres had signs that said they welcomed people bringing food and drinks into the show. Is this usual for theatres? (I went to Broadway shows when I was younger, and my parents never let me eat, but I remember listening to the sounds of other people opening their food packets and chewing.)

If so, I’m not sure that the open-food policy is a good one. I know that you can’t eat or drink at the symphony, because the sounds would interfere with the music, but the actors in these plays were performing live with (mostly) unamplified sound as well. These were such small venues that I could hear people around me open their food and smell the alcohol of whatever drink the lady next to me had purchased. Then again, I’m sure the venues make lots of money off people purchasing their expensive drinks and snacks, money that allows them to stay open in the first place. What do you think?   0314-13
My first thought was,”Dinner theater”.   The last one I went to was at Warm Beach Camp during Christmas four and a half years ago.   Second thought was, “Raleighwood Grill” which is a movie theater which serves full dinners, appetizers and drinks during the showing of the movie.   Obviously the management of the theaters you have visited have no problem with clients bringing in food and drinks so if this bothers you, the onus is on you to vote with your feet and go elsewhere to enjoy a live theatrical event.

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  • Mary March 18, 2013, 6:41 am

    I had been to several professions productions in the United States where food and drink were it allowed. Then we went to see Phantom in London about 13 years ago. I was shocked that they did allow food and drink. Which I honestly liked because I was getting over a cold and the beverage made my throat feel better.
    I have seen a relaxation of rules in theaters in the last few years including a local theater where you had to keep your concessions in the lobby until about two years ago. Now they allow them in the theater.

  • Mary March 18, 2013, 7:23 am

    Sorry my first sentence should have said “were not allowed”.

  • Jelaza March 18, 2013, 7:58 am

    Since it’s allowed by the management, I’m assuming that (1) they have janitorial services ready to clean up after and (2) the actors are aware so they are prepared to compensate for package-opening and eating sounds, if needed.

  • Anonymous March 18, 2013, 8:16 am

    My first thought was “historical integrity”:


  • NoelF March 18, 2013, 8:20 am

    It is becoming a common trend in a lot of theaters to allow patrons to bring drinks and/or food into the theater, even on Broadway, even in the Kennedy Center. I, having on more than one occasion having a drink spilled on my head, am not a fan of the practice. Unless you’re seeing something Vagnarian in length most people (barring medical neccessity) can go 2 to 2-1/2 hours without food or drink. During one show the woman sitting near me was trying to quietly open her candy and in her care took so long to be “quiet” about it that it would have been less disturbing had she ripped it open in one swift move. On Broadway most theaters that allow drinks have adopted the adult sippee cup to help prevent the spillage problem, plus they get to charge extra for it as a “souvenir.”

  • Carol March 18, 2013, 8:24 am

    I was involved in a community theatre group where we did mostly Shakespeare shows. We would sell food and drink before the show and during intermission, and our director encouraged people to eat during the show. The philosophy was, this is how it went at the Globe, and we tried to be a true to the original show as possible. (And yes, the more they ate, the more we made in profit!)

    We kept the food simple, soft drinks, candy bars, and popcorn. I think for us it helped foster the atmosphere we were going for, which was an intimate and entertaining evening of live theatre, and I know I never heard any sounds that distracted us or the audience. I think if it were more formal, one wouldn’t want people munching, but for a small, amateur theatre group, it’s probably okay.

  • AMC March 18, 2013, 8:33 am

    When I was in college, I worked as the house manager for many shows at our university theater. We did offer consessions for some of the shows. This usually meant more trash for me and the ushers to clean up afterward. I remember one incident in particular where someone had dropped an entire bag of nuts on the floor, and I had to crawl through the aisles to pick every one of them up. My advice to patrons of theaters (live performances and movies alike) is to remember that you aren’t at home. You are in a public space shared by other people. Please be courteous by keeping the noise to a minimum and picking up after yourself.

  • Honey12 March 18, 2013, 10:00 am

    There’s also the world famous Alamo Drafthouse, a chain of theaters (mostly in Texas) that serves full meals during movies. They are also famous for having some of the strictest no talking/texting policies of any theater.

    Anyways, if management allows it, I see no issues. I’m sure the production company and actors are prepared for it as well. I do agree that patrons should still be respectful, and not be loud with food (no crunching loudly on chips in your neighbor’s ear, etc).

  • Cami March 18, 2013, 10:18 am

    I would not return to a theater that allowed eating and drinking. I have some hearing loss and if there is noise around me, then I cannot hear the stage.

