Breaking: ENO bans food and drink from all performances

Breaking: ENO bans food and drink from all performances


norman lebrecht

May 08, 2018

Would you Adam-and-Eve it? Having been criticised for banning bottles from musicals and rock shows for fear they might contain gin, English National Opera has now decided to inflict the same punishment on operagoers – in the interests of inclusivity, natch.

Here’s what the new chief exec, Stuart Murphy, says:

After the feedback this weekend we were concerned that our original tailored policy gave some people the impression that we were taking an elitist approach to opera, yet this approach couldn’t be further from the truth. ENO was built on presenting opera for all – that’s why we sing in English, for instance, it’s why we give away thousands of tickets to our dress rehearsals and it’s why a fifth of all of our opera tickets are priced at £20 or less. Offering opera for everyone is in our DNA.

Today we’ve moved quickly to update our policy so that it’s consistent across all of our work. Going forward we won’t allow any food or drink to be brought into the Coliseum for any performance, irrespective of genre. Our full policy can be found here.

It gets even more PC:

This is about being consistent and fair to everyone. As ever, we will provide filtered water for free at every level and in every bar at the Coliseum. As a licence holder, we have a duty of care to our audience and among those legal obligations, we have to prevent public nuisance, protect public health, safely protect children and secure public safety and so, as with any bar, this means ensuring people don’t consume their own alcohol in the venue.  As we always have done, audience members with dietary or access requirements can contact us before they arrive so we can ensure that they are able to bring in whatever they need for medical reasons.

This is a terrible way to start a new job.


  • erich says:

    Rubbish! This disgusting munching and slurping during performances is quite intolerable. No wonder obesity is an increasing problem. Surely people can eat beforehand, in the interval or afterwards. Nobody surely can be that hungry and thirsty that they have to disturb those who want to concentrate on the performance, on stage as well as the auditorium.

    • The View from America says:

      What’s particularly fun is watching movie-goers here in the United States down huge tubs of popcorn drenched with “movie theatre butter” — often consuming them in their entirety before the feature film has even begun.

      I’m guessing each bucket runs upwards of 3,000 calories or higher.

      Of course, none of the people in question look like they’re starving; in fact, they could probably go a full month without food and still have plenty of fat reserves left over …

      • Sue says:

        I love to read about this kind of patriotism and love of country. And just to know that they’re not “deplorables” in “fly-over states”. Heartening.

    • Vienna calling says:

      I betcha the hungry will still be able to buy nuts and crisps at the bar. And unwrap the the second the lights go down.

    • Frankie says:


    • Jane says:

      What a difficult life you must lead, being disturbed by anyone sipping a cup of water in your vicinity.

  • MarcelMouse says:

    Good move Stuart Murphy. I hope other venues follow suit. e.g. National Theatre. If you need a drink, alcoholic or otherwise, there’s an interval. Sitting next to someone balancing a pint of beer on their knee between slurps adds nothing to add to my enjoyment of an opera or play.

  • John says:

    Terrible way to start a job? Far from it: this is the best news I’ve had in ages. Why people now feel they can do whatever they like wherever and whenever they wish is beyond me: it is hardly arrogant to have a policy that avoids causing offence and distraction by not allowing drinking and eating in audience members’ faces and (critically) within their earshot. And it’s not a matter of being PC either: it has to do with common courtesy. Let’s hope the National Theatre, the Barbican and other leading venues follow suit. Bravo to Stuart Murphy meanwhile.

  • Nicola Isherwood says:

    About time too. Let’s hope a few more organisations follow suit.

  • Tim Walton says:

    Oh well, that will save me some money! I live in Birmingham so only come occasionally. I make my own sandwiches, to save money, to eat on my return journey.

    I can cross the ENO off my list of possible destinations.

    More crass decisions by an ineptly rin organisation.

    • FS60103 says:

      How do you survive at Symphony Hall Tim? Like virtually all UK classical concert halls, it imposes a complete food and drink ban and always has.

      • Christopher Clift says:

        FS60103 (Hi Tim)

        Not entirely accurate. Symphony Hall (at least the last time I was there a couple of weeks ago), DOES allow water (in bottles) into the auditorium, and it HAS been known for audience members to be permitted to take in ice-creams after the interval. Probably because many of them complained that there wasn’t time to finish them if they had been at the back of the queue for buying them before the interval was over.

        • Robin Smith says:

          They allow patrons to walk in and out with their beer in those plastic glasses for pop concerts (during the performance).

