Regal Cinemas: Can You Ask Your Ushers To Stop Panhandling?

Everyone likes to help the less fortunate—at least, that’s what we’re going to go with publicly for the sake of this argument. That said, is it really appropriate to be asked to pony up donation money when you’re sitting in a theater waiting for your movie to begin? You’ve already paid more than you probably wanted to for the tickets, not to mention any refreshments—shouldn’t that ticket price also include an implied guarantee that you won’t be asked to tithe?

One reader, Karen, was particularly annoyed last week when the ushers walked around during the previews asking individual patrons for donations. Here’s the letter she sent to Regal:

On Monday afternoon, my partner and I attended “The Strangers,” at Regal, Union Square. In the past, our experiences here have been wonderful, with friendly staff and a comfortable environment. $12 a ticket is pricey, but it’s worth it for an hour or two of pleasant, quiet escapism.

I was SHOCKED when a manager of this studio came into our auditorium after the trailers had started to panhandle from patrons. The manager said something about collecting pocket change for a charity that Regal believes in. Then the staff proceeded to go around, foisting a money-bag in patrons’ faces and loudly asking, “Do you have anything you want to give?” It really put people on the spot, in front of others. The whole experience of being aggressively begged from in a space that we had paid to relax in was painfully awkward. It’s rude, and it alienates customers.

I discussed this event with friends, one of whom said it happened to him when he went to the same theatre. If this is a case of corporate offices forcing managers to engage in the humiliating behavior of begging money from patrons who’ve already paid, please put a stop to that. A donation jar in the lobby for any causes corporate believes in would be much more appropriate. (Donating a portion of the ticket prices we’ve already paid rather than trying to milk customers for more would be even more appropriate.) If this is a case of a lone employee begging from customers in this location, then that’s something corporate also needs to know about.

Is this sanctioned behavior? We’re not sure we want to go back to this theater again. Are in-theater, aggressive solicitations now part of your regular movie going experience?

Look, we’re not saying we’re against people helping people, and we don’t think that’s what Karen’s saying, either. For all we know, she pulled a wagon full of foster kids around Central Park earlier that day. What bothers us is when a business tries to force a donation at an inappropriate moment—that is, during a private business transaction.

As Karen points out, if the theater believes in this charity, they can donate a portion of ticket (or concession) profits, or screen PSAs during the previews, or make their employees wear slogan-filled t-shirts. (All of these things would also better serve the theater from a marketing perspective.) Just let us watch our crummy Hollywood summer movies in peace, Regal.