  • Allie March 18, 2013, 10:36 am

    I’m of two minds on this. I feel your pain but if it’s food they bought at the venue they obviously are within their rights to eat it. If only people would be more considerate of others this would be less of an issue. When I have noisy packaging at the movies I make a point of opening it during a loud action sequence or some other opportune moment when it will cause the least amount of trouble. Even at a live show, you could wait for a brief set change to open your package. Outside food and drink are likely not allowed and it would be within your rights to complain about it if it is being consumed noisily. However, that still interrupts your viewing experience. Thankfully, I have an amazing capacity to tune out distractions and focus on the show. Perhaps with practice you could hone this skill and tune out the chewing. Another option is to go to a less busy showing or performance (matinee?) and sit away from others. I tend to do this as well.

  • VM March 18, 2013, 10:42 am

    My husband and I go to a lot of musical comedies, with venues ranging from glorified closets to the grandest of theaters, and have noticed the increase of this as well. I think the practice is new enough that most of the audience are being conscientious about it, or at least subconsciously feeling as if they’re still sneaking things in and needing to minimize the evidence. It may well get a lot messier with time and indifference, but for now we’re happy not to have to explain my husband’s need for liquid handy at all times because of his severe drymouth, and much preferring mouths occupied in munching and sipping through the show than commenting and gossiping.

  • Library Diva March 18, 2013, 11:14 am

    What I hate most of all is the hypocrisy of selling expensive refreshments during intermission in the lobby and then barring the patron from returning inside with them. You wait in line for 15 minutes of the 20-minute break to get the $7 roasted almonds or $5 chocolate chip cookie whose scent has been wafting through the whole theater, and then you’ve got to either gulp it down in five minutes or toss it in the trash?

    Policies vary at different theaters. The main theater in my hometown, which frequently gets touring productions of Broadway shows, is the offender I was speaking of above: you can get everything in the lobby, but can’t bring it back inside. I also used to attend a community theater that performed in a community center, and they were really laid back about it, didn’t mind at all.

    I think the relaxation comes from two sources: a desire to be more open and welcoming and shed the “stuffy” image that often goes along with liver performing arts; and the financial need for the concessions. Is it a good development? I don’t know either. But I usually tend to get so “sucked in” that the people around me would have to be nearly going out of their way to cause the kind of disruption that would ruin my experience.

  • Calli Arcale March 18, 2013, 11:44 am

    Our most prestigious local theater recently moved to new digs and in the process, decided to greatly expand the food and drink options. They decided to allow food and drink into the theater on the basis that it greatly enhances sales if you don’t have to throw away a drink you just waited 15 minutes in line to get just because the intermission ended.

  • Kovitlac March 18, 2013, 12:01 pm

    My local community theater underwent dramatic renovations in recent history, and the management since decided to allow food and drink into the theater. I haven’t had any issues with it, myself. The food is usually something small like a cookie or brownie, and usually finished during intermission. If anyone is opening a package, it’s also likely done during that time, as well as opening carbonated beverages, etc.

  • Enna March 18, 2013, 12:08 pm

    It depends how the threatre police it: if people misbehave with the food or are careless then clearly the management needs to tighten rules up or run the risk of loosing business. But like admin siad if you don’t like it vote with your feet.

  • Amanda H. March 18, 2013, 1:44 pm

    Movie Tavern is another one of those movie theater/restaurant combos. Haven’t been to one yet, but Hubby thought it was a fun take on movie theaters.

    My family’s general policy with snacks in theaters (movie and stage both), when allowed, was to open all noisy wrappers before the show starts so you don’t have to do it in the middle of the production.

  • Margo March 18, 2013, 2:01 pm

    I wouldn’t like it. I don’t think it’s rude, as the venue allows it, but I prefer to see a show without lots of distractions, and my experience is that an awful lot of people seem unable to eat quietly, or to take account of whats’s happening on stage when the decide when to upwrap their sweets / whatever. I recently went to a play at my local theatre, and the woman next to me was scraping her ice-cream tub (really loud) during a long moment of silence as it became apparent that the protagonist has just died…

    I’ve actually found that the audience at the Globe, which aims for authenticity and sells nuts and other snacks to eat during the performances, is generally quite considerate and snacks, and drinks, quietly!

