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Theatre Concessions, a Brief History

Snacks and a show go hand in hand! Today, theater concessions can make up to 50% of a theater’s profits. However, concessions in theaters weren’t always a staple. Initially theaters sought to exhibit the utmost class in order to attract highbrow consumers - the idea of salty snacks and sweet treats didn’t quite scream “panache”. Often, snacks were purchased from street vendors and hidden under coats and in purses to be enjoyed during a screening.

It wasn’t until the Great Depression that concessions as we know them began to take shape. Ticket sales were sorely lacking, and theater owners realized just how much snack sales could influence their income. Available fare began with a small selection of candies including Twizzlers, Milk Duds, and Raisinets, with the everlasting popcorn making an appearance shortly after.

Popcorn is by far the most popular concession stand snack, withstanding the test of time. A recent trend, however, combines the theater experience with dining–full menu and alcoholic beverages included. This is the concept of the Alamo Drafthouse theater chain, located in several states. The Commodore Theatre in Portsmouth, Virginia also carries the “fine dining” label, boasting a menu containing sandwiches, pizza, desserts, beer, and wine. As I processed the materials for the Commodore within the LHAT Collection, I found the following menu (see below). Take a look at the items available, as well as the prices, and see how concessions have evolved!

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