On Thursday, movie theaters in San Francisco joined together and refused to reopen despite permission from San Francisco County, saying that the snack ban would have to be lifted for them to make money.
SF movie theaters choose to remain closed
San Francisco County recently moved into the state’s orange-level reopening tier, which allows many businesses to reopen as well as most businesses to resume indoor services. San Francisco allowed movie theaters to open at 50% capacity, or up to 200 people on Wednesday to meet the state guidelines. But while 40 other counties in the state have reopened theaters with concessions, SF County opted not to, as they said that face coverings must be worn at all times to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“Food and beverages even if purchased outside the theater are not allowed to be brought into the theater and consumed inside the theater,” noted the city’s guidance letter to theaters released Wednesday. “Eating and drinking are prohibited to ensure that face covering is continuous.”
However, theater owners responded that they stand to lose even more money if they reopen and don’t sell concessions. According national theater surveys, movie theaters on average make 85% of their profits through concessions. And with lowered capacities due to state guidelines, those profit margins are even more critical.
Theaters would lose more money should they reopen without concessions than staying closed
“While we respect and thank Mayor (London) Breed for her decision to allow movie theatres to reopen, the restrictions in place present an insurmountable financial challenge for our members to do so and are preventing thousands of workers from returning to work,” said Milton Moritz, President and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners of California/Nevada (NATO), a group that most San Francisco movie theaters belong to. “Our members have taken the steps to meet or exceed expert-backed health and safety measures, and we ask that the city reconsider its reopening plan so our theatres can, once again, serve our San Francisco community.”
“If concession counters can’t be open we would be running at a major loss let alone making a little money. There is no money to be made it would be a bigger loss of operating the theater than keeping the theater closed.”
Many theater owners in San Francisco also note that city is now allowing indoor dining at restaurants and other businesses, with movie theaters now being the lone exception.
“I’ve had city people try to explain it to me,” said San Francisco movie theater manager Gary Park to the Globe. “But I keep hearing slightly different things. Mask requirements of course, but I’ve also heard that theaters were too confined with so many people. I was also actually told that theaters are not restaurants.”
“Theaters and concessions are a package deal for us in reopening. We need the other one to operate. A ticket, after sending money back to the studios and taxes and everything, it only pays for the lights and employees and everything else, if that. We need concessions to be in the black. Without it we’d either be barely scraping by or losing money. There’s no middle ground here. Either we have them and we open or we don’t and stay closed.”
As of Friday, Mayor Breed has not responded to NATO’s response, nor a letter sent to her office requesting the change.