An Expertise in Hospitality: Interview with Rob Novak, VP of Concessions and F&B, Marcus Theatres

While expanded menus and stand-alone restaurants have found success at move theaters in recent years, those concepts can hardly be called a “trend” at Marcus Theatres. The midwestern circuit has long had an equal focus on the hospitality industry, operating its dining and hotel activities with the same attention to detail and customer care as its exhibition business. As the concessions stand continues to evolve, Boxoffice spoke to Marcus’s Rob Novak to findout how one of the country’s leading cinema chains approaches its food and beverage strategy in a period of changing consumer tastes.

As a company, I think it’s fair to say that Marcus isn’t only in the exhibition industry—it’s in the hospitality business. The company has had a long history with hotel and restaurant concepts; how has that history and expertise informed your concessions strategy in this new era of expanded concepts?

As we look at our Marcus Hotels & Resorts division and our long history of restaurants, it’s evident that the company understands the power of having successful food and beverage options within our facilities. Many of our hotels operate full-service dining experiences because hotels are destinations. Our theaters are destinations themselves, and by offering more versatility in food and beverage, we have an opportunity to create an enhanced guest experience and, therefore, customer loyalty.

Reel Sizzle is a newer concept in your concessions offerings; originally in just one location, it has since been expanding rapidly in the last several months. What has been your experience with it?

The Reel Sizzle experience has been very positive with our customer base, as we offer food that is very easily consumed within a theater environment, like burgers, chicken sandwiches, shakes, and more. Additionally, we’ve found that there is much success with burger restaurants in today’s marketplace. With Reel Sizzle, we’ve identified the opportunity to leverage that demand within the confines of a movie theater.

How much of a challenge is it to train staff in these additional roles, as cooks or waiters?

Staffing has been one of our greatest challenges. We often have to look beyond our current associates to find the most qualified cooks, waiters, bartenders, and dishwashers, because these are positions that require a unique skill set. It’s often challenging to find skilled candidates who understand the operations of a movie theater, as individuals in these professions are not typically seeking out employment in a movie theater. We have had to market ourselves as a destination for these workers and promote all the food and beverage employment opportunities available within our facilities, as well as provide a career path for these associates to move upward within the organization.

What innovation to today’s food and beverage landscape in exhibition do you find most compelling?

For me, it’s in-auditorium dining because of the ability to help people consolidate their time. Americans are often hard-pressed to find time to go to dinner at a restaurant first and then to a movie. Our Big Screen Bistro auditoriums enable them to do both at once for a complete night out under one roof. Therefore, Marcus Theatres strives to provide menu items with a level of quality such that the consumer is willing to skip out on a traditional restaurant to instead enjoy their meal inside our theaters.

What role do more traditional concessions—popcorn, soda, candy, and so on—play in your theater today?

Traditional concessions items continue to be the base of our food and beverage operation and the ones that touch the majority of our guests. The two most important items that movie theaters sell are fountain beverages and popcorn. Through our long-standing relationship with Pepsi we have been able to offer our guests a diversified lineup of drink options. Movie theater popcorn is considered the premium popcorn as compared to microwavable popcorn at home or other varieties elsewhere. It is a destination item that consumers seek out on a regular basis and it’s a staple of the overall moviegoing experience. The industry is not deviating from that. It’s our job to supplement traditional concessions items with other food and beverage amenities, but we’re not looking to get away from standard concessions fare.

The mantra of Marcus Theatres is to serve the highest quality food and beverage and concessions items, because we understand the importance of offering items that exceed guest expectations. Consumers have a preconceived notion of the quality found in movie theaters, so we have spent time improving that perception with menu items that meet or exceed traditional restaurant offerings. For example, we cook all of our products from a scratch kitchen, where we focus on executing quality in all aspects, from a cooking perspective to a service standpoint.