Think about your lobby like you would a retail store.
And I mean a fancy retail store--like the kind most arts administrators can't afford but that board members sometimes reference.
There are missed revenue (in terms of long term patron retention, donations, and also day-of receipts) opportunities and high expenses in putting your lobby plan on autopilot.
Some interesting lobby tidbits I have seen of late:
One 99-seat venue has abandoned staffing their concessions area and instead created an honor bar where snacks, coffee, tea, and other items are available at a listed and flat price: all items $2. Right now they're just accepting cash but there is talk of running a tethered digital device for small DIY transactions that might further increase revenues from this experiment. Early results indicate decreased staffing cost, an order of magnitude increase in concessions receipts, and minimal--if any--theft.
I freakin' LOVE this idea for not only the reasons above, but also because of what it communicates to patrons: the theater trusts them and, in a way, is perceived as "giving" them this trust. It is no surprise that patrons are responding positively to this and I suspect that many are placing more money in the pot than the listed price because they appreciate this trust and value it more than the cost of the item. Note: the devil is in the details in terms of how you roll this out, where in the lobby you place it, and how you communicate with your patrons about it.
On the other end of the spectrum, larger venues (thousand seats or more), also can benefit from specific lobby plans. If you're mostly a touring venue, what are your merchandising arrangements and how are sales maximized based on the placement of those point(s) of sale in your venue? For example (and it sounds obvious), if you realize a significant percentage of merchandise revenues, consider placing one point of sale in the area of your lobby with the most foot traffic and visibility.
Yes, lines are a concern, but I'd describe having "too long a line" at a merchandising booth to be a good problem. Far too often I see merchandising placed in a location that is convenient for patron flow, but inconvenient for sales. Remember folks buying merchandise are buying a memory object from an experience that will market (mostly through reminiscence) your venue and the show for years to come; nostalgia is a powerful marketing tool.
My experience with larger venue lobby plans is that they are essentially unchanged from show to show. What a wasted opportunity! Different shows will have different merchandising, engagement (selfie stations, exhibits, etc.), patron service (assisted listening devices, booster seats, etc.), concessions and other needs. While lobbies are frequently designed for a generic "show," let's expand and customize our lobby experience for each specific production.
For example, if you set aside a significant part of your lobby to distribute booster seats but you are expecting few children or shorter audience members for your next few presentations, how can you add to that service or convert that real estate to retain more patrons or provide a service for which they'll pay? It can be as simple as adding a bar in that location.
Or, if you're expecting even more kids for a future presentation, what additional services/products might be relevant to kids or their parents that can be made available adjacent the booster seat area? This need not be an immediate revenue driver--perhaps it is a communications area that promotes your nonprofit organization's education initiatives or it's some smartly placed furniture that allows tired parents to rest for a moment while they're kids gather in a "family zone."
And as a last tip: review your lobby and remove anything--and I mean anything like ATMs, artwork, signage, prior show detritus, etc.--that doesn't eventually point to increased revenue. Note that revenue can be long-term and focus engagement and subsequent retention or be more immediate in terms of concessions or merchandise sales. All that junk in your lobby is simply noise and clearing it will allow you to communicate far more clearly with your patrons.
As smart arts marketers customize communications for varying personas or even on an individualized patron-by-patron basis, isn't it time for us to customize front of house experiences for our audiences too?