In the past several years, B&B Theatres has experienced a steady growth that has made it one of the 10 biggest exhibition circuits in North America. Innovation has been a big factor in that success, as the family-run company continues to look for new ways to bring a premier entertainment experience to its audiences nationwide. B&B has tweaked its current concessions strategy to include some of the biggest food and beverage trends in the industry, with stand-alone bars, dine-in theaters, self-service offerings, and expanded menus at different locations. Boxoffice asked B&B’s Brittanie Bagby how the theater chain maintains a fresh approach at the concessions stand.
When did B&B first start looking to diversify and significantly expand your concessions offering? Was there a concept or strategy you tried first, or were they all considered simultaneously across different markets?
In 2010 we opened our first Marquee Suites concept. This concept included luxury recliners in two auditoriums, a full bar, and limited expanded food offerings that were catered from a local restaurant. This was our first adventure into luxury as well as expanded concessions offerings. We’ve learned a lot since then, and our concepts have evolved over time as we learn from our trials, listen to our customers, and watch the industry evolve.
What has your experience been in implementing your dine-in concept?
We currently have two Marquee Suites locations that offer full-service dining with luxury recliners. Our goal is to be as discreet as possible when serving our guests, as we don’t want to disturb their moviegoing experience. We encourage our guests to arrive 20 minutes early to be seated and have their orders taken prior to the movie’s start. We then have call buttons on each seat, allowing guests to continue to place orders throughout the movie. This way they are only disturbed by our servers when needed, yet service is offered throughout the movie. Our menu features great burgers, pizzas, and finger foods that are easily eaten in the dark, which is an important consideration when designing a menu. We try to offer a variety to our guests while keeping our menu focused. It ensures we keep our food standards high and our ticket times low. One of the hardest aspects of dine-in is the fact that our kitchen is trying to serve an entire sold-out auditorium at the same time. It’s not like a restaurant that has constant, rolling table turnover. Sixty to 150 guests arrive at the same time, are seated at the same time, and all need their food at the same time.
You have two dine-in locations. These concepts can be “high-risk/high-reward” because of the investment required; what led you to open the dine-in concept where you have, and where else are you looking to expand?
We are always looking for ways to bring excitement and innovation to our buildings. Guests are looking for new experiences, so it’s important to be open to change and to invest in the trends of the industry. We were fortunate enough to pick up a management agreement of an existing dine-in operation in Texas that came fully staffed. It was a fantastic opportunity for us to get our feet wet preparing our own food and full service. Once we felt more comfortable with dine-in, we chose to expand the concept to a nearby theater we had under construction. From there we also opened a Marquee Suites in Ozark, Missouri, which was our next from-the-ground-up build.
People are busy and it’s hard to secure a babysitter and afford a four-hour evening that includes a dinner and a movie. We’ve found guests love getting to combine dinner with their movie, and it gets them to commit their evening to us instead of dinner running late and choosing to skip the movie.
We have plans to add more Marquee Suites, but we are choosing our markets wisely as they take a lot of time and attention and we want to ensure we always offer our guests a premium experience.
What are some of the advantages you’ve seen in adopting self-serve concessions in your theaters?
Self-service once again is bringing innovation to our buildings. We have self-serve soda, butter bars where guests can perfectly season and butter their popcorn, and self-serve candy. We find customers love the offerings—it speeds up our lines and increases our per caps. It’s a win all around.
Concessions partners have also helped make the self-serve concept fun; what has been your experience with putting the Pepsi Spire machines in your theaters?
We recently installed our first Pepsi Spire machines in our newly remodeled theater in Shawnee, Kansas. Customers are loving them, as they can mix flavors and add flavor shots to their heart’s content. They are also fantastic eye candy—the frame around the massive screens changes colors based on the customer’s selections.
When did you begin offering expanded menu offerings, and what has been the result of that implementation?
Expanded menu offerings really evolved after our dine-in concept because we realized we were limiting ourselves by only offering food and alcohol in our suites. The expanded menu offerings allow guests to have a beer, mozzarella sticks, and still get their No. 1 combo. We make all our food fresh and work hard to ensure that by the time they’ve filled their soda or grabbed a drink at the bar, their food is ready to be picked up.
What are some of the logistical challenges posed by the expanded menu; does it require a significant redesign of the concessions space to accommodate for food prep?
Yes, we have to make sure we have an area designated for the food prep and an area reserved for food pick-up and customer preparation. It all has to be easy to maneuver so on those slow September days one person can handle all food orders. We also wanted to be sure our theaters continued to smell like popcorn and not grease, so we were cautious to have proper ventilation in a contained space.
Some exhibitors might be scared away by the legal and liability challenges posed by adding alcoholic beverages in their theaters. How did you navigate those challenges?
Very carefully! Every state and even every county has different laws. We’ve had to work through each situation on a case-by-case basis. In some areas we’ve chosen to limit our alcohol sales to designated 21-and-over auditoriums, in others to not have liquor at all, but most markets are excited about the new offering and are willing to work with us. We remain diligent to walk our auditoriums frequently to ensure guests are consuming responsibly, limit guest consumption when necessary, and ensure our employees are properly trained in the handling of alcohol.
How has alcohol impacted the per cap spend at the concessions stand for B&B?
We are finding alcohol is often an add-on to what guest have already purchased at the concessions stand, so it certainly increases our per caps, as does the expanded food. We’ve found alcohol not only increases our per caps, it enhances the guest experience. We try to have fun with our bars by creating movie-themed cocktails that add to the excitement of the moviegoing experience.
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