Tips for Popcorn at Movie Nights

ImageHere are the collected ideas that Lore Ponshock (director, Lester Public Library of Rome) received in answer to her request for info on WisPubLib regrading experiences selling popcorn at library movie nights:

  • We have movies almost every Monday nt. and we do serve free popcorn. We have a microwave and use micro. popcorn. We have a licensing agreement with Swank for our films. In addition, some patrons also bring cookies, desserts, etc. We have borrowed a popcorn machine for one of our children’s programs from the Park and Rec department but have no plans to purchase one. The microwave popcorn works just fine.
  • Here at our Library in Illinois, we do sell popcorn. Our Foundation purchased a machine and sells popcorn and water at our afternoon movie -- sales vary but all profits go back to the Foundation. We have had the machine awhile, so I don't know the costs. It is an all in one machine on a stand (like the old fashioned carts). I had reason to rent a table top one which cost $45 for the day. In all honesty, it is not hugely profitable, and we couldn't do it if it weren't manned by volunteers. What it does is help build awareness of the Foundation.
  • At the public library where I used to work, I would make popcorn by using my own Stir Crazy popper.  This saved the library money, yet was a good way to make money at little overhead cost.  Popcorn was sold for $.50 a bag.  Any popcorn leftover after the movie was done, I gave to any of the staff or public promissing to be careful with not spilling the popcorn all over.  Soda and candy were sold at the same price.
  • We haven't sold popcorn, but we do have it available for the kids to munch. We have a microwave at the library, and the boy scouts are always in need of buyers for their sale, so we just purchase microwave popcorn, pop up a few bags, and have it in cups for the moviegoers to pick up.
  • We periodically serve popcorn at our monthly afternoon movies and sometimes at teen events.  The only bad thing about it in my opinion is that the aroma wafts down to the lower level of the building where my office is and it makes me want to go up and get a bag for myself. Here is the one we purchased - Our Friends group bought it for us.  We do not charge the attendees at the programs for the popcorn.
  • The Friends of the Library purchased a popcorn machine for our programs which has been well received. At this time we provide popcorn, water/soda/juice, and sometimes candy at our programs (no charge). We bought something similar to this one: On Tuesday, I can look up the invoice to verify where we purchased it, what size, cost etc.  We chose not to buy at cart. Just used one that we had already. I thought we bought the machine from this company: ... but I don't see any commercial machines. I must have just purchased initial supplies from them: popcorn bags, oil, etc. Now, we purchase the supplies mostly from local stores.
  • When I was at the Shorewood Public Library, my Teen Advisory Board sold cans of soda, bottled water, chips and candy at our movie programs as a fundraiser. We bought everything at Sams Club. We did raise money and the patrons liked being able to get snacks at the movies. We also kept the soda and snacks in the staff room and staff could buy snacks, too.
  • When I was the director in Kiel, we bought a machine from Valley Popcorn in Appleton, we also bought pre-measured popcorn/oil packets and small paper bags for individual servings from them. We bought one of the smalller popcorn machines, but they seem to have a wide range of sizes.  The consumables aren't cheap, especially since we gave our popcorn away for free at our movies (we supplied popcorn, but they had to bring in their own drinks).  If you charge a small fee, you might be able to break even.  Bags with the Valley Popcorn logo cost slightly less than plain bags. Honestly the drinks were always more of a problem than the popcorn, in terms of spills and clean up. If you already allow drinks, popcorn won't be much more challenging.  Vacuuming up after the movie takes some time, but it's not bad if you have a good vacuum cleaner.  Cleaning the machine of the popcorn debris and oil each time is also a bit of a hassle, but is something that can be assigned to a page, or alternate among volunteers. I always considered it worth the hassles.  The treats made our movie experience a more cinema-like experience, and I think it did attract more people.  Just a nice p.r. move if you can afford it.
  • We used to offer popcorn for free to our viewing public.  We purchased pre-made popcorn in large plastic bags from Walmart.  We set up about fifty kraft paper bags, cut in half, on a folding conference table near the entrance to the meeting room.  We also offered small cans of clear soda.  We learned that colored sodas leave stains on the carpeting.  We offered family movies, movies for seniors, teen movies all in the meeting room at least two to three times per week.  This system worked very efficiently for us.  As well, from our consistent after movie clean-ups we learned that carpet tiles are a more cost effective investment than wall-to-wall carpeting.  If an area gets ruined you can plug in a replacement tile for a lot less than carpet cleaning.
  • We also have movie nights - two Tuesday nights and one Monday matinee per month. We serve popcorn and pop - free. (We use the library's trust fund/Friends money to purchase.) We get our popcorn from the local Dairy Queen  - in huge bags that we then re-bag into individual bags. I think we pay $7 or $8 for a party bag, which then makes 25-30 smaller bags. It's messy, but people love it. (We do put out a jar for donations at all our programs, but normally only get a couple of bucks per event.) We also serve free pop - 2 liter bottles poured into cups with lids (about 10 oz. cups).
  • We have a popcorn machine and cart (on Sams Club) that the friends purchased for the library. Drinks and popcorn are free.
  • We buy popcorn from the local theatre, and let people use the dipper to fill their cups.  Other than vacuuming afterwards, there are no problems.
  • We have a popcorn popper that we bought from Sam's Club, and that's also where we usually get our supplies--50# bag at a time--we keep it in a cooler on wheels that we used to use for summer program field trips.
  • We sell small bags for .10 and big bags (brown paper lunch bag size, only we get the white ones they have at Sam's) for .50 and we make extra money that we use to get other snacks for program so we don't have to justify it in the budget. We have a movie night for the kids and give them a half small bag for free--it's enough to make them happy and contain the mess a bit.  We also have Monday Movie Madness where we offer, 1 per household, a large bag of popcorn with the check out of 3 movies.  It has increased our patron count on Mondays, so we figure the freebies are worth the expense. :)
  • We don't do popcorn here in Mukwonago, but at my old job in Indiana we had a popcorn machine that we got at Sam's Club for around $120. We made popcorn for free and put it into those brown paper lunch bags to distribute. Popcorn is popular at movies, and makes the library smell soooo good! However, it is messy! Be prepared to do a LOT of vacuuming after a program. Also, the machine needs to be cleaned out after each use or the popcorn will taste rancid. I would think that if people would buy the popcorn, you may not make a huge profit, but would at least break even. One thing to be aware of - if you are tempted to buy a huge vat of oil - don't. Unless you keep it in the fridge it will go bad pretty quickly.
  • River Falls Public Library has been running movie nights for a number of years, and I always provide the popcorn for free as an entice to attend.  I buy the big economy size bags of pre-popped popcorn (Old Dutch, I think) from Sam's Club. Our local community theatre group has looked into buying a popcorn machine--you can sometimes find them at Sam's Club, and online for a very reasonable price.  You really don't need a very big one---I think the one we've used has a 4 qt. kettle.

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