The 1991 Video That Taught Cinemas to Sell You More Snacks

A training video of the early 1990s was trying to get us to buy more than a bucket of popcorn...

Employee training videos – well, digital files now – are nothing new. Many of us who have worked in any kind of service industry have had to suffer one at some point, rather than getting training from a human being in an actual room. But also, there’s a subset of these videos designed to furnish enthusiastic staff with fresh ways to extract more cash from us all.

One such video was produced in the US by the National Association of Concessionaires (NAC), an organisation that – as its title suggests – wants to make sure you buy lots of stuff from a concession stand.

In 1991, a training video of its made the pages of Premiere magazine, and while the footage itself isn’t available online, the report lists a selection of the tactics cinema concession stand staff were being told to use. Quaintly, this comes from an era when the people behind the popcorn stand weren’t also the people selling you the tickets. When sentient automatic machines weren’t taking your credit card, and somehow printing out tickets that always ended up on the floor.

Instead, the video – that had been sold to over 60 cinemas at the time the article was published – pushed the notion that buying two items was never enough. “We want every patron to have three items,” explained Scott Gross, the sales coach for the NAC. And getting the right blend of suggestions was key to that happening. “Something wet, something salty, and something extra,” he added, leaving the smutty gags to write themselves.

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Plus selling, inevitably, was identified as the key. “What a patron asks for a soda or popcorn of whatever, your only response should be ‘large’,” Gross said. “Pretend the smaller sizes don’t even exist.” It’s dollar signs too if two people are buying together. “If two people order something and they indicate that’s all they want, try selling them a large something else to share.”

Behave yourselves.

“Remember,” adds Gross. “We’re doing the patron a favor when we remind them about high-quality products and larger, better-valued sizes.”

How, then, does this play out in the video itself? Well, here’s a sample exchange:

Customer: “How about a large well-buttered popcorn?”

Vendor: “Can I get you a large drink to go with that?”

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Custoner: “Sure, make it a lemonade.”

Vendor: “Okay, I’ll get that while you’re picking out your candy.”


Of course, the concession stand has evolved a lot in the subsequent 27 years, to the point where more and more automation is making such sales tactics moot. Given that cinemas hardly seem stuffed with staff, just getting through the line in time for people to see their film has become the key challenge, over trying to flog a bag of Skittles with your popcorn.

Nonetheless, cinemas would do well to heed some of the timeless pieces of advice the video has to offer. Keep the lines short (modern day shorthand, surely, for ‘employ more staff’). Make sure the display cases are kept full (“nobody wants to buy the last nacho or that final scoop of popcorn”). And the ultimate line, “almost 100% of your patrons are going to have noses”. As such, Gross recommends, popcorn popping should be timed for peak periods, and the place should smell nice.

It’s all a bit other-worldly though, in the era of sugar taxes and healthier alternatives. Furthermore, the majority of employee training videos are locked behind digital training systems now, and less easily available. And it still doesn’t explain why the bloody pick and mix costs so much either…

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Citations taken from Premiere magazine (August 1991 edition)