This is the ritual: The lights go down, even though there are many hours of daylight left. It’s 10:30 or 11 in the morning, maybe 9 if we’ve really committed. I settle into my seat and put my coffee in the plastic cupholder, where it steams. Before the previews roll I reach into a purse chosen for its roominess and take out a paper bag. I slide my hand inside, searching in the dark for the smoothness of wax paper, the weight of a cinnamon-sugar doughnut. Doughnuts are a soft food that pair well with watching stories play out in glorious Technicolor. I hand my boyfriend his selection, a vanilla glazed. We talk softly or look at our phones between bites, until the lights dim and the previews roll. This is breakfast at the movies.
Where brunch is a stressful catwalk, social pageantry and a long line for $15 Benedicts, breakfast at the movies is a practical, unpretentious pleasure. There’s no rush. You can roll up a few minutes before it starts. The theater will be quiet, if not completely empty. There’s not a hungover, grumpy young professional to be found, no one dissecting their paleo pancakes, no one who looks like they had a cooler night than you hunched over a gaudy bloody mary. There might be kids, if you’re seeing a kid’s movie, but they won’t be any worse than the screaming infant in a restaurant-provided high chair. (Also, you’re seeing Goosebumps before noon, come on.)
Brunch is a gamble. The stakes are high, the service is harried. Those kouign-amann pancake flights with candied Tasso rinds might end in disappointment, sad tastebuds, and a hefty check. You just don’t know. Breakfast at the movies has a sweet inevitability (or savory, all are welcome in the celluloid palace): It is predictable, it is comfortable, it is whatever you want it to be. Blueberry yogurt and The BFG? Beautiful. Poppyseed bagel and Green Room? Yes, please. Nalgene mimosas and The Lobster? Hell yeah. Sausage McGriddle and Weiner? Not my thing, but I respect your choices. You wear a cute top to brunch. When you pair your bacon, egg, and cheese with a 10 a.m. showing of Captain America, your T-shirt melts into the dark.
I can hear the naysayers huffing: You’re not supposed to bring food to the movies! I could talk about the price of popcorn, how multiplexes don’t sell maple-glazed long johns, the perfection of a good latte, but breakfast at the movies needs only one defense: It’s worth it. Go to brunch if you want to tattle.
There are rules, of course. Like the ticket stub ripped up at the door, entrance to this satisfying club requires common sense and common courtesy. Don’t bring something smelly. Leave your loud, crunchy foods at home. If your breakfast requires unwrapping, get those crinkles out of the way before the picture starts. Your meal should not require a knife and fork. Follow these tenets, and this small and secret world is yours. Breakfast at the movies is a civilized bending of the social contract. It is the most responsible of illegal delights. Seeing a movie early means you have to get up early, and when the credits fade the whole day stretches out before you. You’ve checked “breakfast” and “escapism” off your to-do list, and it’s barely afternoon. Plenty of time to get groceries, go to the gym, or meet up with friends staggering grumpily out of brunch.
Rosamund Lannin eats and writes in Chicago. Find out more @rosamundlannin.