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Box office nightmares

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A theatre’s box office is the first port of call for most theatregoers – whether live in person, on the phone or increasingly online – and so is a vital gateway to their experience before they’ve even got to the show itself that they’ve taken the trouble to want to see.

It is therefore where first impressions count more than anything else. While the days of surly, officious box office workers has largely gone in the West End, thank God, the unapproachability and general rudeness and unpleasantness of many Broadway box offices remains as a vivid reminder of how things used to be; as an entrenched, unionized profession there, there’s no challenge to their (lack of) customer service, either.

With their tiny entrance foyer spaces, Broadway theatres don’t make it exactly easy for box offices to operate but even though there are usually at least two windows for them to run from, my experience is that only one of them is ever open during the daytimes, so you invariably have to wait. And wait.

The other week at New York’s huge Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, there was only one window open and the two young women at the front of the queue were having a passionate conversation with the tattooed box office man – not about the tickets they were trying to buy, but about baseball! Even when another patron tried to chivvy them along, they persisted. They are, she lamented to me, the entitled generation. And as if to prove it, someone waiting two people behind me stepped forward and asked if she could go ahead of me, as she had somewhere to get to! So do we all, I replied.

But at least in person you can see roughly what the state of play is. Ringing in to a box office, you have no idea what is going on at the other end of the line. Last week I had reserved two tickets for my brother and his wife to join me at Fuerzabruta via the show’s press office, which he had to call to pay for. 

Here’s his report of trying to do so:

I telephoned at 09:00 and after entering all the options, I was finally informed by a recorded message that they only open the box office at 10:00. I phoned at 10:00, 11:00, 11:15, 11:30, 11:45, 12:00, 12:15 and just now at 12:30.  After listening to music and a ‘thank you for holding, we will answer soon’ for 5 mins and 19 seconds, you are informed that ‘we are experiencing a high volume of call, please hold’ and then you are cut off!

I passed on his frustration to the press office and was given a direct line for him to call the box office manager on instead and he sorted it out. But others are not so lucky. I wonder just how many customers the Roundhouse loses this way, never to return.

Of course, with a show like Fuerzabruta where demand is currently exceeding supply that’s a nice problem for them to have. But there has to be a better way to run a box office operation.

Tell us your box office horror stories below – but don’t spare your praise, either, for those that deserve it!

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