  • Erin March 18, 2013, 2:43 pm

    We sell snacks and drinks at the community theater I’m a member of, but we don’t allow them in the theater because we use a city-provided facility and have to follow their rules. We do allow water but that’s it. We do our best to keep the facility clean but we wouldn’t be able to shampoo the seats between performances if there was a soda catastrophe. But we keep the snacks small enough to be enjoyed in the lobby before the show or during intermission.

    Personally, I’m not crazy about people eating during live theater but that’s because way back when I was a kid and we’d go on field trips, the teachers always told us that the actors can hear you opening the packages and it was distracting to them and the rest of audience. Pretty much the rule was don’t do anything the actors can hear unless it’s appropriate, like laughing or applauding, or accidental, like a sneeze. But if the theater allows it, I don’t let it bother me.

  • Marozia March 18, 2013, 3:38 pm

    I usually do not have a problem with the eating and drinking as long as it’s done discreetly, no scraping, loud chomping or slurping. People with medical issues, yes OK, fine, health is important.
    DH & I went to the movies a while ago and a plus-size lady (I am plus-size too, so no weightism here), came in with a extra-large popcorn, Coke, lollies & ice-cream and proceeded to munch away (even before movie started). I remarked on how nice the popcorn smelled and she said “I’m hypoglycaemic and need to eat”. For the whole of the 3 HOUR MOVIE, she ate!
    Hypoglycaemia, lots of salt and sugar sounds real healthy!!

  • MollyMonster March 18, 2013, 4:01 pm

    I went and saw Cirque du Soleil which, being a “circus” had food and drinks allowed. What they did not have was much space between rows and the person in front of me, while maneuvering across other people to get to their seat, managed to dump their pop on my lap. Not all of it fortunately. So that was great. I also remember going to see the Nutcracker and someone dropped a whole bag/box of round candies. Everyone in the theater knew it too.

    I guess it is up to the theaters. They probably do a tradeoff study between the money concessions makes them vs. the amount of upholstery/carpeting they have to replace due to spills. I can’t stand listening to people chew things or slurp/Ahh things, but in my experience, most people finish in the first few minutes of a show, so whatever. The “trying to open candy quietly” this is hilarious to be because they always, always end up making more noise and being more disturbing than if they had just ripped it open from the first. It is nice when people at least make an attempt to be considerate rather than behaving like boors. So much can be forgiven even if I miss a bit of dialogue because the person behind me decided to open their candy.

  • Stacey Frith-Smith March 18, 2013, 4:51 pm

    Sometimes it is nice to have an event and a meal…but I still favor the serial approach as in…a movie and then dinner…it’s just nicer to visit while you eat and to view the spectacle without distraction. (But I’m hypocritical because once in a while Movie Tavern it is!)

  • Jared Bascomb March 18, 2013, 7:14 pm

    I usher at two Tony-Award-winning regional theatres with many Broadway-bound productions. Drinks are now allowed at both of them as long as they are in non-glass containers with lids (which we provide at the door if needed) or caps. (I think that this might be in response to the situation that Library Diva describes: purchasing refreshments during a 15-minute intermission and not being able to consume them in time.) However, consuming food inside the theatre is still prohibited.

    Sounds like the OP’s venue allows consumption of both during the performance – and that Shakespeare’s Globe in London practically encourages it for authenticity’s sake – so the OP has no real complaint.

  • Lauren March 18, 2013, 7:18 pm

    I agree with Allie. This wouldn’t be an issue at all if people weren’t so darned rude. I actually got really mad at a woman for making too much noise eating when she sat down next to me IN A TRAIN STATION on Saturday night. I immediately got annoyed with myself for being so silly and moved my seat, but just imagine for a minute how loudly this woman was eating for it to even register with me….we were sitting a few yards away from where the trains pull out. She was so loud I could hear her over that racket! Yeah, I’m thinking that maybe the less people are allowed to do the better.

  • The Elf March 18, 2013, 7:53 pm

    It doesn’t bother me in the slightest. However, a lot depends on the venue. Some venues have better acoustics than others. It also works better with comedy acts and music than dramatic tragedies.

  • The OP March 18, 2013, 8:42 pm

    I was more surprised than anything else. I mostly go to the symphony, and they also sell extremely expensive drinks and food, but you can’t consume anything in the concert hall itself.

    That said, it seems odd to me to tell me or anyone else to “go somewhere else” to enjoy live theatre. It’s not like a movie, where you have a large choice of venues for any particular one. If I would like to see a specific play, I have to see it in that specific venue.

