Ask The Salty Waitress: What are the rules of sneaking food into a movie?

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Photo: Jacob Ammentorp Lund (iStock), Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio
The Salty WaitressThe Salty WaitressSalty Waitress is The Takeout’s advice column from a real-life waitress that will teach you how not to behave like a garbage person while dining out—and maybe in real life.

Dear Salty: My adult daughter and I go to a couple movies together every month. It’s one of our rare bonding activities and I really look forward to it. But wow, theater food is expensive! I’ve taken to bringing in our own snacks in my bag, which seems to work fine. But for longer movies or ones that start around meal times, I’m wondering how far I can go with the brought-in food. Are pre-wrapped sandwiches and cookies too much? I don’t want to upset people around us or get us kicked out by the theater staff.

Thanks,
Mom With Snacks

Dear Mom,

I feel your pain. A movie out with kids, plus popcorn and candy—not even a real meal—can run as much as sit-down dinner. There’s a reason for it, not that it makes the $9 popcorn much easier to swallow: Theaters make a big chunk of their profits—as much as 40%—on snacks, which lets them keep ticket prices relatively low.

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I’m not going to debate the ethics of sneaking food into movies here. Everyone does it and probably will keep doing it, so let’s talk about ground rules. When you sneak in food, yeah, you’re breaking the rules, but you can do it in a way that doesn’t piss off other moviegoers or (hopefully) the theater workers.

Commandment 1: Thou shalt not bring in smelly, loud food.

Egg-salad sandwich? Nope. Celery sticks dipped in hummus that make it sound like a family of rabbits lives in row 9? No-go. Movies are loud these days, but it’s still not good form to bring in food that’s overly crunchy or could otherwise make noise. Glass bottles of beer or soda are also a bad idea, as they might tip over and roll super loudly down sloped floors. And please, no food that I can smell from five seats away. What you wouldn’t eat on an airplane, you shouldn’t eat in a theater.

Commandment 2: Thou shalt clean up after thyself.

The part-time theater employee likely does not lose sleep if you smuggle in M&Ms that you bought at CVS instead of the concession stand. But when you start leaving garbage everywhere, you’re being rude. If you bring outside food in foam containers, plastic cups, or tin foil, you best throw that away yourself. No one wants to find an old macaroni-salad container under a seat. You have to pass the garbage can to get out of the theater anyway—take your junk with you.

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Commandment 3: Thou shalt not bring a full meal to a full theater.

If you’re going to a movie that’s guaranteed to draw a packed house, it’s not the time for a three-course Mexican feast. I do not want to catch you at Avengers: Endgame gnawing on a burrito and refried beans. But if you have tickets for a third-week showing of a foreign documentary, sure, you could get away with a little more elaborate snacks knowing the nearest other person will probably be four rows back.

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Based on Salty’s 3 Commandments Of Movie-Snack Smuggling, a thing I just thought up now, safe to say your sandwiches are probably in the clear for most movies. As long as your sandwiches aren’t smelly or loud, and as long as you’re not taking them to the theater on a blockbuster opening weekend, I don’t think you’re hurting anyone with your purse snacks. Wouldn’t sitting down for sandwiches before or after the movie with your daughter extend the bonding time, though? Just a thought.


Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or just a general question about life we can help you with? Email us: salty@thetakeout.com

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