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October 26, 2015

The thoughts of UK cinema staff

UK cinema staff surveyTwo weeks ago I looked at cinema ticket prices and last week I crunched the numbers on cinema popcorn.  Today, we get to hear from the frontline staff who take your money, serve your popcorn, tear your tickets and clean up after you.  I collected answers from 151 people who work in UK cinemas, from entry level employees right up to managers.

In summary…

  • The most common cinema customer complaints are about the price of food and tickets
  • And two thirds of cinema staff feel that cinema tickets and food cost too much
  • Londoners complain the least about cinema prices, despite London having the highest average prices
  • Many staff members incorrectly believe cinemas only keep 10% of the ticket price (the true figure is around 50%)
  • The vast majority of UK cinema staff are paid at or just over the national minimum wage
  • Supervisors and managers are paid below the national average wage
  • 83% of cinema staff said they enjoy their current job
  • A third of the people working in cinemas today want to be working for the same company in five years time
  • 91% of cinema staff happily eat cinema food

Common customer complaints

I asked the respondents about the most common complaints they receive from customers.  Based on my recent articles I don’t think anyone will be surprised to hear that the prices for tickets and food were the topics causing the most ire. 60% of staff surveyed mentioned the food prices and 56% mentioned ticket prices (many staff gave more than one topic).

common complaints to uk cinema staff

I also asked if the customer complaints were justified.  On the topic of food and ticket prices, 67% of staff members felt that customers were right to complain.  Here are some quotes from those who empathised with the customers on the topic of pricing…

cinema ticket“Prices are becoming ridiculously expensive and are the reason that the cinema isn’t as popular as it used to be. People would rather sit at home and watch movies on a computer screen than pay our prices and I don’t blame them.”

“The prices is by far the most common and yes they are justified. It is starting to get embarrassing now.”

“The price of tickets and concessions. It is expensive and can be a shock if you’re not aware of how much a trip to cinema can cost.”

“The price of the tickets being too high and I totally agree. I sold 3 tickets to 3 adults the other day and it cost them over £40. I’d have to work 6 hours to earn that much!”

“Price, yes they are justified the chain I work for increases the admissions charge every quarter! And the amount they have gone up since I started is crazy they have nearly doubled from £5.35 in 2007 to £9.95 now!”

“Prices, yes they justified but it is not my (the customer assistants) fault that the prices are set at that price, so complaining, getting annoyed at me isn’t going to change anything”

The areas that are complaining the most about prices are West Midlands, East Midlands and Yorkshire & the Humber.  The area with the fewest complaints about prices was London – ironically the area with the highest prices!  I don’t know why this is but it could have something to do with the high cost of all entertainment in London (or theoretically it could be that Londoners are far too polite to complain…)

A common myth about the cinema’s income from tickets

Among the 35% who felt that the complaints about pricing were not justified there was a common theme in their answers; the belief that cinemas don’t keep much of the cinema price.  For example…

“Yes food is expensive, but that’s because we get next to no profit from ticket prices. If we didn’t sell food at such high prices, we wouldn’t be able to afford screen maintenance and to actually acquire films.”

“The price and how expensive everything is. I then explain how we only make 10% off ticket sales that’s why the company makes food and drink expensive”

“The price of concessions, yes the complaints are justified, popcorn is not expensive to make! However I understand that our cinema and most others only get 10% of ticket prices so they have to make some money somewhere.”

Avengers Age of UltonWhat’s interesting about this is that it’s not true – cinemas keep around half of the ticket price, after VAT.

The myth that cinemas only keep 10% of the ticket price seems widespread and isn’t limited to a single chain or region.   In a survey I conducted last year of over 1,200 film industry professionals, the average reported fee charged by cinemas was 44% of the income and it’s not unheard of for cinemas to keep 70% of the income of an independent film.

Earlier this year in Germany, over 200 cinemas refused to show Avengers: Age of Ultron as part of a boycott of Disney films, after the studio tried to reduce the cinema share from 52% to 47%.

Other complaints

Other common complaints from customers included…

  • The temperature of the cinema (too hot, too cold, loud air conditioning, no air conditioning)
  • Popcorn-related crisis (Sweet popcorn being too cold and salt popcorn being too salty)
  • Having to ID check young patrons and getting stick from them and/or their parents
  • Other customers making noise or sitting in the wrong seats
  • Noise – the cinema being too loud or hearing the movie in the next screen

Pay

ritzy-strike-april-2104-04The vast majority of cinema staff are paid rates very close to the national minimum wage. For example, Odeon ‘Cinema Host‘s received £5.56 per hour if they’re under 21 years old and £6.80 per hour if they’re 21 or older.  Supervisors and managers are paid more, although all the people I surveyed were paid below the national average wage for the UK of £24,650.

