Friday, May 2, 2008

Movie-Theater Etiquette: Should You Clean Up After Yourself?

Posted by Neil Estep
I see a lot of movies, and, if I can afford it, I’ll occasionally stop at the concessions counter for my $4 soda and $6 popped corn kernels.

In an aside, I should mention that if the current shortage of edible corn becomes reason for theaters to raise prices, I’ll spit in someone’s eye!

My inclination over the years has been to take my drink and snack into the theater, watch, eat, drink and pick up my garbage on my way out. It’s easy enough to pick up after myself, and, well, it’s my mess, right? And I used to heavily deride those that left their garbage everywhere.

However, in talking with others lately, including a former theater usher who sided with the messy people, I’ve come to understand that this practice isn’t only for—pardon my candor—jerks. Many of these garbage-scattering moviegoers have considered the morality of such an act and decided they are under no obligation to dispose of said waste. Surprisingly, their reasoning seems sound.

A movie ticket can cost upwards of $10 nowadays, and part of that price, along with concessions, is meant to pay for theater employees and the time they spend cleaning up after us. My friend Andru compared the phenomenon to that of a restaurant: you go in, sit down, make a mess and leave gleefully because your bill and tip has paid for your mess. And he’s right, to a point.

Though the restaurant simile is relevant, it can’t possibly encompass all the variables. Waitpersons are usually paid minimum wage by their employer, which means that most of your bill in a restaurant applies to food and beverage costs, and other costs of operation. Your server is working for tips and those tips fluctuate based on level of service and maybe even the amount of cleanup left for them, such as when your child spilled apple juice and syrup on the carpet, and threw his or her half-chewed pancake bits against the wall.

Am I being pedantic? Oh, definitely. As I said, I’ve spent years cleaning up after myself (Thanks, Mom!) in movie theaters, and when people posit a different line of reasoning, I consider it. For me, the garbage isn’t just out of kindness to the ushers: it gets in people’s way as they tiptoe down the aisle during the credits; half-consumed sodas are inevitably kicked over, leaving a sticky residue for the next audience member; and less trash can mean a faster turnover for the following film.

Where do you stand on the issue? Do you buy concessions intending to leave them behind? Do you plan to clean up but forget in the hustle and bustle of the crowd? Do you always clean up your garbage without fail? Why or why not?

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