It’s been estimated that movie theaters make an 85% profit at the concessions stand on overpriced soda, candy, nachos, hot dogs and, of course, popcorn. Movie-theater popcorn has been called one of America’s biggest rip-offs, with a retail price of nine times what it costs to make. Now, after a Michigan man sued a movie theater for overcharging customers on snacks, one theater owner is speaking up in defense of charging $8 for a Coke and a box of Goobers.
Joshua Thompson, who filed a lawsuit against the AMC theater in Livonia, Mich., used to bring his own snacks to the theater. Once he got word that the theater, like so many others, bans outside food and beverages, Thompson went to the theater on the day after Christmas empty-handed.
Then, apparently, his belly began rumbling. He approached the concessions stand and asked for a package of Goobers and a Coke. The total came to $8, or nearly three times what he could have paid for the same items at nearby stores. Thompson didn’t walk away in disgust. Instead, he paid for the goods, and then later found a lawyer willing to help him sue. Per the Detroit Free Press:
“He got tired of being taken advantage of,” said Thompson’s lawyer, Kerry Morgan of Wyandotte. “It’s hard to justify prices that are three and four times higher than anywhere else.”
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It will also be hard to justify, let alone win, a lawsuit like this. In any event, every moviegoer can sympathize with the idea that theater concessions are a rip-off. Everyone, perhaps, except for a theater owner, that is.
In light of the suit, theater owner Jon Goldstein was brave enough to make the case to the Free Press that concessions aren’t a rip-off. Here’s part of the rambling explanation:
“The life of a popcorn seed would actually be very interesting, from getting popped to putting into a bucket, to where it ends up at the end of the day, whether it’s in someone’s stomach or smushed into the seats or the floors of the theater,” said Goldstein. “If people would spill that popcorn in the living room as they do in the movie theater, I think they would understand the labor costs that go into running a concession stand in a busy movie theater.”
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The majority of the price charged for a movie ticket, Goldstein explains, goes to the studios and distribution companies, not the theater. Theaters, it’s been said, are really in the popcorn and candy business. The showing of films is just an excuse to gather a crowd and try to sell them buttery snacks and sugary drinks.
Don’t blame theater owners and managers, Goldstein says. They’re just trying to put on a nice show for customers. Goldstein philosophizes:
“If you treat your customers like they are not smart, then they are going to do things that are not smart, but if you treat customers with respect and with honesty, then you usually get that in return as well.”
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So, um, is it smart to ask customers to pay $8 for something that costs less than $3 a short walk away? I suppose it is, so long as your customers are stupid enough to agree to pay up.
Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.