Here are a few salaries for supervisors…

  • Cineworld £8.00 ph
  • Odeon (South West) £9.00 ph
  • Odeon (North East) £8.66 ph
  • Odeon (London) £9.49 ph

And for managers…

  • Odeon (London) Deputy Manager  £19,000 pa
  • Vue (South East) Manager £19,500 pa
  • Cineworld (London) Duty Manager £21,500 pa
  • Odeon (Scotland) Manager £24,000 pa

According to recent reports in the BBC, The Guardian and BECTU, many UK cinema staff are on zero-hour contracts. This means that they’re not guaranteed a minimum number of hours per week, placing how much they earn entirely in the hands of whoever is creating the weekly rota.

Do cinema staff enjoy their jobs?

Working in a cinema might be most childrens’ idea of heaven and most adults’ idea of hell.  I asked my group whether they enjoyed their job and their answers surprised me a little.  I was expecting to find low levels of job satisfaction due the low pay, low customer satisfaction with the cinema experience and reports of inflexible zero-hour contracts.  In fact, 83% of cinema staff said they enjoyed their current job, with Odeon coming out on top of the big three (85%), followed by Vue (81%) and Cineworld (79%).

uk cinema staff enjoy their job

The most common reasons people cited for enjoying their job was the fun they had with their colleagues.  Here are a few of the positive remarks about their work…

Last-Action-Hero-Ticket“One of the best jobs I’ve ever had.”

“I love it, definitely hope to be working there in 5 years. By far best job I’ve ever had.”

“Yeah it’s awesome most of the time. Fun environment and work with great peeps”

“I really enjoy my position at Odeon. The staff are really great. I see myself progressing in Odeon as a leader or as an accountant of the establishment in 5+ years time.”

Grumbles from the dissatisfied 17% include low wages, unfriendly working hours and the customers.  Comments included…

“Very stressful, often work long hours with no overtime pay or appreciation from head office. After many years with the company, I am now job hunting.”

“I hate being public enemy number one, I used to love working with people but I’ve been abused by so many customers in the cinema that I dread going there!”

“I dislike the zero hour contract and the minimum wage pay especially since their prices for concessions are constantly increasing.”

“The cinema industry is a total money-grabbing evil empire only interested in squeezing as much money out of the public as possible.”

I also asked “Do you think you will be working for the same company in five years?”  Again, the result surprised me – a third of the people working in cinemas today want to be working for the same company in five years time.

uk cinema staff working in five years

The people who said they do enjoy their job but who don’t think they’ll still be working in a cinema in five years cited all manner of next steps, including university, teaching, the Police, the Army, advertising, psychology and more.  These people broadly seem happy with a fun place to work while they are working towards their next career step.

The results from this survey suggest that working in a cinema is a good job to have while you’re a student.  You can expect a fun environment with free movies and popcorn, but with some hard demands and low wages.

Should you eat the food on sale in cinemas?

Odeon popcornLast week I looked at the cost and calorific content of cinema popcorn, but one topic I couldn’t measure is the quality and cleanliness of the food on sale.  Whilst at university I had a friend who worked at a nearby major cinema (which shall remain nameless) and I would get regular warnings about the quality of the food.  At least twice during my three years studying I heard stories of the popcorn having to be junked due to failed health investigations.  So I asked my respondents if they felt comfortable eating the food sold at their site.  I needn’t have worried as nine out of ten cinema staff recommend cinema food (higher than the number of dentists who recommend Colgate or cats who are fans of Whiskers).

uk cinema staff happy to eat popcorn pie

A number of people praised the standard of food hygiene at their site, including…

“I frequently purchase food from the cinema on my breaks. The standard of hygiene is very high and I wouldn’t have a problem eating anything made there.”

“I would be happy to eat all of the food we prepare in our cinema. I know temp checks, date labels and quality of foods are our priority.”

“All our food prep areas and equipment are thoroughly cleaned every night. All stock out of date is disposed of and everything is very fresh/clean!”

Of those who advised against eating the food almost every person singled out the hotdogs and the cheese which is poured on the nachos.

Changes in the cinema business

Throughout the survey, answers I heard a repeated point from a number of people – the business is changing.  Many cite that Management are expecting them to do more work without an increase in wage rates or paid hours.  Others complained about how increasingly ruthless their chain is becoming – citing increased prices, sales techniques and a reduction in the attention paid to the customer experience.

“Yes I enjoy my job for the most part. Though my particular company seems to be straying further towards a retail business every day and further from a customer service industry which is the part i love.”

