What did we all think of last night’s Heston’s Mission Impossible: Cineworld on Channel 4?

Heston's mission impossible cineworld blumthal channel 4 photo

It reminded me of “tartan paint”, a classic building trade initiation prank. In their first week on the job the gullible new kid gets told to go to the suppliers and ask for tartan paint. The apprentice feels silly for being led on, the older, wiser folks all get a good laugh.

Heston’s Michelin Mission Impossible: Cineworld was pretty much the food programme equivalent of the tartan paint joke, except Heston’s probably playing along and there’s a TV crew watching. A predicatable, money-for-old-rope forumla show.

I used to work for Cineworld (though back when it was called UGC). Rather than review the TV show, I thought I’d share a few of my memories of their food and philosophy…

Heston's mission impossible cineworld blumthal channel 4 photo

Yawn-inducing disclaimer: These are my personal recollections from over a decade ago (from a different company) and shouldn’t be considered an accurate reflection of current Cineworld practice.

1. Unlike in the TV show, popcorn cooked on site was unheard of to us. Our site had popcorn delivered ready-popped in huge plastic sleeves, stored in rooms hidden under the tiered seating until it was needed. The popcorn served wasn’t warm because it was freshly-made, the displays kept it heated when it had been popped months ago.

2. The night’s leftover popcorn would get scooped back into an empty sleeve, loosely tied up and served again next day. You were meant to begin each day using the previous leftovers, but if it was a small bag you’d just open a fresh one instead, then mix through the older stuff. By Saturday night some of the popcorn in your tub would have been on display nearly a week.

3. We played the same trick with nacho cheese sauce. Unsold stuff was scooped out of the warmer back into the tub. It never went mouldy, god knows what preservatives were in it.

4. We never needed to stock-take the popcorn, just the tubs they were served in. It was only the tubs that we paid for. If we bought enough the manufacturer included the popcorn itself free. Your popcorn costs less to make than the tub it comes in.

5. Ever wondered why the bun your hotdog is served in always tastes so dry and stale? Ours were entombed in the bottom of a freezer, usually having burst their flimsy plastic wrapping. Often you’ll see the buns produced from warming drawers. This doesn’t just help fake that “freshly baked” feel, it means they defrost quicker too.

6. What we charged for Hot and Spicy Nuts was an insult. Both cup sizes were tiny, and the largest cost more than £2. To protect customers, we’d only offer the large tub, but charge the small price. We’d have been sacked if we were caught, which made us all feel like minimum-wage  Robin Hoods.

7. The fizzy drinks all come from expensive concentrated syrup packs and, as with bars and fast food restaurants, are bulked-out with ice. Management never checked for weak or flat drinks, but the ice machine was always in tip-top condition.

8. Speaking of managers, looks like the overall structure has changed since my time. Back then we’d have a General Manager, Deputy General, Assistant Manager and some Cashier Clerks to count the till money. This show made me feel extra lucky we never had a dedicated sales manager like the smug, obnoxious Phones-4-U-reject Heston had to contend with.

Heston's mission impossible cineworld blumthal channel 4 photo

Cinemas don’t make much from tickets, most of that money goes back to Hollywood. All their earnings come from food & drink. That’s why 500ml of Evian costs you £2.15.

With profit margin the only concern no amount of Heston-imagination can compete with a product like popcorn: made for £0.01 and sells for £5.00. Seeing Heston, Jocky & Stefan’s creativity reduced to curry-flavouring and a posh hot dog was quite depressing. I do fancy having a go at that popcorn milkshake though.

My experience working at a cinema means I always try to avoid wasting money on the overpriced (and disgusting) food. I used to feel like a cheapskate sneaking in a bottle of water and a flapjack. Now, after watching this show, I’ve never been more proud that I do.

What did you think of the show and would you pay more for interesting grub at the cinema? Please leave your comments below…