Eating Disorder

Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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It's a bad idea to regulate food prices in multiplexes

MOST PEOPLE IN metropolitan cities now watch movies in multiplexes and it is with secret hatred that they stand in the queue to buy food and drink during the interval. The margins are clearly beyond anything reasonable. A pack of popcorn whose cost price must be about Rs 10 is sold at 15 to 20 times that much. One multiplex chain only stocks a particular brand of mineral water that is more expensive and, unlike cheaper alternatives which are at least sweet, has a flavour of hard water. The food is a little over airline quality and that is not saying much. Any glee that low-carb dieters first experienced on seeing a stall with salad vanished the minute they got the first leaf into their mouth.

Once he enters the gate, frisked and relieved of any nibbles being smuggled in from outside, the multiplex customer is a hostage. The choice he faces is to either meekly submit or not partake. The market is a monopolyand all this is on top of the price paid for the movie ticket itself, which is also multiple times what it would be at a single-screen cinema hall. In effect, he is paying more to pay more.

A few days ago, the Bombay High Court decided that this was unfair. It was hearing a public interest litigation against the prohibition on outside food taken into multiplexes. The petitioner argued, as per an Economic Times report, that ‘there does not exist any legal or statutory provision that prohibits one from carrying personal food articles or water inside movie theatres. The multiplexes sell food and water inside, but at an increased price, he said. Agreeing to this, Justice Kemkar said, “The price of food and water bottles sold inside movie theatres are, indeed, exorbitant. We have ourselves experienced it. You (multiplexes) should sell it at the regular price.”’ The court asked the state government to frame a policy on this, which will presumably happen soon.

While this will draw cheer among movie-goers, it is still a flawed idea to tell businesses that they can’t make a profit, especially since going to a multiplex is a free choice. There are plenty of single- screen theatres with torn seats and betel juice stains that offer cheap popcorn. A good experience comes at a price. It also comes at a cost. Those granite floors and reclining sofas need to be paid for.

Also, it is certain that if such a law came into place, not a single customer is going to benefit. The effect will be quite the opposite. Multiplexes will just increase the prices of tickets to keep their margins intact. Instead of only those who buy food paying extra, all customers will then have to make up for the shortfall. Will the government then decide at what price tickets can be sold? If they do that, you can bet there will be some other way found to make up for the gap. This is how businesses survive, by growing. If you over-regulate, the business becomes unfeasible and shuts down.

Many of the evils of capitalism are necessary. The simple solution is to enter a multiplex with a full stomach.