If you went to the Kennedy Center last month and ordered coffee at intermission, the bartender may have handed you a paper cup, along with an apology.
“Sorry, it’s $4 now,” was the line often repeated, as a November price increase went into effect on almost all concession items.
Eileen Andrews, the center’s vice president of public relations, said the increase was the Kennedy Center’s first in five years. Those $4 coffees, however, were the result of a signage error. Signs have been reprinted, Andrews said, and the cost is again $3 a cup.
But other changes are here to stay, and the prices of intermission fare that made your “Nutcracker” a bit more sparkly have indeed all increased. Beer is now $8, wine is $10 and well drinks are $11, all a dollar higher, as are cookies and other intermission snacks. Champagne is up 50 cents, to $12.50.
The only good news is for those who typically rush to the Foggy Bottom venue straight from work and skip dinner: Those plastic-wrapped sandwiches are still $5. Also, the concession stands now take credit cards after many years of accepting cash only.
You could argue that it’s silly to quibble about paying another buck for beer when some people are already spending as much as $204 to see “Matilda.” But what about the folks buying the $30 tickets for the nosebleed seats? Andrews acknowledged that especially for younger patrons, attending a live performance is “an experience” and that an $8 Budweiser adds nothing to the ambiance.
“We know many of the patrons want more variety,” she said. At Friday’s “Declassified” concert, which will feature ’90s pop-rocker Ben Folds performing with the National Symphony Orchestra, the Kennedy Center will begin experimenting with “premium” alcoholic beverages, including more craft beers. (An occasional Starr Hill or Goose Island has been the closest to craft a patron could get. According to Capital Eagle distributing, the center ordered mostly Budweiser, Bud Light, Stella Artois and Hoegaarden for Friday’s show.)
Andrews said the center plans to offer the premium beverages more broadly in January. Although she didn’t have specifics, the expanded options are a response to people who have essentially said, “We don’t mind paying $10 or even $12 for a glass of wine, but we want them to be good glasses of wine.”
Benevolent patrons may be more inclined to spend extra money if they know the profits are going straight to the arts organization. That’s not the case at the Kennedy Center, where food and beverage services are contracted out to Restaurant Associates. The licensing fees that the company pays and the undisclosed portions of gross profits that the Kennedy Center receives amount to less than 1 percent of the total budget, Andrews said.
Other area theaters benefit directly from concession sales, whether aimed at wealthy or lower-budget patrons. The Barns at Wolf Trap totally revamped its menu for the 2015-2016 season, said a Wolf Trap spokeswoman. You’ll pay $4 for coffee, but it’s 16 ounces and you can carry it into the theater. The prices and brands for other fare are posted online, so patrons know their choices in advance. Wines are $9.50 to $13.50, and beers are mostly $9.50, with all but one of the offerings brewed in Virginia. All concessions revenue supports the Wolf Trap Foundation, the spokeswoman said.
North of the Potomac, Strathmore finds a middle ground by contracting with Ridgewell’s, a Maryland-based caterer that also prioritizes local products, often at better prices than other venues. Beers by Flying Dog, brewed in Frederick, Md., cost $7, and $1 coffee is all you can drink, but only outside the concert hall.
Although there are bad deals to be had at smaller venues — such as the mediocre coffee at the Atlas and Studio theaters — others pride themselves on serving quality concessions curated in-house. At Round House Theatre, the $2 coffee is from local roaster Zeke’s, the pastries come courtesy of a Virginia baker named Gayle, and bottles of the local beers are a mere $6. During the run of “Stage Kiss,” patrons can chose from Heavy Seas, Dogfish Head, Starr Hill and RavenBeer.
And, of course, as many theatergoers with a sweet tooth know, the best intermission snack around is Signature Theatre’s fresh-baked cookie, which, for $2.50, goes very well with a $6 beer.
Many theaters encourage patrons to empty their pockets for good causes, especially around the holidays. Ford’s Theatre picks a local charity to raise funds for each year, for example, and actors might stand at the door collecting money for the Taking Care of Our Own fund. What patrons may not realize, unless they follow a certain D.C. actress on social media, is that the spirit of giving is alive backstage as well.
Margo Seibert, a Howard County native and American University graduate who has performed at Signature Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre and several other venues on her way to a Broadway career, just wrapped up her fourth annual “We Racket” drive to collect feminine hygiene products. For several days last month, Seibert went from theater to theater, encouraging Broadway cast members to donate tampons and other items. In addition to providing much-needed supplies for women living at the New York City Rescue Mission, the star of “Rocky” aims to offset the stigma of purchasing feminine products, especially since women cannot use food-stamp assistance to pay for them.
That’s where social media came in, because nothing says “buying maxi pads is cool” like photos of attractive Broadway stars clutching packages of Stayfree.
Among the performers who chipped in and posed are Heidi Blickenstaff of “Something Rotten!,” Mara Davi of “Dames at Sea” and Ana Villafañe, who stars as Gloria Estefan in “On Your Feet!”
By assembly day last week, Seibert had collected more than 10,000 pads and other products, which were divided up and used to create 260 kits for low-income women, 200 more than her goal.
When asked by an Instagram follower whether James Earl Jones had joined the We Racket drive, Seibert responded by writing, “We don’t have solid proof, but I’m gonna go with yes.”
Ritzel is a freelance writer.