Coming Back to Theatre: Prioritising the Audience Experience

What makes an ideal trip to the theatre? What are audiences looking for when they return to venues for the first time post lockdown? We conducted a national survey to find out and have produced a resulting report to help theatres deliver on this with relevant insight and knowledge of the technology available.

Reopening the right way

The 17th May is a date long anticipated by the Arts as finally, after over a year of most theatres and venues being closed, they will be permitted to open to indoor and outdoor performances. These will still be subject to continued social distancing and limited facilities, particularly around food and beverages.

With this in mind, we commissioned arts and culture consultancy, Indigo Ltd to conduct some audience sentiment research amongst UK theatregoers. We wanted to learn how they felt about returning to theatre post-lockdown and, in light of these continued social distancing measures, what they felt was most important to give a great theatre experience. And crucially, what can theatres and staff do to give audiences the best experience while these restrictions remain in place?

Eight organisations took part and the survey received 4,000 responses. The survey results gave us some great insight into how theatregoers were feeling about returning to theatre and thankfully the majority of feedback was positive.

People are not only keen to return to theatre but they also have confidence that theatre operators will have all the necessary precautions in place to keep them safe when they return.

Survey takeaways

Here are some of the survey’s key takeaways with the full report available for download:


As expected, the majority of respondents (77%) hadn’t attended (in person) any cultural events since July 2020 and although 36% said it was due to none being available, the majority (62%) said it was to avoid crowds. Understandably, theatres need to provide reassurance to that 77% majority in the run-up to May 17th through their marketing and communication channels to demonstrate the safety measures in place for returning.

Audience Ressaurance stats


For those that were able to visit a cultural event between lockdowns, the majority felt safe and comfortable and were confident in the measures put in place by the venue with a 3.6 out of 5 confidence score. Indigo have found through the many cultural audience sentiment surveys they have conducted throughout 2020 and into 2021, that anxiety for theatregoers is at its highest before they go into a venue but once they can see the safety measures in place, they feel much more comfortable.


As well as the more obvious health & safety and access reassurances, theatregoers want to know that they are still going to have a good time when they return to theatre.

It seems that this social side of the in-venue offer is an intrinsic part of this ideal theatre experience as when asked, the highest importance to theatre attenders was:

  • Having a drink in the interval
  • Buying an ice cream in the interval
  • Having a drink before the show

Ideal trip to the theatre survey slide


Utilising technology is one way in which theatres can still offer the social experience that theatregoers love while continuing to keep them safe.

When asked about ways to navigate the need for continued social distancing precautions on return, audiences were happy to try new things and were most interested in:

  • Ability to order drinks on a mobile and have them delivered to their seats or pick them up from a collection point.
  • Priority bar service for elderly or disabled patrons


1. Utilising the ticket purchase path

Ticketing CRMs such as Tessitura and Spektrix and associated integrations such as Visit and crowdEngage allow patrons to pre-order drinks, food or merchandising at the point of ticket purchase. Not only does this offer convenience and time-saving for theatregoers but it also offers opportunities for operators to maximise secondary spend.

Third-party integrations like Visit can enhance the customer experience further by ensuring pre-interval drinks are freshly made when the customer arrives. This is achieved when the customers’ tickets are scanned on arrival which triggers a notification to the bar staff to start preparing their pre-ordered drinks.

Customer buy-in

This pre-ordering option was most attractive to those aged 35-55, with over half of this age range saying they would “love it”.

Advantages to operators
  • Helps with managing F&B demand through pre-ordering preparation.
  • Provides upselling opportunities based on the performance and/or the customer order selections i.e. offering complimentary food/drink/merchandise
  • Often when customer pre-order their drinks they will still purchase further items once at the venue, further increasing secondary spend opportunities.

2. Using an app for in-venue ordering

We know that social distancing measures will still be required when theatres reopen on the 17th May and so to minimise queuing for food and drink at concession stands, or to offer contactless table service, mobile ordering presents an effective solution.

Customer journey

Using a web-based app means theatregoers don’t need to download an app, they simply scan a QR code (on a table, seat or menu) and are taken straight to the F&B offering. Here they can order and pay and a receipt is emailed to them. At the same time, their order is sent directly to the correct bar/kitchen/concession stand for fulfilment and delivery to the designated collection point or customer seat/table.

Customer buy-in

Both ordering on mobile and collecting from a collection point or having the order delivered to the auditorium seat were popular, with 20% saying they would “love this” at-seat option.

Advantages to operators
  • Increase average transaction value (ATV) thanks to suggested upsells tailored to customer selections.
  • Frees up staff time to fulfil orders and provide exceptional customer service as all ordering and payment is taken care of by the theatregoer.
  • 100% contactless allowing both staff and customers to observe social distancing and keep safe.
  • The at-seat service could provide an opportunity to offer premium seating which only permits the at-seat service for these higher price point seats.
  • Apps can be fully customisable to a venue’s branding and F&B requirements making it a seamless extension to their online booking platform.

3. Priority bar service

Technology should never be something that alienates or limits your F&B options for your customers and so offering a priority bar service for those that don’t have or can’t use a smartphone can be one way to offer an inclusive welcome.

Customer buy-in

The survey results were both surprising and heartening as those who found a priority bar service for the elderly or disabled patrons most attractive were predominantly younger respondents.   

Priority bar service
Key considerations
  • It’s crucial that your give ample advanced messaging to your customers about this service so it’s fully understood.
  • Equally, there must be clear signage around the venue to explain the priority queuing and who it is for.
  • Lastly, your staff need to be fully trained in communicating and managing this service. For example, people queuing must not be made to feel uncomfortable or be challenged about being in the queue but trusted that they are there because they meet the criteria of being elderly or disabled.

Advantages to operators
  • Provides better customer service by responding to your varying customers’ needs and providing an inclusive welcome whilst adhering to reopening limitations.
  • Helps to better manage demand for F&B by only providing a counter service to those that really need it.
  • Reduces queuing at the bar, allowing for sufficient social distancing.


Katy Raines, author of the survey and co-founder of Indigo along with her colleague Flo Carr presented these key findings in our recent webinar which can be viewed below. As part of the presentation, we were also joined by Samuel Biscoe, Ticketing Operations Manager at Selladoor Venues to discuss how operators can utilise the ticketing purchase path and Mike O’Dywer, Head of IT at Birmingham Hippodrome who spoke about their positive experience of using the pointOne mobile ordering solution last year between national lockdowns.


To see the complete survey data and analysis you can download the full report here:

“Coming Back to Theatre: Prioritising the Audience Experience”

If you have any questions about the survey data or resulting report, please contact: [email protected]

For further information on our theatre-focused solutions discussed in the webinar/report or to arrange for a demo, please contact us.


Key Topics

Key Topics

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