  • NostalgicGal March 18, 2013, 11:32 pm

    I’d prefer that there were no-food and food productions. If I plunked the vicinity of $100 for a ticket I don’t want slurp smak smak crunch in my ears (I have tintinnitus and it can cause some sounds to be past annoying and into even pain, and someone that doesn’t know how to close their mouth when they chew, smack and slurp, is going to make me want to punch them in the face then leave).

    It is up to the theater what they want to allow, and post it and make reference to it along with their performance/ticket info. I’d hate to buy the ticket then find out it’s with-food and not be able to not get a refund, etc.

    Dinner Theater, someone mentioned… I had the privilege of attending a few when I lived in a very big city, and it wasn’t cheap, AND. We were actually seated at tables with linen and all, on rings of tiered seating and balconies that allowed line of sight…. our food was plated and put before us, and we got a few moments of getting to tuck in before the curtains opened and our entertainment began. Nary a wrapper in sight. That’s a far cry from forward seat theater seating and wrappers…

  • Bint March 19, 2013, 11:06 am

    I’m used to people eating in the theatre, although ‘eating’ usually means chocolate because you can’t bring in food bought elsewhere. You buy it in the venue and you bring it in, including your drinks, in a plastic glass.

    If someone eats too loudly, people shush them. If they don’t shush, someone hisses at them to shut up. I don’t know why this works but it always has when I’ve seen it, and I go pretty often. Tutting seems to go down effectively as well. People in cinemas tend to be much worse though.

    Agreed it’s unfair to tell someone to go somewhere else for a *theatre production*. You could be waiting for years. This isn’t the cinema, when do you think Mayerling is next going to be on??

  • Green123 March 19, 2013, 12:39 pm

    How odd that there were 100+ responses to a thread on taking drinks into church, but less than 30 on taking drinks into a theatre…

  • The Elf March 19, 2013, 6:48 pm

    There are probably more theatre-goers than church-goers.

  • EchoGirl March 20, 2013, 12:44 am

    I’m an American aspiring theater professional who spent a couple of weeks in Britain studying theater which included seeing more theater in a month than I usually do in a year. As Mary said, in England bringing food (purchased in-house or carried in from outside) is commonplace in most theaters and the concession array is much more varied since they’re not just selling to people who want a quick bite at intermission. Courtesy in not being too loud is of course expected but the idea that live theater and food in the audience do not mix appears to be largely an American one.

  • JadeG March 22, 2013, 7:12 am

    Broadway theatres started permitting patrons to bring their snacks back to their seat in 2005 or so. Before that only bottled water was allowed.
    As a frequent theatre goer, I noticed that children’s shows are the major food feasts. I can’t remember when I last noticed anyone eating at an adult show. Thank goodness.
    As Patti LuPone said, “Broadway is about a theatrical experience. It’s not about pulling out Marie Callender’s chicken pot pie and a Sterno. Would you go to church and pull out a ham sandwich? I don’t think so. Then why would you do it at the theater?”

  • Anonymous March 23, 2013, 10:47 pm

    Yeah, I never got the “kids must have a snack” mentality that’s so pervasive today. When I was really little, my mom might bring a Ziploc bag of Cheerios for me and my brother when we went somewhere, and we had snacks in nursery school, but those were usually simple, healthy things, like carrot sticks, OR apple slices, OR very occasionally cookies or cupcakes, and then we’d have 100% fruit juice or water to drink. Once I got to grade school, some kids brought snacks for recess, but they weren’t a part of the normal school day. Also, my parents started taking me to the theatre to see live performances starting when I was three or so, and nobody ate or drank in there (except maybe water, but bottled water wasn’t really a “thing” then), so it never occurred to me that anyone would–it was just “normal” to me from the beginning that the movie theatre was different from a live theatre performance. The movie theatre was for jeans and T-shirts and snacks, and you could ask questions quietly (whispered), but the live theatre was quiet, free of food and drinks, and it was also a special occasion that called for dressing up. I mean, the movie theatre was special too, but it was more of a “fun outing” kind of special, but the live theatre was an “extra special grown-up privilege” kind of special. As I got older, the “dress-up” part relaxed (except for things that were a really big deal, like Cirque du Soleil, and the opera), but the rules of general conduct stayed the same.

  • Janet Marie August 24, 2013, 4:29 pm

    I went to my first Broadway musical, and went out for dinner & drinks before the show. My friends and I managed to make it through 2 hours without needing to constantly eat and drink. I have no idea if the theater offered concessions before the show or during intermission. When I go to movies, yes I must have my popcorn and pop but that is a different atmosphere all together.