AMC cracks down on movie snack-smugglers

popcornMost adults I know have distinct memories of the criminal thrill of smuggling outside snacks into a movie theater at some point in their lives. It's a transgression so low on the outlaw scale it's probably not even worth one Hail Mary, were a Catholic moviegoer to confess some Sunday. To date, I've never heard of even the most hardened ruffian being arrested for sneaking a Snickers bar into a Sunday matinee. But that could change.

Evidently that guilt you've been feeling when you brought snacks into AMC theaters, up until this October, has been unwarranted. Official AMC policy did allow hungry fans to bring their own candy, chips and popcorn into movies; that is, before the company reviewed its policies. After tests of "no outside food" in selected theaters this fall, the company is now smacking down on snack-smugglers nationwide.

AMC won't say why the company decided to make the change; nor will it reveal what the patrons' reaction was to the test; and finally, it hasn't commented on what action will be taken by customers who are found bringing in their own meals. One woman interviewed by the Kansas City Star said she'd stop bringing in candy bars, while her friend said she'd start bringing a bigger purse. These moviegoers at customer support site Get Satisfaction, well, they didn't seem happy.

Revenues are down all over the theater industry, to be sure, and it's long been understood that the real profit is made on popcorn, soda, ice cream and outrageously priced candy (that's packaged so it looks different, right?). Some of AMC's theaters have expanded their menu from the traditional fare to offer a variety of foods. Company spokespeople indicate the chain is re-evaluating and revamping its menus to offer more choices.

Were it not bad enough that the nation's second-largest chain of movie theaters is officially restricting patrons from bringing their own snacks, news last month detailing the exact calorie count and fat content of the popcorn served by Cinemark, AMC and Regal demonstrated how punishing of a choice buying from theater-hosted concessions is. Not only did AMC and Regal both score mind-blowingly high on quantities of fat, saturated fat and calories (AMC's large popcorn is 1,030 calories and 57 grams of saturated fat) in their popcorn, but both chains greatly underestimated those actual calories and fat.

Bring your own, and perhaps suffer being tossed from the theater; eat theirs, and perhaps suffer early onset diabetes.

Even if AMC does offer a much greater selection of food, it's certain to be overpriced and likely terribly unhealthy. This could be just what already-cash-strapped customers need to convince them to wait for the DVD. And with an inflexible message such as the one AMC is communicating here, the charm of a movie theater "experience" won't be enough to win its customers back once they get comfortable at home living by their own rules.

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