Popcorn. Nachos. Soda. Settling down for a movie with your concession of choice is great. But concessions mean nothing if they don’t make it to the theater. It’s her ability to keep a complicated part of theater management running smoothly—and her role in enriching the concessions industry as a whole—that makes AMC’s Vice President of Procurement and Logistics Denise De Zutter a fitting choice for the National Association of Concessionaires’ 2018 Bert Nathan Award, presented at this year’s CinemaCon.
In the cinema industry, “We don’t have a lot of control over the movies,” says De Zutter, “but we certainly have control over whether we serve great food or not.” Concessions are the key to a cinema’s profitability, to be sure, “but also we want to make sure that what we’re serving creates a great environment for our guests.”
De Zutter first got into theatrical operations in 1997—she had directorial roles in the guest services, food and beverage, and logistics departments at AMC before landing at her current role in 2016—due to her experience outside the theatrical space. “They were looking for people who had operations experience in other service industries. I had some restaurant background and worked in a ski area, so it fit perfect. And I liked movies, so it seemed like a natural place to go.”
Though De Zutter is a film fan (she cites Shrek as a particular favorite, a great family choice for its different layers of comedy for children and adults), she also acknowledges the importance of learning from those outside the theater industry. “That’s one of the reasons that I joined the NAC—because of the opportunity to meet supplier partners that I may not do business with currently, to see what was innovative. Also, NAC has a lot of operators outside of the theater industry. So it was always interesting to see what other people were doing in their space, to see if there was something that might be applicable to theaters.” As the founder of NAC’s Outreach Committee, De Zutter has made a concerted effort to expand the group’s membership “beyond [its] theater roots to include more hospitality-based food and beverage operators. And the committee itself was tasked with expanding diversity throughout all membership.”
Before she was promoted to her current role, De Zutter’s purview was centered on the food side of AMC; now, as the chain’s VP of procurement and logistics, she’s responsible for the supply chain as a whole, working with partners to ensure that food, beverage, services, and supplies make it to AMC’s theaters according to plan. As regarding food and beverage, state regulations make this an especially complicated issue. That’s especially true when you’re talking alcohol, sales of which are heavily regulated in some states. De Zutter notes that NAC has, over the last several years, increased its efforts to ensure that “legislators understand the real impact of legislation” upon NAC members. “When I started NAC, there were two people on their government relations committee, and now there are over a dozen.”
AMC has its own government relations team, but it’s De Zutter’s role to coordinate, work with contracts and negotiations, and make sure the items that are delivered to AMC theaters are things they’re actually allowed to sell. By working with “a very talented team and some of the best supplier partners that I’ve ever encountered before,” De Zutter says, AMC is able to handle the delivery side of things “so our theater managers don’t have to think about getting things in their building. They can focus on our guests.”
It’s not just AMC’s guests that Denise De Zutter serves, but the whole of the concessions industry—and, as a result, the theatrical industry itself. She was instrumental in the formation of the NAC’s Future Leaders Committee, which, she explains, “was developed to invite college students majoring in hospitality to join NAC. While the committee is still in its initial stages, the goals are to learn from students about what is important to them as they grow in their careers, and share information about how an association like NAC can add value to them and their careers.
In explaining her selection for the Bert Nathan Award, NAC Executive Vice President Daniel Borschke highlights this industry service: “Denise is an industry thought leader and innovator; her inclusionary strategies have resulted in NAC forming a Future Leaders Committee [and] an Outreach Committee, as well as finding new and creative ways to diversify and engage all elements of the industry in a partnership role. Her ability to be inclusive is a goal for all the concession industry. We are thankful for her NAC engagement and volunteer leadership and we congratulate her for her efforts with the prestigious 2019 Bert Nathan Award.”