    • Una says:

      How do you manage in Birmingham? The last time I was there there was a total ban on food and drink in the hall, and it’s the case in most concert halls. I think you’d get some glum looks if you tried to eat during a performance in any other opera house in Britain, and most certainly in the concert hall for classical concerts and the opera houses in Dublin and Belfast.

      • Chris says:

        Una, a tad earlier than your question about Birmingham I posted:

        “Symphony Hall (at least the last time I was there a couple of weeks ago), DOES allow water (in bottles) into the auditorium, and it HAS been known for audience members to be permitted to take in ice-creams after the interval.”

        Does that answer your question?

  • Chilynne says:

    Goodness! Who knew that it was so important to drink and eat (!) during the performance of an opera! What’s generally not permitted in the US appears to be considered a UK entitlement. Perhaps I’m wrong, but my impression was that a UK interval tends to be longer than a US intermission, thus giving plenty of time for a drink and/or snack, etc. AND restaurants in the neighborhood usually are quite good about moving patrons through in time for a performance.

    • Chilynne says:

      Cough drops – in non-crinkly wrappers – work well for throat tickles. One assumes that an empty water bottle (the contents having been consumed on the long, hot trek to the event) would be acceptable and could be refilled at no cost on-site. I have some slight sympathy for opera-goers who bring food for consumption during the intervals/intermissions for lengthy Wagner works. That said, I’ve never seen anyone consume food during a performance at Chicago’s Lyric Opera – just not done. Alas, it appears that, elsewhere, the bad choices of a few have resulted in restrictions on everyone.

      • The View from America says:

        I attended a funeral service not long ago and spied someone having a bite to eat during the ceremony. Although the deceased probably didn’t care one way or the other, I think it came across as disrespectful to the rest of us (the service was under an an hour in length).

    • Una says:

      And then they choke on the water! What happened to cough sweets in non-noisy papers or tubes? As a singer, I can tell you that water doesn’t stop a cough!!

    • Jane says:

      I think you miss the point – it doesn’t matter if the food or drink is for during the show or not. ANYTHING consumable, be it for the trip home or leftover from lunch, must be thrown away.

      • Christopher Clift says:

        Just leave it in the cloakroom, and collect it afterwards.

        This would be the situation had you been shopping for anything in the way of food which would survive an evening out of the refrigerator, and were going to the opera on the way home.

        Most places are reasonable about such matters and if they DO cavil at taking such a bag into the cloakroom, THEN is the time to call an end to your visits.

        You can always give the company a call and explain the position, and see what they say.

  • AMetFan says:

    Good honk…this is what London audiences are worried about? God forbid they should be concerned about respect to the performers or to fellow audience members. If etiquette needs to be dumbed down for the sake of inclusion, then so be it, but I doubt that allowing patrons to act like they’re in their living rooms during a performance will increase attendance.

    Just like the toilet, do it before or after the act…or just don’t go in the auditorium. Same for talking or flossing your teeth during a aria. It’s kind of basic public behavior your parents should have taught you.

    • Una says:

      Says alot about the parents, who don’t even make their kids sit at the table when they eat but on their beds and on the floor – and present a menu each night as to what they’d like to eat.

  • Louise Davies says:

    As a long time opera goer at ENO, I have found that it is simply not possible as a women to get a drink and pee in the same interval. It is possible if you know where the less well signposted ladies toilets are (and no I’m not divulging that information!) to pre-order an interval drink, collect it and then drink it in the loo queue. If anyone thinks that it is possible to sit in a summer performance in a cheap seat with no air conditioning and an ever increasing temperature without being able to sip from a bottle of water has not tried to hold up a fainting audience member in the middle of a row. I will put up with this inconvenience at the Coliseum if I must, but it will only be for the Kirov and Bolshoi Ballet and Opera companies and no longer for ENO.

    • Sue says:


    • Sharon says:

      A US audience paying Met Opera prices would not tolerate an unairconditioned hall in the summer. I’m very surprised that the ENO has not brought in air conditioning

    • Una says:

      Well, I’ve never had any problem there at ENO with the number of loos they’ve put in, and in any case. Who wants to spend the interval in the loo?????

  • Allen says:

    Manufactured outrage over nothing.

    Not all audiences are the same. I’m sure that the audience for Bat out of Hell would not want to be as reserved as the audience for a Janacek opera, and vice versa.

    The management should have stuck to its guns and acted on the findings of its survey.

    The only reason this is an issue at all is that two types of music are being performed in the same theatre, and inverted snobs have seized on an opportunity. I see that SKY, not known for its interest in anything operatic, joined the bandwagon a few days ago.

