The National Association of Concessionaire’s Concession and Hospitality Expo may be a no-go this year—replaced by necessity with the NAC ReTreat Week, ending today—but those concessions execs who were going to be honored in-person over the summer will still get feted by their colleagues…albeit in an online format. This year, the NAC gives their Bert Nathan Award to Bill LeClair, SVP of global food and beverage for National Amusements, Inc.
A veteran of National Amusements’ Showcase Cinema brand, LeClair joined the company in 1977 as an usher. As a child, he’d go to the movies at the Wernick theater in Chicopee, Massachusetts. But was his first time seeing the theater he would come to work in—the theater that would lead to a decades-long career in the exhibition industry—that sticks out in his memory. Visiting the then-new Showcase Cinemas location in West Springfield, Massachusetts, LeClair recalls: “I couldn’t get over the sheer size of it. The huge lobby with this massive concession stand. The 700-seat auditorium with the curved cinema curtains and the large curved screen. It was truly amazing.”
LeClair became an assistant manager, then left Showcase to become a union projectionist in 1980. Three years later, he was back, first as a manager and then in the operations department, in which capacity he helped deploy National Amusement’s first computerized ticketing system. In 1997, he shifted gears to join the food and beverage team, which was at that time expanding the chain’s menu offerings in part by instituting in-seat dining and alcohol service. Now, as SVP of global food and beverage, LeClair oversees National Amusements’ food and beverage operations in four countries across 915 screens.
In 2020, of course, many things in the cinema industry are different. (One stalwart: People still love to eat popcorn. Says LeClair of the last few months: “Our customers missed our fresh-popped movie theater popcorn, for sure! We saw an upswing in attendance in our Massachusetts theaters once we were able to bring food service back.”) Where initially LeClair helped bring more breadth and variety to National Amusements’ menu, during the reopening phase menus are being scaled back, streamlined “to make the operation more efficient. Ultimately, the customers will decide if these changes are permanent.”
LeClair, going back to a Showcase cinema for the first time since the shutdown, couldn’t even eat popcorn, the result of Massachusetts regulations that, at the time, limited maximum occupancy to 25 people and barred F&B consumption. “The lack of people felt strange, and it wasn’t the same without my fresh-popped movie theater popcorn and my Diet Coke,” he says. “But seeing a movie on the big screen again and hearing the Dolby Atmos sound was something I [had] truly missed for months.”
Earlier in LeClair’s career, he helped bring computerized tickets to National Amusements in the early days of digital ticketing; now, he and the National Amusements team are ramping up their use of contactless, digital technology in food ordering, in part inspired by their counterparts in the UK. Showcase UK, LeClair explains, “really embraced and leveraged smartphone and web technology. They were quick to convert walk-up sales to electronic tickets and mobile food ordering using designated pickup areas.” As Showcase locations open in the U.S.—six opened in New York last month—“we have added mobile and web pre-ordering functionality, and Showcase Xpress pickup areas have been added to all our concession stands. We are also offering and encouraging contactless payment options such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay.”
A lot has changed this year—but LeClair’s appreciation and respect for his compatriots in this industry, whether coworkers, vendors, patrons, or competitors, is still going strong. “I have made many great friends along the way, most especially with the members of NAC,” he says. Additionally, “the members of my National Amusements family—from Shari Redstone to our home office team, field personnel, theater managers, and our front of house staff—are truly the greatest. It is an honor every day to work with the finest and most professional people in the industry. They are the hardest[-working], most dedicated group of people you could ever want to work with. And to my F&B team in the U.S. and internationally, what can I say but: You are the best. And thank you!”