Should Eating be BANNED in Theatres?

MTAS Blogger Dawn Bush (@Dawnydancer) gives her take on the current issue of eating in the theatre.


MTAS Blogger Dawn Bush (@Dawnydancer) gives her take on the current issue of eating in the theatre.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a chomper and chewer. I love my food. I don’t go quite as far as Dawn French in the Vicar of Dibley (Christmas day) but if I go out for a coffee, the chances are I will choose to have a cake as well. I love all of it: Chinese, burgers, a posh steak, veggie nut loaf; and I have regularly been caught on the train home from London eating a furtive pasty or a cheese toasty. I will admit, it’s accompanied by a slight sense of embarrassment that other people are sharing my supper through the medium of their nostrils: but the train has those dinky little tables where you can put your coffee and toast. Or your laptop, if you’re a workaholic rather than a foodie. But I have found myself wondering this week, if I’m as bad as I thought I was; because never, ever, not even if I was at fainting point, would I take food into a theatrical performance.

This murky secret has been hiding in the dark underbelly of London theatres for some time, but seems to have reached epidemic proportions over the last five years or so. Up until my late 20’s, I was an avid theatre goer, especially to musicals. The problem then was people rustling sweet wrappers; bad enough, but not terminal. Going back to my love of theatre after a long, financially induced break, I am horrified to find at least one theatre that houses a famous musical actually takes food orders at the interval, bringing hot snacks to people in their seats. (I think it was at Lion King, but don’t quote me.)

As recently reported in the Radio Times magazine, Imelda Staunton has tackled this sordid habit head on. “I don’t understand this obsession with having to eat or drink something at every moment of the day,” she says. In answer to the question “should eating in theatres be banned?” her reply is a resounding “Definitely.”

I don’t understand how this problem has come about, it’s beyond my understanding, but the question remains, how would such a ban be enforced? Can we get the theatres on side? Perhaps the ordering and delivering of food in the interval was an attempt to bring it under control, I don’t know; but my OH and I looked at each other in complete horror.

“Do you want something?” he asked, ready to pander to my every whim despite his distaste. (Well, it was our wedding anniversary).

“Absolutely not!” I replied.

Going to see a musical is a rare, expensive treat for us (mostly because I’m spoilt, and I like top price seats.) Why would I want to ruin the experience? Part of the joy of theatre is the evocative smell. Not, perhaps, greasepaint these days; but faint smells of plush seats, makeup and sweat. Especially in the front stalls. Scents that are so subtle we don’t notice them, but undoubtedly make up part of the atmosphere. Why would I want to obliterate that with the overbearing, cinematic smell of hot dog?

I also remember watching in fascination as a person two seats along from me in Groundhog Day opened his box of smelly Chinese noodles and calmly started eating them. I turned my head away in disgust, only to see a full blown McDonald’s being enjoyed by a family five rows in front of us.

I suspect the theatre managements must be ambivalent. After all, if they sell overpriced food to their patrons, it’s bringing in extra revenue. I guess the key thing in addressing this problem is to start by getting them on side. Perhaps the ordering & delivering of food in the interval was an attempt to bring some kind of control to the problem; but in my opinion it sends a loud message: eating while you watch our musical is perfectly ok.

What about hygiene? Many of the theatres have plush seats, which surely must be a magnet for grease, dirt and bacteria. I wonder how often they’re cleaned? I for one don’t want to pay £80 or more to enjoy someone’s last night’s pizza toppings on the arm of my seat.

So how do we deal with this? Do we have bag searches? Do we ban everything, even sweets and bottles of water? I have to admit, I was surprised but happy that I didn’t have to down a glass of wine in 10 minutes during the interval; but I’m not in favour of those pedlars that give you the whole bottle if you buy two glasses. Where am I going to put it? Do I carry it home? Do I subtly pour me and hubby a second glass while Scar falls laconically from Pride Rock?


Don’t tempt me. Give me a small glass that I can finish in the interval without ripping out my throat; and I’ll try my best next time to get to your premises early enough to enjoy a leisurely glass; maybe even, like at the start of Once, on stage with the musicians.

Maybe we, here in the MTAS, need to make a stand. Lobby the theatres. Encourage them to ban food in the auditorium. Suggest to them that a list of theatre etiquette should be sent out with tickets.

No hot food. No noisy wrappers. Please put unwrapped sweets in a box. Switch off mobile phones before entering the auditorium (yes, and we are naughty culprits here. If you are taking a photo to share on this site during the show, you are telling others by example it’s ok to have their phones on!) No drink, apart maybe from water, allowed in the auditorium.

Translate it into different languages. Hire vigilant ushers.

Or will we soon be seeing drop-down tables on the backs of our theatre seats?


What do you think? Do you agree with Dawn or do you think having a snack whilst watching a show is a good thing? Let us know in the comments below… 

2 thoughts on “Should Eating be BANNED in Theatres?

  1. Currently working as an usher and also an avid lover of going to theatre, I have strong views on this.
    I personally feel that eating of any kind – hot/cold/sweets should be banned in theatres.
    Bars could still be present in theatres for people to have drinks before/in interval but only water permitted inside the auditorium.
    I understand that a lot of people bring children, etc. to shows but if you plan meals/snacks in advance then a child can surely go two hours without food.
    The main issue with this though is that a lot of theatres depend on sweet/food sales for additional income but they could easily sell sweets not in rustly bags if they have to sell food. When I worked as a youth assistant and took kids to shows, I made sure all their snacks were in plastic cups to ensure minimal noise during the show. If I can prep it for 20 kids 10 minutes before a show starts, then it’s not that hard.
    From my experience as an usher, it’s the more commercial shows that have bigger issues (where people come who don’t traditionally go to the theatre) – e.g. Pantomime/Disney based shows/Dirty Dancing, etc. They are not familiar with the etiquette of theatre going as they don’t go often and so happily try to take photos/eat loud food/even shout to their friends on the other side of the row!)
    Shows I’ve seen recently that are less well known by the masses (e.g. Ragtime, The Last Five Years) had wonderful audiences as they were more familiar with musicals, attended regularly in the past and understood the rules (phones off, no food, just sit and enjoy the show!)
    Part of the ambience of going to the theatre is escaping the modern world of takeaway/sweets and focusing on the world presented to you on stage.
    If people are starving , grab a mars bar from the shop nearby before going into the show!!! I am slowly enjoying going to London musicals less and less because people in the audience are constantly ruining the show for me. If theatres are not careful, they will slowly lose thespian lovers to the commercial masses x RANT OVER XXXX


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