    • FS60103 says:

      “Not known for its interest in anything operatic”? Would that be the same Sky that broadcast the complete Bayreuth Ring cycle in 2016, has been screening Royal Opera productions since 2013, founded the Glyndebourne Opera Cup, supports the Rosenblatt Recitals, and has been sponsoring ENO since 2003?

      • Allen says:

        Should have made it clear that I was referring to news and current affairs where, it seems to me, they only refer to it in sneering negative terms.

        People will not be attracted to Ring broadcasts unless they believe it is potentially for everybody. SKY, IMO, does not support this message.

        • FS60103 says:

          Well if you don’t think televising a complete Ring and broadcasting it free-to-view across the whole of Europe supports that message, there isn’t much else to say, though I’m struggling slightly to imagine what would convince you, exactly.

          • Allen says:

            Well you’re not trying very hard. We have SKY as part of Freeview, but no SKY account for the other SKY channels.

            My comment was on coverage by SKY news, which is popular, and therefore in a position to influence attitudes amongst people with no experience of opera. I don’t see anything wrong with criticising its priorities, or its attitude to classical music.

        • Adrienne says:

          I agree completely. Sky News, which everyone can get, is awful, regardless of what the other pay for view Sky channels are doing.

          • Una says:

            Sorry but I don’t think it’s awful, and I’m not uneducated. They have reporters in parts of the world that even the BBC don’t have, and no not everybody gets Sky as not everyone in Britain has or can get Freeview, myself included.

      • Sue says:

        Be careful about ideological comments; they’re often completely disingenuous.

  • V.Lind says:

    It is very rare for any eating to be observed in Canadian opera houses or theatres. The danger of spilling open wine or other liquid glasses over people is massive (water bottles are different, but I have NEVER in years and years of regular attendance seen anyone drinking from a water bottle during a performance. And the notion of eating anything other than a cough drop — or perhaps a mint — during a performance is equally astonishing.

    I find all this outrage and sulky I won’t go there any more reaction ludicrous. As has been said, eat before or after. Can you imagine the racket of a load of people unwrapping sandwiches, let along opening bags of crisps (and eating them), or eating fruits…and the various smells.

    It strikes me as extremely unmannerly that anyone would even want to eat and drink in a theatre. And the lack of self-control is appalling. Same mentality as the cellphone users: lack of consideration for others, all about me, me, me.

  • geoff says:

    At my recent visit to the Royal Concertgebouw I discovered that at the interval there was a free bar and coffee service included with the price of all tickets. Lots of space, excellent service and no line ups, and it was a full house on a Sunday afternoon. So civilized.
    No slurping and munching during the performance.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The Dutch are world famous for their extremely sophisticated manners. People violating their strict norms are whipped on the spot and thrown-out of the building with physical force.

  • mr oakmountain says:

    I remember a beautiful performance of Debussy’s P&M at the ENO. The only problem i had was me constantly having to suppress the urge to throttle the people with the drinks and the crisps. I actually considered composing a piece called A Night at the ENO for muted strings, tuned crisp bags, carbonated bottles and Ericson mobiles (must have been in 1999 or 2000). Food and drinks ban. Fine with me. Add mobile phones please.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It’s bad news for “Don Giovanni” (the banquet scene in the last act), “L’elisir d’Amore”, “Otello” (the drinking ensemble in the 1st act) and will ruin the 1st act of “Tristan und Isolde” (the love potion). But given the ingenuities of Regietheater, the plots will be changed and those decadent protagonists turned into teetotallers.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Also Götterdämmerung.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Yes and Verdi’s ‘Traviata’ (the party scene).

        I’m just thinking how the plot of Tristan can be ‘improved’ to avoid unwise encouragement of drinking habits and offer some healthy audience instruction for their post-performance entertainments. Isolde offers Tristan the notorious cup but he refuses, whereupon Isolde drinks it alone, thereby embarrassing Tristan with her unresolved chords. During the love duet in the 2nd act, Tristan is checking his smartphone while Isolde further fantasizes about her imagined Beziehung. And King Marke at the end will be thoroughly sad because Isolde ignored his advice to abstain from any alcohol, and about Tristan failing to stop her ‘Dies, Tristan, dies??!’.

        Also Parsifal will be in for quite a drastic reform in the grail scenes, where originally bread and wine were provided.

  • B Bailey says:

    Elitist? The behavior of operagoers is largely different from rock and even musical audiences. Insanity. SJW one size fits all mindlessness. However, ENO audiences can take cold comfort that here in the U.S., drinks, even water, and food in auditoria are banned entirely at all venues. Always have been.

