Paul Fitzpatrick: June 2022, London
After a bit of prompting from one of my kids I visited an Everyman Cinema recently, and it was quite the experience.
On entering the cinema I was greeted warmly by staff who explained the set up and asked if I wanted anything from the bar (beer, cocktails, wine, soft drinks), or from the kitchen (tapas, burgers, pizza, snacks) which they could serve to my seat in the cinema, (there are trays attached to the armrests).
The cinema itself is a lesson in tasteful opulence where luxurious armchairs, and sofas that are dangerously comfortable, replace the standard cinema layout, the screen is the perfect size and the sound system is impressive.
Before the film starts, a member of staff introduces the movie and reminds the audience that the team are available to serve any further refreshments to your seat during the film.
As it turned out, the movie I went to see (Everything, Everywhere All At Once) was a bit weird, as most movies about the multiverse tend to be, however the overall experience was such that I can’t wait to go back.
The level of service, the comfort factor and the food and drink were all ten out of ten, and it was probably the best cinema experience since my first trip to the ABC minors as a 10 year old.
I did ponder afterwards though…. ‘was this a glimpse of the future, or a nod to the past?‘
Have we been so conditioned to accept mediocre service now, that it’s a shock to the system when we actually receive some decent service?
Do we realise just how much we’ve been trained into doing things ourselves these days, even basic tasks that used to be part of the service?
I guess a classic example of this is self-service Petrol Stations.
It used to be the norm to get your petrol served, your oil checked, your windscreen wiped and your tyres looked over without leaving your car.
Nowadays you’re expected to do it all yourself then stand in line to pay whilst being subjected to the temptation of a ‘Ginster Pasty‘ or ‘three Mars bars for the price of two‘.
I often wonder if there’s still a place today for those old style petrol stations.
I completely get that it would be a niche operation, in the same way that Everyman Cinemas aren’t going to take over from multiplexes, but I’m sure some people would happily pay for that extra level of service (my missus for one!).
This self-service mentality also extends to shopping now, especially supermarkets where we’re herded to unmanned, self-checkouts, even though in most cases we know we’re probably going to require the support of shop staff who are now thin on the ground as they’ve been replaced by machines…..
It happens all the time – something won’t scan, or the till doesn’t recognise something in your basket, or you’ve bought something which requires proof of age, or you’ve used your own plastic bag, or you’ve purchased something with an electronic tag that requires removing.
Any number of reasons can trigger that wee red light that pings above your self-checkout station to alert staff that you need assistance, except when you look around there’s no staff to be found, or if you’re lucky, there’s one poor person dashing from checkout to checkout like a blue-arsed fly.
It’s a perfect example of a purported time-saving initiative actually adding time (and stress) to what should be a pretty mundane task.
Perhaps Don Henley had Sainsbury’s in mind when he sang…
“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”
Similarly, in department stores, you can now find yourself wandering about like a zombie looking for assistance, unlike the old days when you were swatting them away like flies.
The irony of this, is that compared to the 70s a lot of electrical items and household goods are now so complex that you require a degree in quantum mechanics to switch them on.
So, in an era where we really, really need access to knowledgeable staff who know their stuff, they’re scarce.
The whole self-service philosophy is based on spartan virtue: You make do with less, pay less and settle for adequacy rather than true satisfaction, but the frustration for most of us is, that the reduction in retail overheads and the stated improvement in efficiencies haven’t reduced retail prices.
Air travel is another example… we’re now conditioned to make our own bookings, action our own check-ins and print or download our own tickets, all for the privilege of getting to the airport 2 hours before take-off, so we can pay £5 to get dropped off, £6 for a pint and join numerous queues before boarding.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for technology and for anything that saves time, but in lots of cases there’s no benefit, instead, it just feels like manipulation, and a sneaky transfer in responsibilities has resulted in the customer taking on all the heavy lifting.
I’m also reminded of the services that used to come to our doorsteps in the 60s and 70s, the Ascot or Bilsland Bakery vans that would navigate their way around the various West of Scotland housing schemes, offering cakes, bread, biscuits, milk and soft drinks.
Similarly, local farms would load up weekly and take their vans round the estates offering fresh produce, and of course there were the popular Garvies or Alpine vans that offered multiple flavours of fizzy pop direct to your door.
Retailing used to be based on convenience and service, but I guess it all got a bit Americanised, which meant we traded in ‘small and local‘ for ‘big and out of the way’, ‘two-for-one‘ offers, ‘meal deals’ and a free packet of Percy Pigs every once in a while.
So perhaps this Everyman Cinema model isn’t new or revolutionary after all, it’s simply a return to the halcyon days of being customer focused.
It certainly seems to be working for those guys.
Despite the multiplexes, despite the fact that it’s not the cheap option, Everyman now have 35 cinemas and are growing rapidly.