“The majority of the time yes, although with the changes the company are making and requiring a lot more from their employees without the pay it is unfair.”

“I used to and no the job has changed so much and it’s not as good as it used to be plus the wages are not enough to raise a family!”

“It used to be great then we got some new management and it changed and isn’t fun or enjoyable anymore.”

The final word

I asked the group “Is there anything you want to say to the customers who attend your cinema?”  So, as a thank you to the lovely 151 cinema staff who took the time to give me their thoughts, I present below a selection of the things they want you to know…

cinema trash“Please don’t have a go at staff for the lack of staff (queues held up) as it is not their fault, it’s down to the lack of hours the cinema gets.”

“Treat me (all of us) like a human being, show respect, be polite, don’t direct your complaints at me unless I actually did something wrong. I work in customer service industry but I’m not a servant.”

“Please clean up after yourselves, it’s hard enough as it is.”

“Try and clear up after yourself if you can, there are plenty of bins for popcorn cartoons and drinks containers. Please take them out with you rather than leaving them on the floor for staff to clean up.”

“Please tidy up after yourselves and your children. Please. Please for the love of god.”

“Put your rubbish in the BIN. TAKE YOUR RUBBISH WITH YOU! No your child does not have a bug, you just let them drink 2 large iceblasts you idiot!!”

“We are humans as well, and just doing our jobs”

“We are just the little guys, we have no control over the prices. The change in having allocated seating was not my choice to make, to add on a booking fee with online sale wasn’t my idea. The screen selling out doesn’t justify you screaming at me. Your underage child can’t watch an 18 certificate film as it is the law.”

“We’re aware that the prices are diabolical but we can’t change them, please stop shouting at us”

“We don’t make the prices don’t complain to us complain to head office”

Methodology

I surveyed 151 people who currently work in UK cinemas.  I found them via targeted Facebook adverts, which only showed to people who listed a UK cinema as their current employer. 41% work in an Odeon, 32% in a Vue cinema, 23% in a Cineworld and 4% for other companies.  85% were junior staff, 11% were supervisors and 4% were managers.

It’s worth noting that these are the views of the staff on the ground and so they may not give the full picture. For example, the increased push towards sales could be viewed as either money-grabbing greed or increased efficiency and elimination of waste, depending on whose point of view you use.

Epilogue

Today’s article has given me a vivid and fascinating insight into that it’s like to work in a cinema.  I have been to the cinema many hundreds of time in my life and I now have an added respect for their job.  And, yes, I will be taking my rubbish home with me when I see a movie from now on.

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8 Responses

  1. bec August 25, 2016 at 4:10 pm #

    Quick question : where did you do your research / survey?
    I ask as an odeon cinema host

  2. Alex December 5, 2016 at 8:25 pm #

    As someone who’s been a cinema manager for years, the lie that we take home a huge cut from films in your article is misleading. If you read the actual source you quoted, it says, “During the early weeks of a film’s release, the studio’s cut can be as high as 90 percent in some cases; at the end of a long run, that can flip entirely, leaving 90 percent to the theater-owners and only 10 percent to the studios. ”

    That’s the actual truth. At the start of a movie, aka, when the movie makes the most money usually, they demand an Insane cut. Ours, a 30 chain theatre with millions in revenue, has consistently been asked for as high as 90% of sales. So please remember this before arguing against concessions being the huge part of not just profit but also expense paying.

    My regional manager famously said “tickets keep the lights on but the concession do the rest.”

    • Stephen Follows February 20, 2017 at 10:40 am #

      Hi Alex

      Sorry that it’s taken a bit of time to respond to your comment. I wanted to do my research before I did. I have just published the result of my research here https://stephenfollows.com/how-a-cinemas-box-office-income-is-distributed/

      I asked around about the claim that cinemas only keep 10% of income, as it didn’t sound right to me, nor match my experience with recoupment waterfalls. And I think I got to the bottom of it. The article linked above goes into more detail but the short story is that one large cinema chain used to have a deal which involved them keeping 100% of the first income from each screening up to a pre-agreed figure (known as the ‘house nut’) and then handing over 10% of all remaining income. This isn’t very common, and to the best of my knowledge, only one chain ever used this.

      So it could be true to say that for a packed screen, 90% of income from the final tickets sold were passed on to the distributor, but not that cinema hand over 90% of all income.

      Hope that clears it up,

      Stephen

  3. Johnny Walker May 21, 2018 at 3:49 pm #

    This is an amazing article. Thanks so much for taking the time to put together some simple facts about the industry. As a longtime cinema nut, this is absolutely fascinating. Thank you!

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