  • Steven says:

    I hate egalitarianism

    • Sue says:

      …..because it’s usually a race to the bottom. You could have said that and we’d have forgiven you!!:-)

  • Rob says:

    I can’t imagine there’ll be many on the wagon for the first act of Rosenkavalier.

  • Sue says:

    When I was younger ENO was something you took for upset stomachs. So, irony in this.

  • Una says:

    You’ll soon be going nowhere soon then. Opera North, not the actual theatre itself, has banned drinking in an opera or any performance they put on. Hurray! It was all brought in about ten years ago to attract another sort of public – certain done that! I’ve been going to opera since I was 17- and it was ENO mainly as it was in English, my mother tongue, and also as a young ‘whatever it was called’ at Covent Garden when it was affordable, and I wasn’t the only one in the audience of that age who knew how to behave. Now it’s all tied up to a class system and you have to make it ‘cool’ to be attractive by bringing your drinks in and – in one case before all this started – a big bag of maltesers to much through. It is not the pictures!!!

    • Christopher Clift says:


      This is what I reported this morning, taken from the websites of ENO and Opera North. (And Mr Lebrecht, based on what I discovered I believe the headline to this whole debate is a tad mis-leading)

      “………neither ENO, nor Opera North actually prevent patrons from taking into the auditorium, food and/or drink ‘purchased in the theatre’, but patrons are not allowed to bring into either building their own food and drink (including alcohol). This is written in the T & Cs of both organisations.”

  • Don Fatale says:

    Total mis-step by ENO here. I interpret this as: They are taking the arena approach here where F&B takings is viewed as part of the gross.

    Small plastic water bottles (and only them!) must of course be permitted in the auditorium, and frankly if somebody wants to enhance their water with another ingredient, do we in the audience care?

    Maybe ENO should research WHY people are bringing their own food and drink.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      The bar takings are what pays for the soloists. The ticket price covers the conductor and orchestra.

  • Jon says:

    I seem to remember that a couple of years ago, when ENO was trying to rebrand itself as the cool place to go, it decided to allow patrons to take food and drink in the auditorium, claiming that this made it less stuffy and elitist than the Royal Opera House down the road.

    It appears that this attempt to appeal to the younger crowd has backfired, and they are now having to deal with disruptive behaviour during performances (hence the ban on everything including water bottles).

    • geoff says:

      When I went to Sadler’s Wells in the 1950s water came out of a tap and you used a glass to drink it. The only thing that came in bottles was beer. Nothing during the opera. Why this excuse of the need of bottled water to survive a 2 or 3 hour opera? Marketers of bottled water, Nestle, Coca Cola and the like, are taking everyone in by saying you have got to have a least two bottles of water a day to escape an early death.

      • Steven says:

        One reason is that, for those of us travelling fairly long distances there and back, carrying a bottle of water is extremely useful — especially in the hot weather. I never drink it during the opera. But ban it from the opera and I have to buy a second, ridiculously-expensive bottle on the way home — and I’m often in a rush to catch the last train anyway.

  • John La Bouchardiere says:

    Goodness me. What a lot of people got the wrong end of the stick. The ban is on bringing food and drink into the building, not on consuming newly purchased food in it.

  • Christopher Clift says:

    Just to reinforce what John La Bouchardiere writes, above, neither ENO, nor Opera North actually prevent patrons from taking into the auditorium, food and/or drink ‘purchased in the theatre’, but patrons are not allowed to bring into either buildings their own food and drink (including alcohol). This is written in the T & Cs of both organisations. Mr NL has included a link to ENO’s website, (within Stuart Murphy’s statement, marked ‘here’), and I have just visited Opera North’s website and that of the Grand Theatre, where both organisations clearly say that patrons may not take their own refreshments into the theatre, but there is no mention of a ban on taking food and/or drink purchased in the theatre, into the auditorium itself. Clear??

  • Frankie says:

    No more ‘sub-Glyndebourne’ picnics on the stairs in the interval. Either buy over-priced meals or sandwiches from the bar or go hungry if you have rushed to the opera from work without eating first!

    • Henning Viljoen says:

      Just enlighten me as a person who hasn’t attend performances in England in the last thirty years when it seems that London was still a civilized country where no drinks or food was allowed in ENO, Covent Garden or the Festival Hall….you had meals before performances or drinks at interval but definitly nothing during a performance ….luckily you also did not have this irritating thing of women with their little bottle of water every where!!