How to sneak food into the movie theater

Yesterday, I explained how inflated concession prices drive me to smuggle outside food into the movie theater. After years of cheating the system, I’ve learned a thing or two.

Tips for smuggling snacks

  • Why bother hiding at all? You could just be honest about it and carry in a grocery bag full of treats. After all, the young workers who staff most big theaters don’t care much about the company’s slim profit margins. But even if you can flaunt your contraband, you shouldn’t. Don’t make it easy for a bored teenager to spot your flagrant rule-breaking. Play the not-so-dangerous game.
  • What to wear. In the winter, hiding snacks is easy. Big coats and hidden underlayers make perfect stash spots. But what about the summertime? Men can don cargo shorts—but don’t get greedy. Bulging thigh pockets and a tell-tale plastic crinkle could give you away. Many women prefer snugger-fitting apparel, but they also have a superior smuggling option…
  • Purses are magic. While theaters may reserve the right to inspect bags, few actually do. Even if the ticket-taker would balk at a bulky backpack, he’s probably hesitant to invade a lady’s purse. Plus, many “purses” are more like side-saddles; a small village could survive for weeks on the junk food that fits inside.
  • What snacks should you bring? Your ideal snacking inventory depends on the size of your secret smuggling compartment. For slim pockets, options are limited: chocolate bars and low-profile bags of candy. But with a roomy purse, the sky’s the limit. You can tote around family-size bags of chips or one-liter soda bottles. But don’t get cocky; you don’t want to arouse suspicion (or disgust) from your seat neighbors. Smelly foods—salt and vinegar chips, garlicky snacks—should be left at home. And never cart in messy, hot fast food. No theater employee wants to stay late and scrub grilled onion slime from your seat cushion.
  • Time your snacking. Once you’ve cleared the ticket station, you’re pretty much home free. No one’s going to ask you to open your bag or empty your pockets now. But don’t brazenly brandish your illicit refreshments. Staff often walk through the theater just before the show starts. They’re unlikely to call you out, but why risk catching them on a bad day? Wait for the house lights to drop, then pull out your peanut M&Ms.

    Dim lighting won’t mask the sound of your snacking. Plastic packaging and canned sodas make noises that concession fare doesn’t. Fortunately, you can use the movie’s overamplified audio track to mask these signals. Wait for an onscreen car crash to crack open that Mountain Dew. Rip apart that Doritos bag during a fight scene.

  • What snacks should you buy at the concession stand? One word: popcorn. It’s iconic, nostalgic and delicious. No store-bought substitute can match freshly-popped, grease-drenched kernels. Just keep in mind that the theaters mark up popcorn more than any other item. You’re paying up to nineteen times the wholesale cost!

Theaters should sell more popcornesque snacks: items that moviegoers can’t buy for less at the Wal-Mart across the street. Boutique cinemas like the Alamo Drafthouse have carved out a profitable niche by offering a full restaurant menu.

But until the Drafthouse opens a West Virginia highlands location, I’ll be stopping by the grocery store on my way to the movie theater.